LBS Note: This article is an adaptation of M&I's How to Tell Your Story in Investment Banking Interviews in 5 Simple Steps. I've adapted the content for buy side interviews (hedge funds and asset management firms), but the lessons apply to sell side equity research as well. And, not to be outdone by Brian, I simplified the steps even further to just 4 steps.
Begin interview at a top hedge fund …
“Walk me through your résumé.”
“Tell me a little about yourself.”
Ugh. The open-ended start to every interview ever given. And yet, it's probably the most important question of any interview at a hedge fund.
First impressions matter, so nailing this question with confidence is the key to a successful interview. Stumble and there's almost no recovering.
Lucky for you, most candidates are not good at answering this question. The average candidate typically falls along one of two extremes: either they fumble over their words like a big offensive lineman trying to pick up a loose (American) football, or they recite a manufactured speech like a child's wind-up talking toy. Both are bad.
Luckily, with a bit of preparation, the “tell me about yourself” answer is as simple as 4 easy steps:
- Your Background
- Your Investing Experiences
- Why You are Here
- Where Do You See Your Future
See, just as I promised. Four simple steps when Brian thinks it takes five. Overachieving banker. Now, on to the four steps...
You want to start with some basic background information about yourself, beginning with where you are now. Lead with a discussion of where you are at today, then work backward in time as far as is relevant.
For example, let's say you are in business school. Lead with your current school and any additional relevant information related to business school, such as any specializations, clubs, etc. Then briefly mention where you worked before you went back to get your MBA and where you when for undergraduate studies.
If you are working, you lead with where you are working and then go back to mention where you attended college.
If your are an undergrad, then you simply discuss your current school and your activities at school followed by any internship experience. There is no need to go back all the way in time to high school, unless you went to a super well-known high school (does not apply to 99.99% of you) or the geographic location of your high school is relevant.
For example, let's assume you are attending school in Chicago but you are from New York and you are job searching in New York. Letting the interviewer know you are from New York can let them know moving across the country is easier for you.
With the background, keep it simple and just set the stage for the important information to come.
Your Investing Experiences
Experiences with investing are vitally important if you want to land a job at hedge funds or asset management firms. Hedge funds and asset management firms, even equity research shops, want people who are passionate about investing.
So much so that you will often see “Strong interest in the investment process” or similar on job postings. This is important for you as well. Your are doing yourself a disservice if you are looking for a job in investing but you don't really like investing.
Now, of course anyone can walk into an interview and declare, “I am passionate about investing!” That's why having proof is what matters. And proof comes in the form of past experiences.
Here's where you will briefly describe your past experiences with investing in chronological order to today. Internships are an obvious experience, but expand your thinking to include anything related to investing.
- School case competitions
- School projects
- Investing / Finance clubs
- CFA exams / societies
- Investing activities in your PA (“personal account” for the non-initiated)
- Family businesses, like working for your dad who is a financial planner
Include anything and everything investing related and be specific. Tell a story about your experiences and what you've learned, don't simply recite them in list form.
Don't have any investing experiences?
It's not the end of the world, but it's going to be more difficult for you than the competition who actually proved their passion for investing by seeking out investing experiences. Alternatively, you could just go out and start building some investing experiences today.
Seriously, go get started.
Why You Are Here
This isn't an existential question that only Nietzsche could answer. This is simply a specific question that needs to have a specific answer.
You need to answer this in two parts:
- Why this hedge fund (or asset management firm or equity research group) specifically?
- Why now?
The second part is easy if you are still in school.
"Because I'm going to graduate in [insert month of graduation here].”
If you are currently in the working world already, this becomes a bit more complicated. You need to have a convincing reason you are changing jobs. In this case, it's best to simply to tell the truth. You know the reason you are going through the effort of interviewing despite having a job, so just say it (e.g., little opportunity for advancement, not what you want to do for the rest of your life, company is downsizing, and so on).
Where Do You See Your Future
If you are interviewing for a front office job (e.g., analyst), then your future plans should be pretty clear. Since the buy side is usually the end game, just discuss how you want to work hard and work your way up the ranks to portfolio manager one day.
Just be careful to make sure you convey the understanding that portfolio manager is years down the road. Don't be so presumptuous to assume you are going to become a PM within a year or two. You want to convey the message that you are there for the long-term and that you are willing to put in the hard work necessary to succeed.
If you are interviewing for a back office or middle office position but you really want to be in the front office, be sure to mention your career aspirations. It's okay to say you hope to one day work your way into an analyst role. In fact, it's very important that message is clear from the first day or you might end up trapped in the back office forever.
Just 4 Easy Steps
There you have it: how to answer the dreaded “tell me about yourself” interview question in four simple steps.
- Your Background – Where you are from? School? Major? Current job?
- Your Investing Experiences – Internships? Investing clubs? CFA?
- Why You are Here – Graduating? Career change?
- Where Do You See Your Future – Portfolio manager? Front office?
As with anything, practice makes perfect. So sketch out your responses and practice them in front of the mirror, with a friend, or in front of the video camera. First impressions matter, so make sure you give a convincing and natural start to your interview.