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The curious and bizarre interview tactics of bank bosses

If you work in financial services, there’s a good chance you’ve been asked a bizarre interview question or two. Banks, hedge funds and consulting firms are obsessed with cultural fit, and often serve up brainteasers and odd hypotheticals to see how people think on their feet. Some managers are also known to use certain tactics to force candidates to reveal their true selves. We’ve compiled a list of a few of the most eye-raising below, dreamed up by several of the bigger names in finance. Some are just interesting; others border on bizarre.

Breakfast is served

Charles Schwab CEO Walt Bettinger once told the New York Times that he will sometimes meet candidates for interviews over breakfast, only he’ll arrive early and tell the restaurant manager to purposefully screw up the other person’s order just to see how they react.

“That will help me understand how they deal with adversity,” he said. “It’s just another way to get a look inside their heart rather than their head.”

Flagrant fouls

Former Wall Street managing director John Osbon said he used to play basketball with job candidates and would step on their feet and pull at their shirt during games to see if they were able to keep their cool. “They were all fair fouls, and I didn’t hurt anyone,” Osbon told the Wall Street Journal in 2017. “You have to take someone down to size.”

Private equity mogul and workout warrior Strauss Zelnick has lifted weights with prospective and current employees, though there isn’t any fouling involved and candidates are always offered the choice of getting coffee or a meal instead.

Being contrarian and going in blind

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel has called personal interviews “overrated,” but if you do sit down with him expect to be asked the following: Tell me something that's true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

"It sort of tests for originality of thinking [and] for your courage in speaking up in a difficult interview context where it's always socially awkward to tell the interviewer something that the interviewer might not agree with," he said.

Thiel went on to co-found data mining company Palantir Technologies with current CEO Alex Karp, who also isn’t a fan of conventional interviews. Karp told Bloomberg that he prefers to meet candidates having no previous knowledge of their background or the job they’re applying for. “No resume, no preliminary discussions or job description – just the candidate and me in a room,” he said. "I like to keep interviews short, about 10 minutes. Otherwise, people move into their learned responses and you don’t get a sense of who they really are.”

To be young again

Ken Moelis, founder of boutique investment bank Moelis & Co, said he likes to ask recent MBA graduates about their favorite property in the game Monopoly. It’s a “great way to hear how people think of risks and rewards,” he told Quartz.

Meanwhile, Barbara Byrne, former vice chair of investment banking at Barclays, said she avoided technical questions because she assumed if candidates made it to her desk, they were plenty smart. Instead, she would ask people what their life was like when they were seven or eight years old and what they wanted to be when they grew up. “You connect to the real person,” she said.

Bullish organ market

The famed believer of “radical transparency,” Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio said the firm asks people questions that don't have a right or wrong answer, such as: “Should there be a market for transplant organs?"

"The answer doesn't really matter. It's totally great if the person's thinking on the subject ends in a different place than the beginning, because moving forward together to get at the best answer is more important than being right from the outset,” he said. 

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AUTHORBeecher Tuttle US Editor

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