A couple of weeks back, I conducted first round interviews for Sales & Trading summer internships. It made me remember the time when I was an ambitious yet relatively naive undergraduate trying to break into one of the London investment banks. For one girl I interviewed it seemed to be the first proper job interview in her life, and I felt really sorry for her. It’s so hard to perform well when you are thrown into such a different world, and for those of us whose parents aren’t investment bankers and corporate executives, interview rooms of big corporations and banks are just such an unreal, unwelcoming environment. It can be hard to assess potential when someone is just not ready yet.
That is why I spend a lot of effort on this blog to help people prepare for interviews and internships, because if you are not on the inside, the only way to familiarise yourself with the world is to read about it. I have posted before on interview questions to prepare, my sales and trading interview reading list and published the Sales & Trading career guide. Today I want to share a few more points for those preparing for sell-side interviews with investment banks.
First of all, it’s important to know how investment banks are set up, so that you can give the interviewer an idea of which part you may be interested in. Most investment banks are set up by asset classes (equities, currencies, fixed income, commodities) and by functions (sales, trading, structuring, research). It is important to have an idea of where you might fit and why, while also keeping an open mind. I have met interviewees who were 19, had very little clue how our bank was set up but already claimed to know that they really only wanted to do commodities sales. It is much better to have an awareness of changing business environments and show a willingness to get an overview of the bank. It is impossible to know where you will fit best from the outside.
Second, make sure you practice some very basic quant skills and have them automised to such an extent that you will be able to perform quick calculations even when nervous and under pressure. I could not believe how few candidates were able to quickly tell me what is ten cubed (10 x 10 x 10). 80% of maths students thought it was 100 or 10,000!!! That is unbelievable to me, but it shows how being nervous can have a serious impact on interview performance, so make sure you know your times tables and can perform simple estimates (what is the cubic root of 120? Of 200? What is 1.7 x 1.7 ?).
And lastly, though this is somewhat less important for summer analyst applicants than for more mature MBA candidates, I do also find it important that candidates have some idea of the economic and political environment we are in. What caused the credit crunch? How did it unfold? What does this mean for banks? For economies? I am not saying there is one short and easy answer to these questions, but it helps to have something concise and relatively coherent to say to such a macro type question. If you haven’t watched it yet, I quite liked this interview with Michael Platt on Bloomberg TV, founder of the hedge fund Bluecrest. He gave a very good overview of the current state of European economies and what that means for investors. If you have Sales & Trading interviews coming up, I suggest you watch it: