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

It's about long term commitment

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. 

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • ku
    27 November 2013

    All of you were speaking the truth.
    Then there is something else I confirmed recently after years of hearsay.
    Sometimes, you need connections. Perhaps, "relations". And this is an unspoken, unwritten nationality preference.
    In Singapore, you find 60% from this, 20% from local, 20% foreign.

    The reasoning can go like this:
    You love money, you will work hard. Let's scam the rest together.
    Another one may say, "No, you are too greedy, it's too risky to hire you. You should own the bank."
    You are an entrepreneur, you can work yourself.
    You are an entrepreneur, you know how business is run.

    Finally, we all know it's all crap. It depends on whom you met and what they need at that point in time. But of course 60% from one nationality is something else.

  • Bl
    Blonde Bond
    20 November 2013

    Honestly has the author worked for a bank?

  • An
    19 November 2013


    I had my pick of 3 banks precisely because I'd started up a successful clean tech venture.

    If you are having to "spin" anything in your interview, you are probably not cut out for the role.

  • wh
    what the?
    19 November 2013

    sorry buddy, but if someone came to me and said they weren't in it for the money, I'd think they were lying, and that's about the worst thing in a team environment

    sure, money is not first and foremost in anyone's mind, but you have to be kidding yourself if you think people would do this for free or at least, for a normal salary...why else do you see graduates sleeping in the gym at 7am

    if someone came to me, as a Greek person, saying they were an entrepreneur, hence they were working for themselves, I would think they were dodging the big issue that the economic situation in Greece is dire. Worse, I would think they were off their rocker to try setting up their own business in Greeece...sure, set up as an entrepreneur, but pick somewhere which is not going bust, where people have some money to spend.

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