Bankers of the future: "Say this word in a finance interview today, you'll be instantly dinged"

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Gregor Charles* is a second year MBA student. He spent a year and a half working as a financial analyst a drinks company, followed by several years as an entrepreneur in the food and beverage industry before embarking upon the MBA. After a successful internship in a major' bank's M&A division last summer, Gregor is due to join the bank full time in 2014. 

These are Gregor's thoughts about starting a front office banking career now.

"Before I started the London Business School MBA, I worked on a lot of distressed turnarounds - buying and selling food and beverage companies. It was interesting, but it taught me that it's much better to be an employee than to be an employer - taking the risk for others.

What would I like to do long term? I'd like to follow a career in IBD and maybe move into private equity at some point. Of course, you can never say this in a banking interview - you should always say that you want a long term career in investment banking. Equally, my experience is that you should never, ever, say that you were an entrepreneur to any banking interviewer. I made that mistake a few times and didn't get any further in the process. Instead, I learned to spin my experience and say that I'd been working as a corporate finance advisor, enacting my own mergers and acquisitions in the food and beverage sector.

Entrepreneurs are hardworking and self-motivated, which are both qualities banks look for - but you should never say you were an entrepreneur.

Why should you never say the word 'entrepreneur' in a finance interview? I think it's because banks fear you won't commit. Jobs in IBD involve incredibly long hours and are really tough. What banks want now, more than anything - more even than intelligence or extra curricular activities - are people who are really, really committed to the job. This is their big problem. Pay has fallen, but banks still need commitment. If they think you're a free-spirited entrepreneur, it's really hard to convince them that you'll be prepared to work hard on their behalf.

Gauging commitment is especially important when banks are hiring MBA students at associate level. Associates are expensive and they need training. Hiring an associate can be a big gamble and banks need to know associates are going to stick around. In my experience, banks gauge commitment by holding a lot of networking events. They want to see how friendly you are, how willing you are to give up your time to meet their people on different occasions before you even get to apply.

The interview is all about gauging commitment too. Unlike consulting interviews, banking interviews aren't very structured - they depend very much upon the banker who's interviewing you, but there are a few points of commonality. In general, a bank will always test how well you can think - they'll ask you maths problems and about the basics of finance like different valuation methods. The most important question of all now, however, is what made you decide to become an investment banker. This is the question that reflects your commitment. They want to see that your story makes sense. If they think you're not committed - that you're in it for the money - you'll be out and you won't make it to the next level."

Gregor Charles* is a pseudonym. 

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