Saturday, June 23, 2007

Questions in an Interview Part 2

Question 3
Of the academic and work experiences listed on your resume, I wondered
if you could discuss the role that required the most juggling or
multitasking of complex projects.
This is a capacity question, pure and simple. As a junior banker, you’ll often be staffed on
several different deal teams simultaneously, so well-developed sensibilities regarding time
management (and expectations management) will serve you well, as will a knack for effective
prioritization. The type of multitasking involved in investment banking also requires a
relatively high stress management threshold: Given the inherent unpredictability and intensity
of the job, recruiters want to ensure that you’re not likely to self destruct the first time you’re
faced with an unexpected challenge.
Bad Answer
Candidate: Well, I’ve always taken the view that it’s better to do one thing
really well than to do a lot of different things halfway. So in college, for instance,
I really focused on my studies rather than trying to spread myself too thin.
While this is a perfectly legitimate point of view, you’d probably be better off being a little less
candid with your response. As an analyst or associate, you will be expected to carry a full
workload of multiple projects, and you typically won’t have the luxury of focusing on one
project at the expense of another. By definition, juggling requires you to keep a lot of balls in
the air at once; if you drop one, your reputation may not recover.
Finding Your Way
Good Answer
Candidate: Before business school, I worked for 2 years as an assistant
account manager with an advertising firm, which required a lot of multitasking.
As an account manager, you’re essentially the liaison between the client and the
advertising firm. First and foremost, our job was to keep the customer happy
with the services that we provided; if the client wasn’t happy with our work, we
were expected to resolve the issue by going back to the internal team to figure
out what went wrong and propose solutions. A lot of that was setting realistic
expectations: sitting down with the client at the outset of a product launch, for
example, and listening to what they envisioned for the campaign. Then, we’d
have to translate that vision into a workable strategy that our team could
accommodate. It was always a tricky balance, because you never wanted to say
“no” to the client, or they’d think you were inflexible, but you couldn’t say
“yes” indiscriminately because you needed to be sure that your company had
the resources to meet those expectations. The job also required a tremendous
capacity for remembering lots of details—you were continuously making promises
to clients that you had to keep to sustain and build the relationship. If
you overlooked a detail or let something fall through the cracks, you jeopardized
the firm’s credibility.
This is a nice overview of the account manager’s role in an advertising firm, but our candidate
is starting to ramble a little bit and is straying from the question asked. You want to give
enough context to set up your answer, but keep it succinct. The candidate hasn’t yet addressed
the specific ways in which his role required juggling or multitasking, which was the question
the interviewer posed.
Interviewer: So how did your role involve a lot of juggling?
Candidate: It involved handling numerous individual clients, managing multiple
campaigns, and addressing a lot of individual tasks that required completely
Finding Your Way
different skill sets. I needed to be reactive and proactive, analytical and creative,
customer-focused and business-minded.
For example, I might arrive at the office one morning, expecting to devote the
first few hours of my day to writing a competitive strategy brief for one of our
publishing clients planning a new magazine launch. When I would check my
voicemail, though, I’d realize that one of our other clients—one of our
consumer products clients, for example—was annoyed because they didn’t see
the TV spot that was supposed to air the night before. Rather than working on
the strategy brief, I’d have to switch gears from analytical mode to customer
service mode. I’d call the client back right away to tell them I was looking into
the issue. Then, I’d start an internal goose chase to find out what went on. I’d
call our media department to find the spot aired. Meanwhile, I would have
gotten three other internal voicemails about three other issues that require my
attention: One might be a budget issue, for example, and another might involve
a deadline that the research team doesn’t think it can meet . . .
Whoa, Nelly! He’s off and running. You don’t need to tell this kid twice to get right to the
point. What he lacks in brevity he makes up for in detail, but sometimes your interviewer
holds brevity in higher esteem. Don’t get flustered if your interviewer cuts you off midsentence.
She’s got a lot of material to cover in a relatively short period; so once she’s satisfied that
you’ve checked one item off her list, she’ll want to move immediately to the next one. He’s
proven that he’s done a lot of multitasking, but did he thrive in that environment?
Interviewer: Okay, okay. You’ve clearly had to do a lot of juggling before. Did
you thrive in that sort of environment where you had to constantly react to
changing circumstances, or was that an aspect of your job that you didn’t
particularly like?
Candidate: In general, I liked the uncertainty of the job. I liked that every day
was different, and that you never quite knew what was waiting for you when
Finding Your Way
you walked into the office on a given day. But I did get frustrated from time to
time when I had to react to crises that were completely beyond by company’s
control. A retailer would be disappointed with a particular product’s sales, and
they’d attribute that to the advertising, when in actuality sales in luxury goods
were down everywhere. That used to get to me a little bit, but not the constant
juggling. Even though I’d often think that it would be nice to sit down at my
desk uninterrupted for an hour and get something done, I’d probably find it
really boring to sit for too long concentrating on one thing.
Hmmm, then how bored would you be working on a single Excel spreadsheet for an 8-hour
stretch that begins after you’ve finished your dinner? The candidate gets so caught up in
proving that he loves multitasking that he tips his hand a little bit at the end. The lesson
here? Don’t get too carried away telling the interviewer what you think she wants to hear.
Associate candidates should be very adept at multitasking, but it’s also probably best not to
suggest that you’re going to be bored out of your mind staring a spreadsheet for hours at a
time. The interview picks up on this and drills down a bit into his answer.
Interviewer: That’s interesting. It’s obvious to me that you thrive in a pretty
fast-paced and unpredictable environment, but if you’re accustomed to jumping
from one thing to the next all day long, I’m curious how you’d handle working
on a complicated analysis that consumed the vast majority of your time. Why
don’t you tell me about a time that you had to work on a single project for a
sustained period of time, perhaps doing a lot of data analysis or number
This interviewer sure isn’t subtle, but then again, investment banking interviews often aren’t.
Now that she’s comfortable with this candidate’s multitasking capability, client interfacing
skills, customer service ethic, and ability to assume a high degree of client responsibility, she’s
in hot pursuit of demonstrated quantitative aptitude. Regardless of your academic or work
experience, this is an area you can always, always expect to arise in an investment banking
Finding Your Way
Candidate: I didn’t do a lot of number crunching myself in that job, but the
position certainly required me to be comfortable drawing conclusions based on
market data analysis. When we’d work with a client on a given product, we’d be
responsible for reviewing spreadsheets of data and analysis that the company’s
internal strategic planners would typically provide. The client’s marketing strategists
would have crunched the numbers and done all of the trend forecasting
and market analysis, but we’d have to translate all of that data into practical
implications for our advertising strategy. In that sense, it was a good mix of
quantitative and qualitative rigor. The quantitative analysis was always interesting
to me, though, and through my MBA studies I’ve become even more
fascinated with the idea of using numbers to run a company.
Given the choice between honesty and embellishment, this candidate wisely opts for the former.
If possible, he may have decided to switch gears and cite a situation (perhaps during a summer
internship or undergraduate course) that required him to do a little bit of numerical
slicing and dicing. If he genuinely couldn’t point to a relevant example, he’s done a good job of
taking the “next best thing” approach; the ability to draw conclusions from raw data is
certainly a useful skill for an investment banking associate to possess. Depending on the
whimsies of this particular interviewer, she may probe his performance in his finance and
accounting classes, or she may throw a quantitative question his way to further test his facility
with numbers. Either way, he’ll certainly confront questions about the reasons behind his
career switch as the interview progresses.

1 comment:

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