Here are the components you need to nail: introducing yourself, why the firm, why division, why you, competencies, commercial awareness stories, recent deals and technicals.
I remember first-round interviews being daunting initially, especially since they’re the first person-to-person hurdle, but with adequate preparation and practice, they will become a routine part of the application process. It goes without saying that the more first-round interviews you get and smash, the numbers game principle is drawn in your favour. Most people get knocked out before this stage, or just after, so proper preparation and reflection afterwards are paramount for success.
These interviews usually come in the form of a phone call and last around 15-minutes since the interviewer is just trying to narrow down the list on who they believe should go to the second and/or final rounds. For larger banks, this stage is commonly done in the form of video interviews, which have their own hurdles, but the principles are generally the same: prepare for each question category, practice in front of a camera, and reflect afterwards ahead of the next one.
As a final hack: creating A4, handwritten summary sheets for each component, especially introductory, motivational, commercial awareness and competency components can be massively helpful when preparing in the half-hour before the interview.
Introduce yourself and past experiences
A simple ‘introduce yourself’ is a common way to start an interview and although easy, first impressions last, so getting this nailed is key.
As I discuss in the elevator pitch snippet (snippet number 4 in the collection), I believe there are 4 elements to smashing this 60-90 second response:
 Brief Outline: I’m currently in my x year studying y at z – be prepared for a very brief note on what drew you to that subject.
 Introduce hooks: I found that including lines such as “my interest in the commercial world stemmed from a personal story” was a good compromise between keeping the intro short and giving the interviewer the chance to delve deeper into my story if they wished (this line would expand into other responses later on so you don’t want to give everything away all at once).
 Introduce past experiences: Introduce any previous work experiences you have or extracurriculars that led you to apply. Follow the ‘hook’ principle again, not fleshing out every detail, but giving hints as to what experiences led you to apply e.g. I would talk about insight weeks in Audit from sixth form followed by the line “I discovered and felt more suited to Capital Markets over Audit”. I would then follow this with more relevant experiences. Do not get stressed if you feel you don’t have ‘relevant experiences’ since this introduction should be personal to you and will evolve over time.
 Introduce interests: Finish off with an ‘outside of finance’ piece to add another layer to that human touch. Include extracurriculars, roles at university societies, or other interests; remember to keep this specific not mentioning something someone else could cut and paste into their own introduction.
‘Walk me through your CV’ is another question asked so be prepared for slight variations.
My final point on the elevator pitch is that I found myself sounding too rehearsed when first preparing for this part of the interview, so you need to practice sounding natural as the ‘introduce yourself’ question is one of the most commonly asked in interviews. Sounding natural is best practised when doing mock interviews with others – a great hack for interview preparation. Prepare too little and you’ll get stuck or waffle, prepare too much and you’ll sound less convincing: strive for the balance in-between.
As I discuss in the cover letter and networking posts, the key to why the firm is talking to people that have either interned there before or are full-time employees. Hearing their perspective will fuel you with specific reasons as to why you want to work at that firm.
Although firms look very similar on the outside, especially if you’re applying to one division, there are major differences: some firms have friendlier cultures, some have interesting sector specialisms, some give juniors more exposure, some pride themselves in rigorous training etc. The key is sending out those LinkedIn requests and getting on the phone for even 15 minutes to get a feel as to what that reason might be. An alternative strategy is to ask in text what stood out about the firm – although calls are better, this is a quicker strategy to seek insights if you’re tight for time.
Be aware, however, that (1) analysts are very busy and so a 20% reply rate is good and (2) some people don’t have great reasons for why you’d choose that firm (… red flag?), so some persistence is required. In fact, analysts are much busier now than when I was reaching out to people in summer 2020 so don’t get disheartened.
Questions like ‘Why not a bulge bracket?’, ‘How did you come across our company’ (reached out to “x” person is a great response), ‘What do you think differentiates our company?’ are all potential avenues the interviewer might take on this motivation segment.
I also cover the why banking question in the cover letter post, but to summarise, I believe there are two useful approaches to this:
 Two simple reasons. This is where I would try and harness the pyramid principle technique of top-down communication just to make it super clear for that interviewer what those reasons are (top-down means you have the main reason at the top and reasons branching off of that, inductively justifying your point).
Remember that the interviewer has to write everything down so being clear makes their life so much easier.
