Expect to be asked this question at every IB interview. Your answer should be a 3- to 5-minute story about yourself, and in that short space of time, you have to make your answer not just a dull recount of your experiences from start to finish. Here is your opportunity to stand out, as well as foreshadow your strengths and experiences that you might want to expand upon later during the interview.
So, how to impress your interviewers in just under 5 minutes?
1. What recruiters want to hear?
As we said earlier, they don’t want a dull verbalization of your resume or a rehashing of what you have already put down in your cover letter, which they can easily see on paper. They want a story that stands out. Stories have a weird way of staying in people’s minds longer than mere facts and statistics. Your interviewer might forget that you are from Harvard or Wharton because there might be just a lot of more impressive candidates having the same background as yours. But a story about how you developed an interest in finance while being a member at your school’s student-run investment fund might linger much longer.
That said, the question might take many shapes and forms. Here are some similar questions you might get in an IB interview:
“Tell me about yourself” or
“Why are you here today?” or
“Describe your work experiences”
The best way to answer all of these questions is to develop a narrative that tells about your experiences that relate to the role you are interviewing for, and how this role is a logical next step in your career progression. This might sound overwhelming now, but we will help you break this goal down into four small, digestible steps.
But the eventual question you should direct your answer to is actually “Why should we hire you?”.
2. How to answer “Walk me through your resume” question?
Step 1: Start off with your background
This is a natural step to get the conversation going. If you are currently an undergraduate, it is more important to start off with your hometown and your university. If you are an entry-level professional, pay more attention to your initial career. The more work experiences you have, the less school matters.
It is harder to impress the recruiter in this step. It is always better to go beyond just mentioning your school name and major(s). If you have any interesting or even unusual facts about yourself, definitely bring it to the table. Here is one example answer to help you get started:
“I am from China originally, but I moved to the U.S. 3 years ago to attend NYU where I majored in Economics. During my sophomore year, I went to Hong Kong for a study-abroad program to study finance and got to talk to lots of banking professionals there.”
The story will spark follow-up questions later as they might want you to expand your experiences in Hong Kong and how you get exposure to how an international financial market other than the U.S. market works, distracting them from asking too many technical questions.
This is the easiest way to make your answer outstanding right from the beginning. Try scraping up any interesting facts that you believe will make them remember your after, from your club involvement to sports to your study-abroad program.
Mention briefly your education background, but focus more on your initial career. You don’t need to try too hard to make your experiences stand out just yet. Talk about your company names and job titles, but most importantly the rationale for why you are making this transition into finance or this particular subsection of finance. This will be the meat of the next step.
Step 2: How your interest in finance sparks?
Again, the principle of story matters here. Your answer will be more memorable if you are able to wrap a story around it. The story can be about a specific person, an event, or an activity. The more specific and personalized it can be, the more impressive your answer is. Here are several ways you can find your spark points:
- Company information sessions and pre-internship programs
- Clubs and activities
- Case competitions
- A class or academic programs
- Your own investing and trading experiences
- Networking with school alumni
Once you settle for a spark point, develop a narrative around it by adding information from your own perspectives. This will ensure that your spark point is different from others’. Even if you and another candidate both developed an interest in investment banking by something as generic as taking a finance class, your own reflection on the concepts is unique. Here is one example,
“I got interested in finance in my first finance class when the professor used [Company’s stock] as an example of an undervalued stock. I was interested in how the analyst can predict the correct value of that stock and advise investment strategy.”
Again, for entry-level professionals, the spark might be more or less important. The longer you work, the more low-key you can go with your spark point. If you are a career-changer, your spark is why you decide to make the switch into finance or a particular subsector of financial services. The same principle applies. Draw heavily from your real-life work experiences; the interviewer is more able to relate because like you, they also are working on the field.
Step 3: How your interest progresses?
After bringing up your spark point, it is crucial that you tell your interviewer how you nurture that interest. Here is where you should spend the majority of your time walking them through your experiences. A good rule of thumb is to pick three most important items on your resume and again, develop a narrative around it. Interviewees tend to fall into the trap that all of their experiences deserve some attention. This is completely wrong. Psychologically speaking, people are very selective in choosing where to put their attention to. Three is a good number to hold them focused while giving them a comprehensive picture of your experience.
Whether you are an undergraduate applying for an analyst job or a MBA candidate having worked at a Big 4 for 1 year, this part should be a logical progression of your interest and how you accumulate your skills over time. For one experience, remember to highlight what a skill or a personal quality you learn from the job. Between each experience, you should be able to pinpoint to the reason why you decide to move to your next job to create a logical flow to your story.
Step 4: Why are you here today?
Step 3 again makes a logical transition into step 4. The question you want to answer for this step is “why is our company the next step for you?” They want you to have your long-term career goals fleshed out and explain how their company can help you materialize those goals. Start out with “I’m here today because …”
However, you have to be very careful in visualizing your future for interviewers. You have to act as if you are in it for the long term, that you are committed to the growth and profit of the company through your contribution.
Avoid talking about exit goals or any goals that do not align with the values and missions of the company you are interviewing for. This might require some research beforehand. Go to the company’s website and look at their mission statement, or talk with current employees to get insights into company culture and what they value.
Sample 1: Non-finance undergraduate
“I am originally from Houston, Texas. I’ve always had a passion for different cultures, so I decided to attend Columbia University as an Asian studies major. During my junior year, I went to Shanghai for a study-abroad program and had a chance to attend an info session of HSBC.
There I met Anthony. We had a conversation about his work as a manager of a mutual fund under HSBC. I started to develop an interest in finance after that.
Referred by Anathony, also an alumni at Columbia, I joined my school’s investment club to know more about finance. There, I was responsible for researching stocks and companies to invest in, and had to quickly learn different valuation techniques. To learn more about M&A, I joined Evecore as an investment banking intern to work on M&A transactions and equity research. While I learned a great deal about the investment banking industry, I wanted to work on more complex deals, and that led to my next internship at Goldman Sachs where I helped to deliver the merger between [X] and [Y].
I am here today because I want to look into opportunities in Southeast Asia. I feel that the financial markets in SEA are full of opportunities, and I want to combine my finance skills and my knowledge in SEA culture to contribute to your company’s division in the region.”
Sample 2: MBA-candidate switcher
“I obtained my undergraduate degree at Georgetown University as a finance major. Like my friends, I looked for job opportunities after graduation in the financial services industry. My first job was with Lazard. I worked for their debt equity research division for 2 years so I had a solid foundation in the financial market.
I then continued my MBA at Emory Goizueta Business School in finance. I had many opportunities to meet business leaders from all over the world, including many investors from China. I got hooked on China’s financial markets from our conversations. I learned that there is a booming M&A market in China and deals are getting bigger and more complex than ever before, which led to my decision to pivot into investment banking.
The reason I am here today is that I want to become an advisor to Chinese companies in the future. Given that the bank is expanding its operations in China, I want to contribute my experiences in the financial industry and my background in Chinese markets to the firm’s increasing presence in China. On the other hand, knowing that the firm offers a steeping learning curve in IB with lots of mentorship programs and a very entrepreneurial culture, I want this place to be where I start my next career as an investment banker.”