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Ask Brock: The Interview

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Brock Fantasia is the only remaining person in the JPMorgan analyst class of 2002 to still work at JPMorgan, which is in no way testament to the work environment at JPMorgan. In fact, Brock likes to think of himself as the Highlander of his analyst class, wielding an indestructible claymore of corporate finance.

After “totally wrecking” (in his own words) the Analyst-to-Associate program in the M&A group, Brock was briefly moved to the Natural Resources group, due to increased deal flow in the M&A group. Brock graduated from the prestigious University of Pennsylvania Wharton with a degree in Finance and is working in investment banking until he can find a buy-side job. Brock has been interviewing for buy-side jobs throughout the past 3 years and has not been a “good fit” anywhere, despite his ever-burgeoning skill-set.

[Editor's P.S.,- Some of this is true. But only some of it. Previous Ask Brocks are here. Send your questions to : brock AT dealbreaker DOT com]
Much like the intersection in Greenwood, Mississippi where you can sell your soul to the devil for unbridled blues guitar prowess like Robert Johnson, investment bankers reach a similar crossroads at the end of their second year – buy side jobs. Only unbridled guitar prowess is more like a freakishly large number of memorized Excel shortcuts and mastery of Reverse Polish Notation (also a euphemism used by Lech Walesa when experiencing more intimate forms of “solidarity”), and Greenwood, Mississippi is Manhattan. Ok, so the analogy doesn’t work, besides having the word “crossroads” in it, although Robert Johnson’s alternative to being a blues legend was to be a sharecropper, and the alternative to not getting a buy side job in finance is to remain entrenched in a similar form of reconstructed slavery.