 I believe this second technique is more impactful, which is building a narrative. Building a brief storyline as to what experiences led to the division adds a much stronger human touch and can help convince the interviewer you are being genuine. Maybe it was exposure to a certain business, even if family-owned and small, or finding out that you were more suited to investment banking after first trying out consulting (e.g. preferring the balance of quantitative work and serving clients with a more tangible solution). Perhaps it was speaking to people that had interned at investment banks, or employees that came to your university, or even better, people you reached out to at that firm that gave you the insights you now have.
This section is more personal to you, but I recommend reviewing the keywords the firm uses in their original application page to tailor your ‘why you’ response. I would never advocate a fake ‘why you’, but to tailor your strengths to what the firm is looking for.
Three is a good number to stick to in justifying why they should pick you, then giving a brief proof of each reason e.g. you’re resourceful + example usually works well. Be prepared to expand on each example further, but for the simple “why you” question, keeping it short is best.
Also prepare for “An interesting fact, not on your CV” – one angle of the ‘why you’ segment is to check that you’re an interesting person since you’ll be spending most waking hours around the same people.
I cover competencies in more detail here. I’m not going to go into too much depth with competencies in this post because in the post linked, I go through the formulaic approach you can take in preparing for most competency-based questions. Again, this is not faking competencies, but providing a framework to talk about your past experiences and not get caught out.
Preparing two examples for each competency category that I talk about in the post linked above should prepare you adequately for questions they throw at you. Although competencies don’t form a major part of the phone interview, more common forms of the category do come up such as:
- Being a team-player
- Being analytical
- Overcoming a setback
Recent deal the firm has done – see cookie-cutter technique here.
One of my favourite application hacks is this simple framework that you can use to quickly digest a previous deal and be able to tailor it to your own interests to stand out. Breaking down your research into a deal summary, three key rationales and why it interests you (combined with consulting reports that can embellish the last point) is a sure way to impress the interviewer.
Recent news event affecting financial markets and how it will affect your line of business – also covered in the commercial awareness post. As well as preparing a specific deal for that firm, something I believe can become one of the most enjoyable parts of application season is preparing a small portfolio of news stories that you can talk about confidently in an interview. This portfolio should include the ‘mandatory’ mainstream trends like ESG, investment banking or M&A trends, alongside the stories that interest you most e.g. the rise of esports, or big tech regulation. As I discuss in the commercial awareness post, source your main trends of interest from weekly newsletters, then delve into them using consulting reports and extracting case-specific information to show you are well-read (e.g. names or statistics).
Tell me about a recent innovation or start-up over the last year: This is a question I got in a sector-specific investment bank. Remember to tie your commercial awareness to a particular sector if that investment bank specialises in a certain area e.g. Gleacher Shacklock and Torch Partners. For the startup question, I would read TechCrunch – some fascinating reads on that site.
Technicals are less common for first-round interviews, but by now you should have done the 400Qs guide as I discuss here. If not, don’t panic, but you need to employ extremely efficient study methods such as memory visualisation and memory palaces to speed up the learning in time (discussed in the book ‘Make it Stick’ which you can find summaries of online).
As a warning (and to demonstrate the urgency of learning technicals): For my Bank of America first round, the interviewer was in LevFin and 75% of the interview involved specific LevFin technicals – covered in one of the final sections of the 400Qs guide.
Questions for them
If they’re a recruiting agency (e.g. Dartmouth Partners, Freshminds, Wiser): some good approaches include asking about their experience of working with the firm or asking for feedback after the interview although not everyone is willing to give feedback there and then.
If they’re an analyst at the firm, you can ask about their sector team specifically why they think it is a great place to start compared to other sector-specialisms. You can also ask them about how they’ve found the firm having worked there for x number of months or years.
Reflection & final tips
Most important of all: this will not be your only first-round interview because as I keep talking about, this is a numbers game. That reflection means writing down the details of every specific question you were asked and (although not as urgent) remembering your response so that you can reflect or refine it for future interviews.
Finally, I should highlight that there will be questions beyond the sections above but if you can smash 80% of what comes up, then the final 20% is going to come with experience and your chances of success will be high.
As well as mastering each section above, I recommend practising with someone else, especially someone you trust that is also going through the application process, since they will be able to highlight mannerisms and help you become more natural in your answers. Practising for 30-minutes ahead of a 30-minute video interview is not enough, this is a muscle that needs strengthening.