Lehman Brothers was recruiting Sales, Trading & Research in Tokyo, and Investment Banking in New York. If that sounds like greek, read Vault’s report on investment banking.
They seemed disappointed at the number of questions that came their way during their pre-placement presentation. There were hoping for a lot more, and agressive, questions. The people who came included Alan Cutter, Pamella, Isabella, Sarab Bhutani (all from New York), Dalip Awasthi and Sumant Gupta. They shortlisted 21 people for New York and 9 people for Tokyo. Rajesh Dalmia and I were on both shortlists.
My preparation for the interview was minimal. I went through the day’s newspapers; found out Lehman’s and IBM’s stock price (IBM because I used to work there); the Sensex, NASDAQ, Nikkei, etc. Read an article in the Economist on Central Banks (Sept ’99). Overall, I put in about 3 hours on the previous day.
The first interview was with Dalip and Sumant. They had split themselves into 3 panels. Dalip and Sumant were for STR, while the others interviewed the remaining candidates. Sumant’s opening question was, “So you were at IIT Madras?” He was from IITM too. A year senior to me. I said, “Yeah. You were at Jamuna Hostel, right?” We went on a bit about IITM after that.
- What were you doing at IBM? (We went into quite a bit of detail.)
- What are your hobbies? (Again, quite a bit of detail.)
- How do you value technology stocks? (This is where I scored. I said nobody knows.)
- How did you find Japan in your earlier visits?
Sumant advised me to speak a little slower, and sent me to the next panel. Isabella and Sarab asked me about my long term plans, my intentions to work abroad, and whether I preferred I-Banking or STR. I said, “Equity research looks the most attractive, based on what I hear.” After a while, Sumand and Dalip called me back and asked a bit about basketball. With that, the STR interviews were closed. By 11PM, they announced that Manoj would be going to New York, and I would be working in Tokyo.
- The resume matters a lot. I filled mine with what looks ‘impressive’, and was shortlisted for both I-Banking and STR.
- Lehman’s shortlisting parameters are: a good academic record, work experience in a reputed firm, and extra-curriculars — strictly in that order.
- It helps to have a senior in the panel. (Manoj is from the IITs too.)
- I think my work experience and prior travel to Japan worked in my favour too.
If I were preparing again for the Lehman Brothers summer interview, here’s how I’d go about it.
First, get a thin book about how to crack an interview from the library and read it, end-to-end. I say thin because it’s not worth spending more than 2-3 hours on the book, and you DO need to read it end-to-end. Of course, guides are available on the Internet, but it would be cheaper to borrow it than print it out.
Second, know thyself. That’s the most important part. Here are some questions for which you should have ready-made answers for. The rule-of-thumb, of course, is to be perfectly frank.
- Why do you want to join Lehman Brothers / Investment banking / Finance?
- What other companies have you applied for?
- How have you been doing at IIM-B?
- Tell me more about (any item on your resume).
- What did you like/dislike about (any item on your resume).
- What are your strengths and weaknesses (3 of each)?
- Where do you see yourself 5/10/20 years down the line?
Ideally, you should get someone to interview you, ask you some of these questions. Catch your classmates, your seniors, anyone. Ask them to give you feedback on their first impression of you, and whether, if they were in that company, they would hire you. More importantly, why they wouldn’t, if at all.
Third, find out what the recruiters would be looking for. My guess is, they’re looking for someone with
- Good communication skills — so speak slowly and clearly.
- Confidence — so think your answer before speaking; ask for time if you need to think; relax if you’ve made a mistake.
- Analytical skills and intelligence — so say “I don’t know” when you don’t, and tell them about all the analytical and intelligent things you’ve done before.
Fourth, learn a bit about the industry. Vault and Wetfeet have good industry guides. Don’t read it end-to-end. Just skim through it and get a feel of things. People haven’t gotten a feel of it after 2 months of working there, so perhaps 2 hours of skimming won’t tell you much. But it’ll get you used to the kind of words that are used there, like “80 hours a week”, “bond price”, etc.
Fifth, learn some concepts. You need to know what a stock or a share is, and what a bond is. If you’ve worked, you may like to know the share price of your former company, and why it’s there. You probably ought to have an opinion on some of the things happening in the business arena, so if you don’t have one, get one. I’ve listed some possible questions below, and my answers, had I been asked these.
- Do you think dot-coms are overvalued?
- Yes. I don’t think that the productivity growth will benefit companies selling computers. I think it will benefit the users of computers. (No one knows, really, but we need an opinion and a reason.)
- Are the second-phase of reforms going in the right direction?
- No idea.
- Why is the Euro falling, or why is the dollar rising?
- No idea.
- How would you value a petroleum company?
- (I’m a chemical engineer, but…) I don’t know.
Well, the point, I guess, is not to have answers to all questions. The answer is to have a reason for any answer that you give. So do find out about what’s happening in the world. Read the papers. But don’t bother remembering everything. Just have an opinion on a few items of importance, with a reason.
Best of luck!