Nail These 9 Tricky Interview Questions and Wall Street Will Hire You to Intern

Published: Nov 13, 2013

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Although working for a bulge-bracket investment bank is no longer a model-and-bottle proposition, it’s still one of the most lucrative first jobs you can get right out of college or MBA school. And if you want to land at Goldman, one of the Morgans, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Barclays, or BofA, you’re likely going to have to get in through the summer door. That is, you’re going to have to first land a summer internship with your bank of choice, because these days, with competition so fierce and available spots so scarce, if you don’t get a summer internship, you’re chances of getting a full-time job are about as good as Bernie Madoff getting paroled. 

And, to that end, in order to get your wing tipped foot in the door, you’re not only going to have to have a 3.96 GPA or higher, captained at least two varsity sport teams, been the president of three clubs (at least one of which meets more than once a semester), and an expertise in something out of the ordinary such as the plight of the platypus or Persian history, you’re also going to have to field some pretty strange interview questions. And below are nine that you better be ready to conquer (all of which are actual questions that some of the 7,700 interns who filled out the 2013 Vault Intern Experience Survey told us they were asked in the not-so-distant past): 

1. Describe a person you hate. And describe a person you admire.
If you have pretty large stones, you can answer the first part of this truthfully. But it might be best to play it safe and say something to the effect of: I’m an admirer, not a hater, and go into the second part of the question straight away and see if you can avoid having to address the first. However, if you’re pressed to get back to the first, you might want to qualify your answer and use the words “strong dislike” and then describe someone who’s cheated or done something unethical; although it might sound counterintuitive given all the illegal activities that Wall Street has been engaged in as of late, ethics have become a large part of investment banking interviews. 

2. Why shouldn't I hire you?
The best answer here might be one employing a little bit of humor. But tread carefully. Nothing says Ding! louder than a bad joke.

3. If you have a 70 percent free throw average, what’s the probability that you’ll make three free throws in a row?
You don’t even need to know what a basketball is to get this one right. And though it sounds a bit complicated, all you’ll need to know is how to multiply 0.70 by 0.70 by 0.70. Or, easier yet, 70 by 70 by 70. Or, even easier, 7 by 7 by 7. Which gets you 343. Then place the decimal point three places to the left and you have 0.343, which means: 34.3 percent. (Note: this question gets a little trickier if it asks for the probability that you'll make at least two of three shots; in that case, you'll have to refer to your probability formulas to score the correct solution.)

4. If you owned the only tire company in America, what would your production capacity need to be to meet demand?
This is more or less a classic guesstimate question, which tests your ability to figure out the size of a market by talking through your reasoning aloud. That is, your interviewer isn’t looking for an exact answer, but wants to know how you think about estimating the size of a market/coming to an answer. So, in this case, you might want to first estimate how many new cars and trucks are manufactured each year (which all require new tires). Then maybe estimate how long tires last (the life span of a tire/when each tire needs to be replaced). And then perhaps estimate how often tire flats/accidents occur (which necessitate buying new tires), etc.

5. How many hairdressers and barbers are there in Manhattan?
Another variation of the guesstimate. For this one, you might want to start out with the population of Manhattan, then estimate how many Manhattanites go to a hairdresser/barber, how often they go, how long the average haircut takes (30 minutes, 40 minutes), etc.

6. Sell me something in this room.
The “sell me” question is a popular one on Wall Street, especially in sales and trading interviews. For this one, try picking something other than a pen, which is the common answer of choice to this Q, and try picking something that isn’t yours (on the off chance that it draws attention to something of yours that the interviewer isn’t a fan of). You could, for example, choose a table, or chair, or perhaps a picture or frame on the wall. The important thing is not what you pick, it’s that you ask your interviewer (your customer) a handful of questions about what he or she is looking for in said product. In other words, you want to find out your customer’s needs, and then you can sell your product to your customer accordingly ("okay, so you're looking for a chair that you can sit in for 24 hours at a stretch without incurring any lower back pain ... well this one has been designed with the work hours of investment bankers in mind and will form to any back shape or size and has been recommended by four out of five chiropractors ..." ). The common mistake here is to simply spew out all the positive attributes about the product you picked before finding out your interviewer’s (customer’s) needs and desires. If you do that, your answer will result in this: no sale. 

7. On the first day of class, in the biggest lecture you have, where did you sit and why?
Don’t overthink this one. Just be honest. Even if your answer is, I sat in the back row because I didn’t want to be called on. Well, maybe say anything short of that. But know this: you’re going to sound like you're full of black beans if you try to answer with something you think your interviewer’s looking for. Which, at least in part, is how honest you are. 

8. Name the 10 biggest headlines in the Wall Street Journal in the past year.
This one might seem daunting at a glance, but it isn’t insurmountable, even if you don’t read the Journal on a regular basis. First, note that “biggest headlines” = “top news stories” and that the Journal covers more than just business and finance news (which hopefully you’re aware of). That is, it covers general U.S. news, world news, culture, politics, etc. That said, it does focus on the financial markets, so your answer should definitely contain some business/economic/finance-related headlines/news stories. In any case, a good place to start is with the top world news stories in the past 12 months, and definitely think aloud while you’re compiling your answer. When you get to a stopping point and can’t think of any other world news items, think about major scandals that might’ve been exposed (such as the London Whale fiasco; although, it should be mentioned, if you're interviewing with Jamie Dimon's kingdom, you might want to choose a difference scandal), large mergers that might’ve been considered megadeals (like the recent American-US Airways marriage), and any monster IPOs that went to market (#likeTwittersIPOforexample). 

9. If you could be a tree, which kind would you be and why?
Yes, this is an actual interview question that one of the largest banks in the world recently asked a prospective summer intern. Which proves that you better be ready for anything. It also proves that knowing your financial markets isn't the only thing that's essential to getting a job on Wall Street. You also need to know your flora.

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