"Failure" Interview Questions & Suggested Answers

When the economy is bad and when banks aren't giving out many offers, "failure" is common. Maybe it's your greatest fear about banking, or your Plan B if things don't work out. Or maybe it's just answering those awkward questions about why you didn't get an offer last year, or what you did over the past 6 months besides partying in Thailand.

1. What's your greatest fear about investment banking?


Do not give an actual, legitimate fear (losing your friends/significant other, gaining weight, working too much, hating your life, getting laid off, etc.).

Instead, it's best to go with something more innocuous like, "Doing a lot of work on deals and not always getting to see them through to the conclusion because anything could cause a large transaction to collapse" or having concerns about the deal flow if the market is poor.


2. What's your "Plan B" if you can't get into investment banking this year?


You'll do something finance-related, in a field like corporate finance / strategy or maybe something else at a bank / financial firm. You also want to point any offers you have, especially if they're in finance or consulting.

"If I have absolutely no way to get into banking at your firm this year, then I'd go work in the Valuations group at one of the Big 4 firms where I already have an offer - or to the 2 boutiques that keep inviting me in for interviews."


3. That guy over there has a 4.0 from Wharton/Harvard - why should I hire you over him, given that you're much less impressive?


Bankers hire people who 1) Are smart 2) Can do the work and 3) Are likeable. In addition to meeting all of those criteria, you've also done well in the real-world and have stellar recommendations to back you up - plus, since you don't come from a "blue-chip" background you're more motivated to succeed than the Harvard guy.

"He does have impressive credentials. But at a bank, you want someone who's smart, can do the work, and is easy to get along with. I've done well in school and am working on an Honors Thesis right now, and I have great recommendations from my 2 previous bosses in my Sales & Trading internships. And I spend most of my free time sky diving and going on adventures in different countries.

So while he may be qualified on paper, in banking it all comes down to real-world experience and what kind of camaraderie you have with everyone. I'm confident that I excel in both of those areas - and since I'm not from a privileged background, I'm even more motivated to succeed than someone who is."


4. Let's say your MD is meeting with a client and you have been invited. As he's presenting, you notice a mistake in the materials - do you point it out?


No - unless it happens to come up in the meeting, in which case you speak only if the MD asks you about it. In that case you should just briefly acknowledge it and then move to a different topic.

It's bad if you make a mistake like that, but it's even worse if you embarrass your MD by pointing it out in broad daylight - chances are that no one will notice anyway since they barely read pitch books in meetings.


5.I see you have a big gap in your work experience over the past few months / few years /1 see you have a gap of 2-3 years a few years ago - what happened there?


The key here is to spin whatever you've done in a positive light. So don't just say you were out of work / laid off / looking for work at the time - just mention that briefly and then say that you were also doing something else constructive with your time, such as education, travel, volunteering, or a respectable hobby.

If you've had some other type of gap because of school, economic hardship, or something similar, you need to find the strength in whatever weakness you had - this is really just a disguised "weakness" question.

So if you had to wait tables for 1-2 years to pay for family expenses or support yourself / pay for tuition, talk about what that taught you in terms of work ethic and what you learned about yourself in the process.

As with any other "Why don't you have a blue-chip background?" question, you have to tie everything back to the "banker-like" qualities.

"The truth is, my family went through some financial hardships back then and I was forced to take a leave of absence from school for awhile, and spend most of my time working to help them pay the bills. Initially I was pretty upset, but I learned a lot about time management, work ethic, and how to juggle 5 different major responsibilities at once. I lost some time on my peers, but I came out more motivated than before, helped my family get back on their feet, and got started with independent study to help myself catch up."


6. Why did you get a C in accounting? (Or other bad grade in highly relevant class)


Don't even try to make up an excuse unless it's a REALLY good one (e.g. your parents both passed away that semester) - just admit it and then point out what you've learned and how you've improved since then.

Maybe you took it upon yourself to do additional self-study - or you changed your approach to studying and did much better in subsequent Accounting classes.


7. Why did you NOT receive a return offer from your internship?


For this one it sounds like you're making an excuse if you say something like, "The market was bad" or "They didn't give out any offers" - even if both of those are true.

It's a better bet to say something like, "I did well in my internship and got positive reviews, but I didn't fit in with the group's culture. From those I've spoken with so far at your firm, I think this is a much better fit for me."

It's hard to argue with doing the work well but just not fitting in with the group.


8. You graduated last year and don't have anything listed on your resume since then -what have you been doing, and did you participate in recruiting last year?


For this one, if it's a bank you have NOT interviewed with before it's best to say you haven't participated in recruiting so they don't see you as "damaged goods." But if you're on the record as having interviewed there before, you need to admit the truth.

You probably want to say something like, "I did some interviewing last year, but I was not focused 100% due to a family situation. I had to spend a few months after graduation attending to that, so I missed out on recruiting, but I did some independent study / additional research / [something else that sounds productive] and am now more focused than ever on banking."

Remember, almost anything could be a "family situation" and no one will call you on it if you say something like this. You also want to convey that your time since graduating has not been unproductive and that you're now better-prepared / more focused.


9. Why are we your first choice? Wouldn't you like London or New York more?


Even if you really do prefer New York or London, you can't say this in an interview with a regional office because your #1 goal has to be getting AN offer - not getting the perfect offer in the perfect location.

It's best to say something like, "I realize it is unusual and that are other places are sometimes more popular, but I'm most interested in [Location] because it's the best place for [Industry You Like], I have a lot of friends and family here, and on top of all that the cost of living also beats New York."

This way you acknowledge their "objection" upfront but also point out solid reasons for picking this location.


10. Why are you so old? (Stated more tactfully)


"I realize I don't fit the typical profile of someone applying to banking - but that also comes with some advantages. I've been around longer and explored different industries, so I have a better of what I want, and I'm going to be more committed than someone just out of school. I've also had a lot more leadership experience and understand how to get things done in a large company - and I've climbed up steep learning curves plenty of times over the years."

One of the interviewer's key concerns for older candidates is how well you can learn new things and work long hours - so you should have specific examples on-hand to address both of these "objections."


 - prepared by breakingintowallstreet.com and mergersandinquisitions.com


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