Behavioral Interviews: Strength, Weakness, and Failure Questions
This is the first post in my interview series. I know this is a very long post, but I’m hoping that posting my answers on Tumblr will make my preparation for investment banking interviews more enjoyable. Please be aware that this post doesn’t follow the outline post, but I will eventually cover all of the sections within the next couple of weeks.
Here are some general tips about strength, weakness, and failure questions:
- Usually these questions won’t be asked out right. Instead interviewers may ask how your last job review went; to imagine if you were talking to your professor, what are three strengths he/she would say about you; or three reasons why we should hire you.
- It is good preparation to have 3 strengths, 3 weaknesses, and 1 failure ready.
- Additionally, when giving examples for any of your traits, I like to use the STAR methodology. Know your resume so that you can create a couple mini stories following this method for each each of your traits.
- Finally, it is important to say on point and focused on what the interviewer wants. In banking that means a the person should be hard-working, detail oriented, and able to work well in teams. Make sure your traits and stories support these qualities.
- Keep answers short and to the point. I prefer to only speak for 30 seconds when answering any of these types of questions.
This type of question give you an opportunity to sell yourself. This can sometimes be difficult for modest people who haven’t had a lot of practice talking about themselves. Below are four strengths I think compliment a job in banking.
- A strong attention to detail
In banking, attention to detail keeps your supervisors and clients happy. Referring to a big project you completed can help drive this trait home. For example, last semester I was faculty-selected to present my working paper on the CRA industry at Princeton. My audience was a group of highly educated professors, so you can be sure I made my paper and presentation error free.
- Having the ability to learn quicky
I’m proud of my accomplishments, but am always looking to improve. Learning is not compulsory, but neither is survival. Financial certifications or training courses that you have independently earned can be used as good supporting examples.
- Working hard
Some deals take longer than 9 months to close. That means you can work longer on a deal that a woman’s pregnancy. Determination to work thousands of hours on a deal is a crucial to succeeding. My interview example is about the month and a half I spent raising $200,000 for my start-up. During that time, I had to create presentation materials, pitch, negotiate, and compile due diligence information with an average of five hours of sleep a night.
- Being a team player
Working well in a team is another relevant skill. I will talk more about this one in my teamwork and leadership post. Regardless, my example takes place during Spring Break when I pitched a stock with three other students from my University. Other case competitions or group projects are also great examples.
The answers above work well when asked how your professors or other professionals would describe you. When asked what your best friend thinks? I would as use more informal adjectives like ambitious, helpful, and attentive, while supplementing each word with a descriptive sentence.
These types of questions even have Presidents and CEOs stumbling. It is hard to find a balance between being genuine and not giving a too detrimental weakness. This question really just tests the candidates’ preparation and ability to spin. Moreover, it is important to talk about how you are improving on your weakness for the future.
- “I get attached to projects”
When becoming invested to your work it is possible to get emotional when a deal collapses. For example I was apart of student government and we were rallying for a Fall Break. After meeting with the administration, it was clear they didn’t want to change the department’s syllabuses. It is easy to become disheartened when something you are dedicated to fails. Finding a creative solution often comes by stepping away from the problem and looking at the bigger picture. Of course, this helped an we were able to unite the student population behind our agenda, and this year our school has a Fall Break.
- “I project self-expectations”
One of the ways I improve is by being my own harshest critic. The other is by constantly learning. However, keeping the same standards for everyone isn’t a good leadership principle. Instead it is helpful to listen carefully to your co-workers and clients when working on a project and communicate your issues clearly. Working on a start-up with a team of highly qualified, type-A personalities has helped improve through experience.
- “I sometimes take on too much work at once”
Knowing your limits is important. At one time I was juggling extracurricular activities, start-up work, and school at the sacrifice of my Series 7 preparation. I quickly adapted, and learned how to delegate work more responsibly. Additionally, I practice mulch-tasking and time management techniques to allow me to handle a greater workload.
If you are asked about the banks weakness, talk about their lack of an international exposure or comment on their lack of a deal-flow in a particular division. I prefer to use that question as an opportunity to show that you know something about the bank and then support it by talking about how the strengths crush the weaknesses.
Questions like why don’t you have a 4.0 GPA or why didn’t you receive a full-time offer are asked in banking interviews are frequently asked in behavioral interviews. I personally like to acknowledge the issue in concern and then shift to my strengths. For example, if I was asked why I should get the job compared to the Princeton guy, I would talk about how I am smarter, harder-working, and more interesting than he could ever be.
Another type of question asks about your greatest failure. Personally, I have one story for what my greatest failure ready. It revolves around a failed business blog my friends and I attempted to build. I learned through my mistakes, and have created a successful venture thereafter. The key is to make a habit of never repeating your mistakes.
So there you have it, my first post of the season on interviewing. As I continue my preparation, I plan on using my webcam to tape and improve my answers. Also, nothing beats practicing with a peer.
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