The five toughest finance interview questions and how to tackle them

In 2014 Goldman Sachs alone received 270,000 applications and hired just 8,300 people, 3% of those who applied. For the sake of efficiency, employers offering investment banking, accounting and asset management jobs weed out unsuitable candidates by asking the toughest interview questions. For best paying banks this is vitally important.

Here are five types of questions you should know how to answer before stepping into the interview.

1. The ethics question. Goldman Sachs interviewers have been known to ask: 'What do you do if a client insists on making a trade or transaction that you know is not profitable for them in the long run but it would benefit the bank?'

Your answer should stress the opportunity to involve the client in a discussion about alternative options, thus building up the client relationship. This way you maintain your ethical position, the bank is more likely to retain the client and it is not at risk of violating the rules. This demonstrates integrity, awareness of regulation, and the ability to turn a problem into a solution.

2. The weakness question. A candidate at Credit Suisse was asked: 'Tell me an instance where you disappointed yourself.? This is a variant of 'what are your weaknesses?', but more challenging because it demands an example.

Avoid insincere-sounding clichés such as 'I am a perfectionist/work too hard'. Better to say your were disappointed because you failed to fulfil one of the less important targets in your previous job, but stress that you hit all the most important ones, and detail concrete steps you have taken to address your shortcomings.

3. The job-hopping question: another popular question at finance interviews is: 'You have moved jobs a few times recently. Why are you moving positions again now?'

Your reply should not cite boredom, lack of promotion or the opportunity to earn more. Better to say you moved for career advancement, which shows ambition, or to grow your skills and experience, a benefit for the new employer.

4. The research question. If you are applying to a large listed bank such as Citigroup or BAML, you may face questions such as: 'Where do you see Citi in five year's time?'

You should mention information gleaned from the latest company news, annual reports and interviews with named company chiefs. Research the employer's market and competitors so you can make informed speculations about the future.

5. The curveball, such as Goldman Sachs 'What's your opinion of Adolf Hitler?' or HSBC, 'Describe the world in 2050?' 

These test your reaction to surprise demands, your general knowledge, capacity for analysis, ability to arrange your thoughts logically and to state them clearly at short notice. Practice by getting someone to ask you similar questions and timing your replies to ensure you do not ramble on. In the interview don't be afraid to ask for time to think - it shows forethought.

It pays to rehearse answering tough questions but ensure you don't end up reciting dull, robotic answers, or you will not stand out. Interviewers want to know if they will enjoy working with you so let your personality shine through.


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