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The questions prospective bankers should – and shouldn’t – ask during interviews

Preparing a list of questions to ask hiring managers is advisable when interviewing for any role. It shows you're prepared and invested. But when it comes to investment banking, your questions need to be particularly targeted and industry-focused. The key is to ask questions that simultaneously act as statements about your base industry and cultural knowledge. Plus, you can find out who's really sitting on the other side of the table when it comes to actual work.

Ask about recent deals the bank has been involved in

And not generically; mention a specific deal to show you’re following the company and team in question, said a former investment banking VP at Deutsche Bank. Inquire about whether they were personally involved, she said.

"Asking about a group’s recent deal in the interview process reinforces an individual’s eagerness and enthusiasm," said Joanna Lee, VP of human resources at J.P. Morgan in New York.

Ask questions that show your knowledge of the overall market

Talk about a specific industry trend, then ask how it is affecting the firm’s investment banking unit. One example provided by the Deutsche Bank source: "The debt markets continue to be on fire, do you think they will slow down anytime soon and if so what implications do you think that will have for your business?"

You can also inquire about where they see the market heading,” said Chris Mitra-Hall, director at London-based Burlington Wellesley Search. “In ECM [equity capital markets], for example, do they think it will be more about IPOs; rights-issues; accelerated book builds this year and next.”

Ask them why they joined the firm

It’s a subtle way to coerce them into selling you on the job and opening up more about the bank, Mitra-Hall said. You can ask them about why they chose investment banking over private equity firms, hedge funds and venture capitalists, he said. This will give you an opportunity to state that you are interested in a career in banking and do not see it as a path to the buy-side – a common fear among hiring managers in banking.

Ask everything and anything about the person across the table

When not talking about yourself, make the interview about them. “Bankers love to hear themselves speak,” said Adam Zoia, founder of Wall Street recruiter Glocap. Inquire about their career progression, what it was like working for a particular CEO and their opinion on topical industry news.

Investment bankers "are egotistical, so focusing questions on them is always a good idea,” added the DB banker.

What you shouldn't by asking

Don't ask banal or clichéd questions. Hiring managers at investment banks hate wasting their time. "What is the typical work day of an analyst?" is about the worst question you can ask, said Mitra-Hall.

At the junior level, there's also no need to ask about the potential for career growth. Everyone knows the hierarchy. And above all else, never ask about work/life balance. “There isn’t one," said the former Deutsche VP matter-of-factly. Moreover, it will leave questions in the mind of the hiring manager whether you’re willing to put in the grueling hours or if you’re likely to burn out early.

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AUTHORBeecher Tuttle US Editor
  • Ve
    24 June 2013

    I am gonna go with the 1st commenter on this one. I just had an interview and while i was impressed that this firm was actually going to pay me for my time and not try the commission after 50 bs, it showed me they were at least willing to take a risk on me.

  • Sc
    3 June 2013

    If this advice is true then it suggests a worrying trend that banks will be full of "dead wood" in a few years. There is an underlying suggestion that the interviewer thinks that any candidate in front of them is "desperate" and any genuine candidate would probably ignore all this advice anyway. It may be a demand driven market now for recruitment but only hiring people who massage your ego and don't ask awkward questions will prove a disaster in the long run. More to the point, with the big push for hiring in compliance you want people who can and do challenge, not shrinking violets.

    The reference to the NY Times indicates that it might be a US centric article so might not apply in other markets, and only applies to investment banks where a lot of information is already in the public domain. In my opinion:

    DO ask about the financial health of the company particularly if it is a start-up. Failure to do so indicates that you are doing no due diligence on your own financial security, why would I hire you to estimate risk for others.

    DO recognise that you are interviewing them - it is not a 'myth'. The interview process is one of asymmetric information. The candidate knows more about their skills and ability and the interviewer knows more about the role. A failure to interview the company indicates a fundamental lack of interest in the role.

    DO ask where the firm expects the successful candidate to be in five years time.... it's not a question that any interviewer should be afraid of. If a candidate doesn't ask this question or fails to have a clear picture of it then it suggests that they are probably not going to be in the role for the long term and probably the wrong hiring choice.

    DO ask about work life balance, particularly if you have children and are returning to work after a period of being at home. There is a big push by organisations (Goldmans, Deloitte, Ernst and Young to name but a few) to recruit mid to senior level women back into the workplace. This is a sub-group that does not need to return to work (presumably) where there is strong demand and low supply. It is reasonable to ask about what sort of work-life balance they could hope to achieve there.... particularly since there is such a wide offering for working parents at firms.

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