March 2006 (v8 i5)
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Grasping desperately at the corporate ladder
Will work for base plus stock options
by Eric Seufert, Associate Editor

When I tell people that I’ve been busy interviewing for full-time jobs, I’m never met with any empathy or support. A lot of people outside of the business school don’t understand interview dynamics in the first place, but I think there’s a more fundamental misunderstanding to blame for being overwhelmed by the recruitment process. If a job interview is akin to going on a blind date with a corporation, the date in a finance interview would be a vasectomy specialist with an astigmatism. And it’d take place in Hell.

Finance interviews are miserable. Forget the trite questions the head lifeguard asked when you applied for your summer job at the pool: If an investment banker asks you what your greatest weakness is, the only appropriate answer is “making my employers too much money.”

Every interview will start on the topic of your experience and how it relates to the position you’re applying for. If you interned in the accounting department of a company, tell the interviewer that you did a lot of number crunching but wanted more interaction with clients. If you spent the summer at a consulting firm, say you want to get into a more quantitative field. If you helped construct a septic system in a poverty-stricken Latin American village with your church, find me downtown this Thursday so I can buy you a drink. You just brought me one step closer to landing the job.

The interview will inevitably shift gears into technical questions. The transition is awkward and abrupt because the interviewer needs to see how good you are at thinking on your feet. The same goes for the heat lamp and Komodo dragon in the corner.

Technical questions can range from mental math (“What’s 15 times 23?”) to accounting questions (“Which financial statement might have an entry that is the product of 15 and 23?”) to brainteasers (“If two trains were barreling toward each other on a track, would they collide after 15 times 23 minutes?”). The value in being able to quickly multiply numbers or calculate hypothetical collision times is underscored by the fact that no major investment bank in the world can afford to provide its employees with calculators.

With the technical questions out of the way, the last portion of the interview is dedicated to allowing you to ask questions of the interviewer. And you’d better have some. You need to emphasize your interest in the firm by inquiring about what it’s like to work there. Of course, asking a rudimentary question reveals that you didn’t adequately research the company before the interview. Craft your questions carefully and solidify your relationship with God in the days before you meet with the company.

Your last session will come to an end, and you’ll be walked out of the building. As easily as this experience came into your life, you’ll leave the office to potentially never return. If you got the job, you can expect a phone call within a week; if you didn’t, your fate lies in a glib e-mail addressing you as “Recent Applicant.” Loosen your tie and hail a cab — it’s time to go home. You’re tired, you’re uncomfortable, and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll spend the next 20 hours sitting in JFK airport because your flight out of New York was canceled. But hey, think of the light at the end of the tunnel — the opportunity to spend three years working 90-hour weeks and memorizing every keyboard shortcut in Excel.
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