In this article I am going to share interview tips for every job seeker, but I will discuss some buy-side / sell-side research specific tips at the end.
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- That one that will come up 100% of the time. You should feel very confident at the beginning of an interview because the only sure question that will come up is “walk me through your resume” or its variants. Prepare for that question so well that you can recite it in your sleep.
- Be Concise. Your every response to interview questions should be at most 3 minutes long. Write down your answers, rehearse it while timing yourself. During MBA, my interview buddy is a great investor who is wordy: when we mock interview each other, his every answer is at least 5 minutes long. My mind starts drifting off after the third minute mark, so I completely see why career coaches (including me) suggest 2-3 minute answers. People’s attention span keeps getting shorter, which is exacerbated by social media (yes, I would know that huh). Really get to your points upfront. For example, for a “tell me about a situation"-type question: What’s the conflict? What did you do? What was the outcome? What is that story supposed to tell me about you? Ideally four sentences should answer these four questions.
- Answer the Damn Question: I have seen too many candidates start answering questions without thinking because they are nervous. Five minutes into answers, they had no idea what the original question was or what they were talking about. After hearing the question, it is okay to pause a bit or even repeat the question back to the interviewer to make sure you understand and then answer the actual question.
- Don’t Overshare: Another sign of nervousness is when candidate kept on talking after sufficiently answering the question. Remember, everything you say or have written on your resume is fair game to be probed further by your interviewer. When I interviewed for a big long-only investment firm, I sat in a room debating my stock pitch against four Portfolio Managers simultaneously. I was eager to impress and included some return of capital analysis that I found on the internet, but I did not really understand the takeaway of my analysis. One of the PMs asked me what the takeaway is and I conceded I could not answer. Needlessly to say, I did not advance to the final case study round. Don’t make the same mistake: Don’t include or say anything that you cannot defend in detail.
- Speak Slowly: I got a lot to improve on this area. When you speak more slowly and enunciate, you are heard more clearly and sound more convincing, which helps your candidacy.
- Never Lower Guard: Until you received the written job offer, never be too informal with your interviewer no matter how friendly your interviewer might be. Particularly with high caliber jobs, part of the interview is assessing your ability (especially for fresh college graduates) to carry yourself in front of powerful people (client or company C-suite)
- Dress Well: I don’t know about you. Dressing well gives me confidence and it just puts you in the mindset of doing business. According to Robert Cialdini, appearance is the most effective way to gain influence (and make the sale) - sad but true.
- Build Confidence Early: Arrive 15 minutes early. Schmooze with the security guards and receptionists to build confidence.
- Remote interviews:
- Ensure good connection. Find a quiet place to conduct the interview. People have done actual or informational interviews with me while eating, while chilling at a bar, while driving (yes that was ridiculous and the person had the audacity to tell me that he was driving), and so on. Please don’t ever do that. It shows lack of professionalism and lack of maturity as a human being.
- If Zoom, make sure you look into the video camera when talking.
- Regardless of Zoom or audio, sit in good posture. I can HEAR your posture through your voice.
- Smile when you speak. I can hear your enthusiasm too. It all shows through the voice.
- Bring a pen and a paper notebook. Take notes (or pretend to), it paints a good picture of what you are like when you are a full-time employee. Most don’t have superhuman memories, write things down: It helps you write the thank you email too when you need to highlight parts of the discussion.
Prepare as many questions as possible. You never know if you get a “one-word-answer" type interviewer and deal with the constant awkward silence. It shows you care and have done the homework. You cannot know what a job entails just from a job description or an HR screening call. So prepare questions and prioritize on the ones you really want to learn more about:
- Firm culture, vision, manager work style, expectation of you 1,3,5 years out, how your performance will be evaluated, etc.
- NO COMPENSATION QUESTIONS, that comes after receiving the offer
- Try to relate: Stalk your interviewers' online presence if you know their names beforehand. Try to relate in any way you can (Influence by Robert Cialdini stuff). Mirror their body movements.
- Always send thank you email. Always. Keep it short: reiterate your interest, thank them, highlight things you learned, reiterate why you are the (chosen) one.
- Don’t make up answers. If you don’t know, say you will get back to them and ACTUALLY GET BACK TO THEM. That’s particularly true in research, where your value-add is truly knowing something cilents don’t have the time to know and their success hinges on intellectual honesty.
- Be an interesting person. If you are interviewing for research roles, don’t just say reading and listening to investing podcasts are your hobbies (aka, don’t be like me). Bring some unique personality to your future team (as long as your extracurricular activities are legal)
- Pretend to commit to the profession. So you can answer the “where you see yourself 5 years out” question. It’s a stupid question in my opinion but now you have a (fake) answer.
Now comes the research-specific advice:
- Have good answers for why's and why-nots:
- Why this firm?
- Why this sector?
- Why not buy-side?
- Why not credit (why equity)?
- Why not investment banking / consulting / sales and trading? I think these questions are dumb too, but you could easily be asked because people are bad interviewers. The truth is you should gun for every opening because they don’t open up frequently in this profession. As long as it’s not a sketchy shop (not naming names because feelings get hurt). Yes, in an ideal world, I want to cover Healthcare or Tech or E-commerce but I will take Industrial because I still will learn how to cover an industry and start in equity research ASAP.
- Do you invest? Yes. Be ready to talk about what you own in your portfolio, why you own them (not a full stock pitch but high level thesis) and how you think about position sizing
- Long-term goal. Some interviewer is very candid about people come and go in this profession but don't reveal you want to go buy-side (if that's your goal). I have a few lines to help my clients deflect this question smoothly 😉
- Don’t stumble on these questions:
- Do you invest? Same answer as for sell-side research
- Are you a risk taker? Yes
- Are you a (value / growth / special situation) type investor (that is same as the firm's philosophy)? The answer is yes
- Do you read? Favorite book? Yes, be able to share a book or two and know the takeaways.
- Favorite investor?
- Have a view on things.
- Why hedge fund? Why not long only? (If you interview for long only, flip the questions around)
- What are your transferable skills into the industry?