I’m sitting in an interview, and they ask me ‘what’s your greatest strength?’. What are they looking for, which strength should I focus on and should I give an example?
How to answer this question: Choose strengths that you can back up with a brief example, and stick to three if given a choice e.g. analytical thinker, fast learner, strong attention to detail and strong work ethic. For what is your greatest weakness, prepare three qualities, not deal breakers, and briefly say how you’re actively working to improve these.
Answering ‘What is your greatest strength?’ for investment banking interviews
When answering this question, it’s important to have a storyline that proves you have this strength. Ahead of the interview, you should prepare at least two forms of this question: (1) The one strength you would choose if asked for only one and (2) three strengths you’d select if given the option for multiple. You should prepare a slightly more detailed example of the one main strength and a brief version of each example for the longer question.
Which strengths to say
While I include example strengths below, it is important to read the job description since the bank will highlight key characteristics they’re looking for in a candidate there. As a side note, always save the application as a web page or pdf to have offline for when the company takes this down after the application deadline.
Talking about your strengths strongly overlaps with the “Why You” question in an interview, or paragraph that you should be including in your cover letter. I have a separate post on preparing a response for “Why You”, where I include 10 strengths you can talk about, with examples for each one in this post. Here are the 10 strengths I give examples for in that post:
- Strong work ethic
- Attention to detail
- Analytical thinker
- Fast learner
- Fast worker
- Positive attitude
- Communication skills
- Commercially aware
Here are some additional strengths you might want to mention if you struggle to find examples of three in the above:
- Client management skills: Managing a corporate client when part of the consulting society – leading initial discussions with their Strategy Director and creating a draft report using dummy data 10 days before the deadline to ensure the client was happy with what the final output would look like.
- Resourceful e.g. you join a society at university and the website got deleted because the previous exec hadn’t renewed the hosting in time. You find a version saved on the WayBackMachine webpage (archives the whole web) and learn how to set up WordPress and build from the base archived on that site.
- Multitasking e.g. a time you had a major group project deadline for Economic Policy in the same month that two debating tournaments were held for the society you were involved in. You used time blocking on your calendar and front-loaded your task allocation for the group project so your tasks could be completed before everyone else’s, meaning you could shift focus to the debates nearer the deadline.
- Leading a team e.g. an example where you took initiative to divide and conquer tasks as part of a group project or managed the timeline to completion (links to organisation skills). Working within a team is a core competency question that frequency comes up in the interview – covered in more detail here: LINK.
Answering ‘What is your greatest weakness?’ for investment banking interviews
The challenge with this question is not falling into the trap of giving a cliché response, saying a ‘deal-breaker, trying to dodge the question, giving a weakness you cannot fix or giving irrelevant weaknesses.
- I’m too much of a perfectionist
- I focus on the details too much and don’t think about the bigger picture
- I have poor attention to detail
- I’m not good at using Excel or PowerPoint
- I’m not very analytical
- I’m not organised
Trying to dodge the question (by giving a strength, not weakness):
- I work too hard
Weaknesses you cannot fix in the short-run:
- English is not my first language
Weaknesses that are irrelevant to the role:
- I’m not very athletic
- I’m not creative
What weakness to say for investment banking
Similar to strengths this question may also crop up in the form of ‘what are your top 3 weakness improvement areas’
Here are some weakness examples – it is always good practice to steer this answer towards how you’re improving this area.
- Dwelling on past mistakes
- E.g. not backing up your Stata code for your group project and then losing your progress after the file became corrupt. Dwelling on the mistake meant several hours wasted trying to get it back.
- Now track my mistakes and successes on a month-by-month basis to (1) realise they come in ebbs and flows and (2) identify what underlying factors might be causing a series of mistakes over a period of time.
- Struggle to make quick decisions in fear of making a mistake
- E.g. recruiting fresher representatives for the finance society and delaying the decision for who to choose in final round interviews, but this indecision led to losing a candidate to another society.
- Now use a ‘Worst Case Consequence Analysis’ approach for short-term decisions and ‘Weighted Average Decision-Making Matrix’ for more complex ones. These two systems for decision-making bring more rationality into the decision-making process and avoid procrastination amid difficult decisions.
- Not giving enough attention to tasks which have a long-term deadline
- E.g. spending too long perfecting M&A model for your corporate finance coursework but not enough time on the dissertation due in 6 months, which added more pressure in final months and less opportunity to seek support from your tutor.
- Now set time targets before each week and track my work time to ensure I am prioritising tasks effectively and preventing fires further down the road.
- Over-commit i.e. struggle to say no
- E.g. committing to too many events when in the finance societies at the cost of group project deadlines.
- Now use time blocking on my calendar to estimate how much capacity I have on a week-by-week and day-by-day basis to ensure I am completing tasks to a high standard while ensuring I maximise any spare capacity.
- Talk too fast when delivering a presentation
- When delivering a presentation I often talk too fast, partly out of nerves, partly because of being familiar with the material and being used to listening to audiobooks / YouTube at 2x speed.
- Have undertaken preparation techniques to slow my talking down e.g. pausing at each breath, talking deliberately slowly before delivering the presentation and engaging with the audience more to gauge whether they are following.