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Stupid banking interview questions the quants get wrong

You're interviewing for a quantitative job in an investment bank. Statistically, which interview questions are you most likely to get badly wrong?

1. What was the last book you read?

If you put 'reading' as an interest, banks can and do ask this.Do not respond with a blank state: everything you put on your CV is a potential interview question and anything that implies you’re not what you say hurts.

2. What’s the $/Yen rate?

…or whatever basic numbers apply to the market you claim to know about. It isn’t enough to model, solve and code, you need to demonstrate that you keep aware of what is going on in the real world. This kind of question correlates with the better end of jobs.

3. Why do you want to work here?

For whatever reason, Goldman, JP Morgan and even Deutsche like to think they’re special and that you haven't turned up simply because some dimwitted in-house recruiter needs to bulk up the numbers. Do some research on LinkedIn, Google etc to see if there’s anything special about the team you’re trying to join. Ask yourself, is this job worth four years of your life? Write the answers down while you remember them.

4. How many petrol stations are there in Britain?

This is an important question. Yes it is, really. Brainteasers are still a fixture in interview processes, especially at entry level and so you must be able to work this out. If you’ve never interviewed new grads, you might be surprised how many interviews start this with, “Given there are 17 million people...”

5. Are you good in teams ?

Of course the worst answer is “No.” Quants have a reputation for being poor team players, but the next worst answer is a bland, “Yes”. Part of my self-education as a headhunter was to read HR training manuals (feel my pain) and the texts are obsessive about proof by example, so you need to say “I enjoyed working with my team when we delivered the XX project” (team is a good word, use it more often).

6. Who is your boss?

This is asked by recruiters to “get references.” This is of course a lie. If you respond, they will often contact your boss to try and sell them competitors to yourself. If they “accidentally” mention you're looking to leave, you may find yourself leaving whether you're seriously looking or not.

7. Is this a Black Swan ?

Unless you want to end up doing Model Validation, you have to be literate in the culture of quants. Reading Derman, Wilmott and Taleb’s non-technical works is part of that. You don’t have to agree with them (indeed a robust rebuttal of Taleb is attractive to many) but you do have to read and think about them.

8. What was your last ethical dilemma ?

Banks have not changed their ethical stance, but they do want people who emulate ethical behaviour better, so expect to be asked this and you need to have a pre-canned answer. If it is true, so much the better.

9. Feenuyooi kwalui volatility smeg ?

Some interviewers are not great at English, nor are some interviewees. You need to be good at dealing unintelligible questions politely. Your mother told you manners would be important one day, this is it.

10. Have you any questions ?

You need to show you’ve been paying attention and that you’ve been taking the interview seriously. Ideally, you need to ask a question which you know you're interviewer can answer in the positive and can make them feel happy. Don't ask them a question they're not likely to know. Don't ask them whether they have less market share than JPMorgan.

Dominic Connor is a Headhunter for Quants and anyone else who misuses maths in finance, he also teaches C++ for reasons he refuses to discuss.

AUTHORDominic Connor Insider Comment
  • ta
    3 July 2014

    Dear Dominic,

    I have strong mathematical background (PhD in theoretical physics from the US and 4 years of postdocs in US/Europe). I am thinking seriously to turn into finance and become a quant and I have already begun my preparation. I have a few questions. Do you have time to answer them?


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