Strengths/Weaknesses Interview Questions & Suggested Answers
You're not likely to get the standard "Tell me your strengths and weaknesses" question in investment banking interviews - the more plausible variant is "Tell me the feedback you received in your most recent internship / job." The most common mistake? Not actually giving strengths and weaknesses.

This might sound crazy, but I've conducted many interviews and have seen this one countless times.

You need to focus on the qualities bankers look for when listing your strengths, and give a brief example to back up what you say if you mention something like "attention to detail" or "hard-working."

When giving weaknesses, make sure you list a real - but not critical - weakness. Don't say your weakness is that you "work too hard" but also don't say that your weakness is your "inability to get work done on time." Something like "being too critical of others" or "getting lost in the details" works better.

You also need to include something about how you have improved upon your weaknesses and/or overcome failures in the past.

 

1. In your internship this past summer, what feedback did you receive?

 

This is a variant of the "strengths and weaknesses" question. The most common mistake is being vague and just saying you performed well and they liked you, and then failing to give weaknesses / areas for improvement.

The right way to answer this question is to state specific qualities about you that they liked - such as ambition, drive, attention to detail, or willingness to go the extra mile for the team - and then give some specific examples of times when you demonstrated those qualities. Your all-nighters, the times you stayed the weekend working on a presentation, or the time you caught mistakes someone else above you missed are all good to mention.

The other critical part is mentioning weaknesses / areas for improvement as well - talk about real weaknesses and how you've worked to improve them (see more on this in #2 below).

 

2. What were a few areas that your team said you should try to improve upon?

 

The 2 most important points to remember with the "weaknesses" / "failure" question:

  1. Give a real weakness rather than saying you "work too hard."
  2. Show how you improved on it, using specific examples.

 

What are "real" weaknesses you could give? Maybe you weren't as communicative with the team as you should have been at the start; maybe you got lost in the details sometimes and failed to see the big picture; maybe you were too impatient with others or did not delegate tasks appropriately.

The point is to say something that is a real weakness but which is also not a "deal-breaker" - like saying you don't like to work hard or can't stand working in teams.

After that, state how you're working to improve your weakness. Perhaps you gave more regular updates to your superiors; or maybe you started leveraging other peoples' knowledge or the administrative staff at your work more often.

 

3. Did you get an offer to return to where you worked last summer?

 

If you did get an offer, this is an easy question: "yes." If you did not receive an offer, I would strongly recommend against lying about it - state that you did not receive an offer, and it was due to the economy, because your group was not hiring or due to other forces beyond your control.

The danger with lying is that finance is a very small world and it's quite easy to ask a friend or a friend of a friend what really happened.

 

4. After going through the accounting program at PricewaterhouseCoopers for the past year, what sort of end-of-year review did you get?

 

This is a disguised "tell me your strengths and weaknesses" question, so you should follow the advice given above. Since it's in relation to a full-time position you've held,

you should be a bit more thoughtful about what you say; generic answers won't work as well if they ask about your performance in a specific job.

 

5. Let's imagine that your best friend is describing you in 3 words - which words would he/she use and why?

 

This is just, "Tell me your strengths" in disguise, but you need to narrow it down to 3 words. Since it's your friend describing you, you don't want to say, "Driven, attentive to detail and a team player!"

You do want to convey the same ideas - that you can work hard, play well in teams, and get things done no matter what obstacles you face - but you should pick your own language to get this across.

For each word you list you should also give 1-2 sentences to back up what you say, using a specific example for each one.

 

6. Imagine that I'm speaking to someone with whom you have not gotten along in the past - what would he/she say about you?

 

This is just a disguised "weaknesses" question. However, since it involves someone else this time, it's better to give a weakness such as being stubborn and holding too rigidly to your own views rather than some of the other faults you could state. Weaknesses related to team/group settings are better here.

And once again, you need to emphasize how you've worked to improve whatever it is that you did not do well at the time.

Don't say something like, "I get along with everyone!" as that sounds unrealistic.

 

7. Why would we decide not to give you an offer today?

 

This one is a bit tricky because it's so direct. You could attempt to make a joke out of this one and say something like, "If you decided you weren't hiring at all!" but that may not go well if your interviewer doesn't appreciate humor.

Otherwise, the best response may be to turn this around and say, "I see no reason why you wouldn't - I'm your best choice because...." and then give your strengths instead.

If they really press you on this, you can admit a weakness and then say how you've been working to improve it.

 

8. Tell me why we should hire you in 3 sentences.

 

This is yet another variation of the "strengths" question. But rather than giving generic strengths, you should highlight any unique experiences you've had. So maybe you haven't had banking internships before - but you have had unique experience abroad, in an unusual setting, or doing something not many others have done, or you've overcome unusual hardship - and those make you particularly well-qualified.

Try to make your answer some variant of "I'm smart because of [School / Academics], I can do the work because of [Internships / Previous Jobs], and I'm an interesting person and fun to be around because of [Unique Experience]."

 

9. What was your greatest failure?

 

As with any "weaknesses" question, you need to use a specific story - such as an exam where you did not do well, a project that did not go as planned, or a work situation that did not turn out well - and show what you learned from it and how you've improved since then. Don't say something fake like, "My greatest failure was getting into Yale and Princeton but not Harvard" - that makes you look silly. It's better to give something real and then show how you've used the failure to develop.

 

- prepared by breakingintowallstreet.com and mergersandinquisitions.com

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