May 15, 2007

The Art of an Inexact Science

Readers often send me emails. They ask all sorts of different questions, but career advice is a fairly common topic. Recently one reader, JW, asked me for tips on how to get a job in investment banking. Well, here’s a tip about job interviews at investment banks.

In most other industries, to get a job, you go for one interview, maybe two. Very occasionally, three. Then either they offer you the job, or they don’t. But investment banks are a little different. To get the job, you typically have to go through five, six, seven or even more interviews.

This can be a little exhausting, if you are simultaneously pursuing opportunities with, say, three or four investment banks. As you can see, you could easily be doing more than 20 interviews in two months.

My little tip for JW is that after each interview, you should quickly make a note of which bank it was, who the interviewers were, and what you spoke about. Otherwise everything can soon degenerate into a blur in your memory.

It would be embarrassing if you went for your 6th interview with Bank A, and the interviewer asked you something about your 3rd interview with Bank A, and in your mind you confused your 3rd interview with Bank A with your 4th interview with Bank B.

Why do investment banks have so many interviews with their job candidates? The key consideration is usually not your technical expertise. They already have your resume. With two interviews and a few careful questions, they can already have a good sense of your technical skills. You probably wouldn't get to the 3rd interview, if they thought you didn't have the right skills.

The key consideration is your personality. You go through half a dozen interviews with one investment bank, so that different people in the investment bank can “smell” you. All of them are trying to see if they would be happy and comfortable working with someone like you.

And yes, definitely there are some candidates who don’t get the job, because an interviewer later said, “I just didn’t like that guy. He didn’t give me good vibes.” The poor candidate may have made it through seven earlier interviews, but in Round Eight, he met an interviewer who didn’t like him. And that was that.

Is this unfair? Well, I would say that personality is very important. The fact that there is no 100% reliable method of testing personality doesn’t mean that it’s not important, or that prospective employers shouldn’t try to make a subjective assessment.

Some employers do use personality tests, which in theory is clearly a more objective method. The problem is that in practice, job seekers are likely to give answers that they think the prospective employer wants to see, rather than the most truthful answers about themselves.

So I do not believe that personality tests are particularly useful, in the recruitment process. The best use of personality tests, in my opinion, is still for the purpose of self-knowledge and self-improvement.

No, that’s not an exact science either. It never will be. But then again, that’s no excuse for not trying to understand and improve yourself. Is it?


Anonymous said...

Actually, Vault and Wetfeet are good resources for career related research. While the context may apply more to the USA than Singapore, chances are if you're interviewing for an MNC, you're probably going to find that information useful and relevant.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, Singaporeans just do not like to hear negative stuffs about themselves so i doubt your post will have much effect on them. They will just brush it off and live with it till the day they die.

That aside, thanks for the pointers. I guess it really takes one's character to be an investment banker.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Wang,

Read your blog and you mentioned about job switch and fitting yourself into the right "Trend".

In your opinion, what do you think is the trend in the next 5, 10, 15 years? In SG, Asia, World?

Anonymous said...

You people are putting way too much faith and trust in Mr Wang. He is just a person. Asking him about the trends of the world, giving him your resume, etc. Don't you think you readers of this blog should have more discernment and self-respect than that?

You might think I am crazy for saying this, but would you give your resume to Xiaxue? If not her, why Mr Wang? Yes, he is more responsible that she is. That's about it.

Bottom line is, make your own life. Even if Einstein were to blog, I wouldn't ask him to give me advice about my life. I might ask him about the physics questions, but that's about it.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Agree. On the topic of job interviews in IB industry, though, I think I can share a few tips. It's a "been there, done that" situation for me - as interviewee as well as interviewer.