The two most important questions in your interview are likely to be the first two questions that you’ll get asked:
Tell me about yourself
Why do you want to work at this firm?
Technical questions are important, but there really is a limit to how well you can answer them. That’s because most technical questions have a discrete correct answer.
But when you’re competing for the very top positions, almost all of your competition is going to know all of the technical information pretty well. Everyone will know the ins and outs of valuation, how to walk through a DCF, and have a relevant stock pitch. At that level, the way you distinguish yourself as a candidate is to have great qualitative answers which will show that you’ve done thorough research and care about the job you’re interviewing for.
In this post, we’re going to go over how to answer a question like “Why Goldman” and the sort of work you should be doing before you interview with a firm.
How to Answer This Question
A good, comprehensive answer to an important qualitative question like this will:
Be 30-60 seconds in length
This amount of time prevents you from droning on too long and gives the interviewer enough content to ask follow-ups if they want to continue asking questions.
FYI, “tell me about yourself” should be longer, at ~90 seconds.
Be described in 2 or 3 discrete points
This amount of detail will allow your answer to be comprehensive, but still memorable.
Mention points that are representative of the firm’s business engine
You should mention things that actually matter to the firm’s ability to generate profit. Mentioning things like culture, strong CEO, or ability to do complex deals is a lot better than things like their TV advertisements or their font.
Why This Firm?
Your answer to “why do you want to work at this firm” should almost always match whatever makes the firm unique and whatever the firm is proudest of.
If done correctly, you’ll be giving a thorough answer that can apply to no other firm. That’s a great reason why you want to work at that firm – because there’s no other firm with that specific combination of characteristics. You’ll also communicate that you’ve done your homework and understand what that firm actually cares about.
The best way to get this answer is to ask an employee at that firm in the context of an informational interview. You can ask someone over a coffee chat why they chose to work at that firm. If you can get an analyst or associate on the phone and ask them what makes their firm unique or why they chose that firm, you should get a bunch of unique characteristics that you can re-purpose into a high-quality interview answer.
If you’re unable to get someone on the phone, you should first really try harder to do so. Your overall interview chances are going to be low if you haven’t spoken with anyone at that firm.
But if you’re pressed for time, you can start by using a few points from the below lists, which depends on if you are interviewing for a bulge bracket or an elite boutique:
Global network and world-class reputation (then mention how they have offices and different practices in several countries)
Complex cross-border deals (then mention one or two deals you’ve seen)
Expertise with financing deals (then mention one or two deals you’ve seen)
Robust history and reputation of success (then mention their financial performance over the past few years)
Growth trajectory (then mention how they’ve opened new offices or started new business lines)
Focus on pure advisory and giving the best advice to clients (then mention one or two unique deals, like advising a board of directors or complex fairness opinion)
Lean deal teams (which leads to more analyst responsibility and opportunities to learn)
A pro tip is that you should almost always mention how the firm’s culture is awesome.
Even if it’s a bit cheesy, I almost always mention how I’ve been really impressed with everyone I’ve met during the interview process. I say how everyone I’ve met has been super helpful and bright.
All firms in finance really like to think of themselves as the good guys and that they have a “no asshole” rule, so it’s a super easy thing to lean into.
If you’re interviewing at a firm that is notoriously intense like Moelis or Apollo (in which that comment might be a harder thing to convincingly say), just say how you admire the firm’s commitment to excellence and how people hold themselves to a high standard. Some firms are going to work a lot more than the standard 60-80 hour week in investment banking and it can be hard saying those firms have exceptional work environments.
Researching a Firm
You should dedicate some time just Googling and checking the last few annual reports of the firm you’re interviewing for to understand what has been changing with the business.
You don’t need to know discrete financial data, but at the minimum, you should know: a) one deal the firm has done recently and b) any new business units or geographies the firm has expanded into recently.
Honestly, just spend like 15-30 minutes looking up a firm and write down some bullet points for yourself to remember.
Let’s go over a few sample answers. All you need for a good answer is to mention two business model related points and then shamelessly compliment their culture.
Why do you want to work on Goldman’s TMT investment banking team?
I’m very interested in working for Goldman’s TMT team because I really think that Goldman’s global platform allows it to most effectively service the world’s technology companies. Last year for example, I saw that Goldman advised on the $11B Broadcom-Symantec deal, which involved different stakeholders, such as international regulators and activist investors. I think Goldman stands alone in its ability to advise on the world’s most complex deals.
Relatedly, I think Goldman’s enterprise technology practice is very likely the best in the industry and that’s an area I’m quite passionate about. No other firm does the same level of multi-billion dollar IPOs and M&A transactions in that space.
Most importantly, I’ve always been really impressed with the Goldman culture. I think it’s very evident with the leadership of David Solomon that the firm cares a lot about their employees and for being genuinely nice people. Everyone I’ve met through this process has been extremely helpful and I would love to learn from the people on your team.
For this research, I just Googled “Goldman Sachs technology investment banking” and found this article.
The thing is, we don’t even need to pick the most desirable group in the industry (like Goldman) to come up with a great answer. You can apply the same general format to get a great answer for any firm.
Why do you want to work on RBC’s M&A team?
The most important reason to me is because I want to be on a successful team that is focused on growth. I’ve watched RBC’s investment banking practice grow tremendously over the past few years and I think its trajectory will make it the best place for me to grow my career in finance. I saw that RBC was a top 10 investment bank in the US last year, having only entered the market recently, while many of your peers have been declining.
Secondly, I think RBC’s business model, which cleverly relies on lending to win deals and a strong Canadian foundation, is extremely robust and well designed. I think RBC is a great example of how to align the different business units in an organization.
But most importantly, I’m really excited by the prospect of working alongside such thoughtful and committed people. Unlike some other groups, everyone I’ve met from RBC during this recruiting process has been extremely generous with their time. I really get a good sense that I would work well as an Analyst here and that RBC is where I want to grow my career.
For this research, I just Googled “RBC M&A deals 2019” and found this article.
This stuff should be easy now that it’s spelled out for you. Just spend 15-30 minutes on each firm you’re going to interview with. Try to speak with one person per firm.