The allure of the buy side, whether at a private equity firm or a hedge fund, is that you will (or can) make more money than investment bankers and have these crazy things called nights and weekends in which you can resume your prior existence as a social and literate human being. However, much like a world in which Neil Patrick Harris is straight, this utopia does not exist. This does not stop many investment bankers from worshipping the false idol of the buy side, caused in part by the fact that banking can feel as though you’re constantly receiving an impromptu hot perineum wax. Where I have gotten used to that silky smoothness, my fragile colleagues often falter, in an annual flight of second years from JPMorgan that makes the biblical exodus seem like a minor demographic event, and much lesser of an escape.
Every firm handles attrition in a different way. Some banks see a job after the two-year analyst program as a natural outgrowth of the program, and therefore try to facilitate an analyst’s search, usually by placing a call to high-ranking friends at other institutions. It seems senior ranks at other banks view this assistance as a way to foster future client relationships with former analysts. JPMorgan however, relies on the carefully honed “We Dare You To Escape” approach, and is willing to relocate entire branch offices (277 Park Avenue) so that analysts who wish to provide references cannot do so. Despite this huge buy side cock block, JPMorgan has more people turning over than the unedited director’s cut of Brokeback Mountain.
With its junior resources looking for exit options more desperately than poor people on the Titanic, many people at JPMorgan (and I’m sure other places, but probably not as severely) are attending multiple interviews throughout any given day, and merely saying they had a meeting on the M&A floor. With a veracity that makes the girl trapped in the well in The Ring seem complacent, headhunters are contacted, follow-up emails are written and resumes are dropped in hopes of landing a new gig. Like a writer that’s already exhausted his comedic metaphors for one column, these bankers must tirelessly carry on, only through round after round of buy side interviews, often managing several processes at once. This can be a daunting task, so Brock to the rescue.
My advice for this week involves handling the often nebulous buy side interview process. Since I do not talk or associate with any of the weak minded individuals not 110% content in investment banking, I will base my interview guide on strictly hypothetical scenarios that I managed to hear second hand from my non-friendly non-acquaintance, Crock Mantasia. Crock, or so I’ve heard, has interviewed for a ton of buy side jobs, with little to no success. Crock, my friends tell me, really needs you to hire him, and swears he’ll be a good fit at your firm.
Here it is, Brock Fantasia’s round by round guide to the buy side interview process, as relayed by my impuissant non-friend, Crock Mantasia:
Round (-1)
Resume screening. In this round you remain sedentary while some assistant moves your resume from one pile to another pile. Your resume is so polished it almost slides itself into the “callable” stack of papers, as if not guided by the ornately manicured hand of a disgruntled assistant. You pride yourself on paring down your resume to only the most recent and notable achievements, despite your reluctance to part with a line about your role as George in your 7th grade’s rather ambitious production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, or a mention of having the 5th longest flying bottle rocket in the state of Pennsylvania in the 1995 Science Olympiad. If that bottle rocket’s parachute would have deployed, it would have set records. Records that would have made every pre-teen with a proclivity for extracurricular science activities in the tri-state area want to kiss those rocket scientists with tongue.
Congratulations, you have been removed from a pile of interesting and diverse interview candidates and homogenized into the archetypal buy side employee. Also, you are a grown up. Proceed to wow mommy, pull your big-kid undergarments up and on, and go to Round 0. If you have instead sent suggestive photography of yourself to the fund manager because you’ve fallen in love with his stipple portrait in the Wall Street Journal back-issue that lines your minimum security cell and provides the mental lubricant for hours of solipsistic manual pleasure, please call the manager’s personal line, depending on when you’re eligible for parole, but go back to Round (-1), do not collect $200k.
Round 0
Screening. In this round someone from human resources, the mailroom, jail, or the lowest, most junior resource of the company determines whether you are a higher order primate with basic motor function. This is the equivalent of Vince Young administering a Wonderlic Test. You know way more about finance than this person. This travesty of an interview usually occurs over the phone or internet dating service of your choice. You somehow wrangle five minutes out of the “whittled a nativity scene for local orphanage” line on your resume about community service.
Congratulations, you are a good fit within an organization of fellow higher order primates. Continue to Round 1, collect an auspicious day at work where you are in a black suit, white shirt and a red “I’m having an interview today” striped tie, for your “doctor’s appointment” in the middle of the day. If somehow you are not a higher order primate, but have overextended yourself after evolving out of a primordial soup within a cistern along the East River animated through a synthesis of lightning and several uncooked McDonald’s McLean patties, and figure you’re due a gig at TPG, my apologies, but please consult a disgruntled assistant for further screening.
Round 1
The traditional meet and greet. Here you convince someone, usually barely holding on to their own job, that you’re extremely passionate about corporate finance, by wearing a tie printed with the Wall Street Journal’s ticker page. First round interviews usually consist of probing inquiries such as, “Do you like stuff?” upon which the more seasoned interview veterans will respond with a resounding “yes.” Those not prepared to handle such pressure usually reenact the graphic climax of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.
Congratulations, you are a good fit within an organization of other people who like stuff. Proceed to Round 2. If you somehow were unable to convince people that you like stuff, or if the stuff you liked included cat punting, commode diving or office furniture molestation, go back to Round 1, do not collect $200k, and please get some help.
Round 2
The reach around. Here you are passed on to a more senior individual who usually has some title like “General Partner of Healthcare, Biosynthetic Outpatient Managed Care Pharmaceuticals Division, and Co-Managing Rejecter of Stupid Ideas.” This individual is by no means the most senior person in the firm, has been working at the firm a suspiciously long time without making Managing Partner, and is generally shunned by colleagues, friends and pets. In fact, this person’s office is usually not on the same floor as most fund employees and often times requires a building maintenance professional or amateur locksmith to access. Trying to intersperse your knowledge of industries indicative to stable cash flow generation and prior demonstration of leadership skills, you can’t get your interviewer to shut up about the time he totally got some chick’s number at a bar after a closing dinner. After realizing that this person is starving for even the most basic affirmation, you promise him you will “hang out” later.
The interview ends when the interviewer claims that he wants you to meet several more people in the afternoon, picks up the phone, dials 5 random numbers, pauses, asks for a “Mr. Finklestein,” then has a brief conversation interrupted audibly by an operator’s voice saying something about how the number dialed cannot be reached and really awkward looks are exchanged.
Congratulations, if you gave the guy your actual cell phone number, because he is calling you tonight “just see what you’re up to,” proceed to Round 3. If you are not a good fit, or gave the guy the number for the Rejection Hotline as a joke because you never thought he’d call, go back to Round 1, do not collect $200k.
Round 3
The Final Round…of the initial set of Rounds. Running out of excuses to get out of your current job for round after round of interviews, you are left to tell your deal team that there’s been an emergency at your sister’s friend’s quinceanera and that the mariachi band is a man down from an errant piñata swing, and you must fill in because you’re the only person within a 15 block radius who knows the chords to Cielito Lindo.
To be continued…
(Will Bro…Crock Mantasia make it to his third round interview? Does he actually know the chords to Cielito Lindo, because if he did that would be so kick-ass? Will he hang out with the interviewer from Round 2? Will he escape investment banking? Tune in, next week, same Brock time, same Brock place, for the conclusion to the saga.)