Understanding the thinking behind investment banking interview questions with job interview coaching

Investment banks are notorious for asking candidates seemingly off-the-wall questions during the interview process, but there is always sound reasoning behind their enquiries, even if they sound daft on the surface. With our Job interview coaching services we can help demystify the process.

For example, imagine an interviewer paraphrases that famous Katie Melua song and asks you to state how many bicycles there are in Beijing. “You’re not actually expected to know this figure,” explains City CV Director, Victoria McLean, who has a history in financial recruitment. “But this question gives you an opportunity to think out loud; you could presume to know the rough population of Beijing for example, the demographic, then make an educated guess as to how many of these people own bicycles.” Interviewers aren’t looking for perfect answer in these cases, simply a demonstration of logical thinking.

Then there are the more bonkers questions, which test your imagination and flexibility. For instance; what would you take to the moon, and why? Would you take your laptop so you could carry on working? Would you take a rocket with enough fuel to get back? What about practical concerns, like food and oxygen? There is no such thing as a right or wrong answer; the worst thing you can do in this situation is freeze up.

A particularly interesting question asked in interviews at Goldman Sachs is inspired by an old French betting game called Martingale. The rules of this game are as follows: The interviewer flips a coin, and if it comes up heads, you pay them a dollar (or a pound) and the game is over. If it comes up tails, you get to flip again. If it lands on heads the second time, you pay the interviewer twice that amount, and the game ends, but if it lands on tails then you get to flip again. If it comes up heads a third time, you pay double again, and so on and so on.

Then the interviewer asks you: “How much would I have to pay you up front to play this game?”

This question is designed to examine the interviewee’s approach to risk. According to journalist Kevin Roose, “a candidate who said he’d need only a dollar to play probably wasn’t thinking through the tail-risk scenarios carefully… While a candidate who answered with too big a number was being excessively cautious.”

“Attitudes towards risk have changed significantly since the financial crisis,” adds McLean, “and banks are keen to secure candidates who have an understanding of managing risk.”

City CV can help with writing CVs, interview coaching, online applications, cover letters and the creation of LinkedIn Profiles. We work intensively with graduates seeking a role within banking or the Big Four and have collated over 400 real interview questions from banking and finance internship and graduate interviews. If you would like a copy to help you with your interview preparation, please email enquiries@citycv.co.uk. For anything else, please call us on +44 20 7100 6656.

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