We, elderly Second-Year Sages, like to offer recruiting advice as if we know how it’s done. Truth is, we have no idea what these firms, who shop for new blood annually, are really looking for. Like giving birth and swimming, it’s something you just have to try yourself to find your best approach. Still, we’ve got a few thoughts on what not to do.
This time last year, I sent my worst interview flubs to some friends also beaten down by internship recruiting. Then unexpectedly and immediately, they all piped in with gems of their own. Highlights of the (continuing) shame thread below should reassure you that: i) it’s okay if you’re not perfect every time, and ii) someone else somewhere is botching it far worse than you ever thought you could. So you might as well just laugh off (and record) those special moments ...
When your interviewer is an idiot, an ass, or both:
Interviewer: Two companies, A and B. A is 50/50 debt/equity, B is 100% equity. EBITDA doubles, multiple stays flat. Whose share price moves more?
Candidate: (fumbles, gets it wrong)
Interviewer: What does “applied math,” your undergrad major, mean?
Candidate: Ha. Well, I’m pretty good at long division
Interviewer: So how many people today have asked you about being an Eagle Scout?
Candidate: You’re the first one actually. Were you an Eagle Scout?
Candidate: My parents wouldn’t let me [quit]. You get to high school, everyone is out on dates, and you’re at a Camporee. But we all looked back at it and realized it taught us an appreciation of the outdoors and good respect for your elders.
Interviewer: Elders. You guys are all about that, aren’t you? The elders.
Interviewer & Candidate: (extended awkward silence)
Interviewer: (last five minutes) So do you have any questions for me?
Candidate: Can you tell me about what brought you to [Firm] and what's kept you there?
Interviewer: That was a waste of a question.
Interviewer: So what group do you think you'd like to work with here?
Candidate: Well, I think --
Interviewer: (interrupting) Ha -- no. You have no idea. You're too stupid now to know that. Butdon't worry, [Firm] will figure it out for you.
Interviewer: Here, take this. (hands secretary an empty cup)
Secretary: (returns moments later with a full cup of water)
Interviewer: Tell me one positive and one negative from your CFA study and exam-taking experience.
Candidate: (a positive?)
[Editor’s note: Correct answer is, “one step closer to living the dream.”]
Interviewer: Scenario. It's January 1. You can invest in the stocks that make up the S&P 500. How do you guarantee that you will outperform the index by December 31?
Candidate: (extended silence, no idea)
Interviewer: Think about it statistically. And remember the S&P is market-cap weighted.
Candidate: ... I have no idea...
Interviewer: Really? Think about it.
Candidate: (more painful silence) … Sorry, no clue.
Interviewer: Don't buy the stocks that go down!
When you’re an idiot, an ass, or both:
Interviewer: (describes a company). So what would you pay as an investor for this egg-producing company?
Candidate (holding back amusement): Well, I’m conservative, so I wouldn’t count mychickens before they hatch.
Interviewer: (beat) So give me a number.
Interviewer: Would you buy Company X?
Candidate: No way -- (rant about Company X).
Interviewer: Oh okay. I own it in my portfolio.
Interviewer: Do you think you need an MBA and CFA to be a good investor?
Candidate: No, I don’t even think you need to be that smart.
Interviewer: (raises eyebrow)
Candidate: I want to be a consultant because I like helping companies.
Interviewer: I wish our work were always that inspiring. Sometimes we have to propose hard things too ... (trailing off, feigning sensitivity).
Candidate: Oh, you mean firing people? I know about that. I saw Up In the Air.
Interviewer: So if not us, what firm would be your number one choice?
Candidate: Firm X. I liked that they asked really different questions. I loved that I didn’t have to give a stock pitch, which I feel isn’t an indicator of much since it can be scripted and memorized.
Interviewer: Right, I see. (beat) So tell me your stock pitch.
When you execute an incredible mockery of all on-campus MBA recruiting:
10:00am Candidate (who already has an offer for a different job function) enters interview room
Interviewer: So tell me [how you’d value] the railroad industry.
Candidate: Uhh … (no idea) Fuel charges must be a big factor, and I guess … access to railroads is important ….um... what do you think about the railroad industry?
Interviewer: Well, usually we ask about basic industries so you’re able to walk through it.
Candidate: Oh, nice.
Interviewer: Okay, do you have any questions for me?
Interviewer: Nice meeting you.
10:10am Candidate exits interview room
When you inadvertently voice the internal conflict of all grad students forced to finally find a paying gig:
Interviewer: What are you looking for in your next job?