Published on 8th August 2018
Preparation in anything is key, but particularly so for a successful interview. It is surprising how many people can’t answer basic questions about the company they are interviewing with.
Preparation will make you feel more in control and you will come across more confident and competent – qualities that a potential employer will be looking for. Interviewers are looking for the best candidate to fill the vacancy, and your role is to persuade them that this person is you.
When interviewing for a corporate finance position, naturally the interviewers will expect you to be commercially savvy, aware of the key challenges that their business and the M&A sector face and passionate about the business world. Interview styles vary from technical to competency-based and anything in between. Often, the initial interview will be a “chemistry” meeting to establish whether you will be the right fit.
Whatever level you’re at, I have highlighted some key questions to consider when preparing for your corporate finance interview:
Talk me through your CV/experience/tell me about yourself
These types of questions can be a minefield. It’s tempting to talk about every element of your experience which can result in a rather long and waffling answer. If you’re unsure, ask the interviewer what they would like to know. If they leave it open, then talk briefly through your career history, highlighting relevant experience to the role you’re applying for, as well as reasons behind moves. If the interviewer wants to know more, they will ask.
What do you know about the company?
This question, whilst basic, is your opportunity to demonstrate your motivation for pursuing a role with the company, your knowledge of them (their sector expertise, the team, recent transactions), your commercial awareness, your market research and ultimately your passion. The worst thing you can do is go into an interview not knowing enough about the company you’re interviewing with.
Why do you want to work for the company?
This is another opportunity for you to show your motivation, passion, and your knowledge of the company you’re interviewing with. It shows you care, it shows that you value attention to detail by justifying your reasons based on the knowledge you have outlined in the previous question. You should think about why you genuinely want to work for this company, what will it give you, what you can bring to the team and where you can see yourself in the long-term.
Why are you leaving your current firm?
It is important when answering this question to remain positive and not to speak about previous or current employers negatively, by doing so, will likely lead to you losing credibility with the interviewers. You should be honest, but tactful, and always put a positive spin on what you are trying to say e.g. if you feel that there are no opportunities for progression because your boss isn’t supportive or he’ll never leave, instead you could say, you are keen to move into a forward thinking firm which will offer genuine opportunities for progression and where you can carve out a long-term career for yourself.
Talk me through the transaction process
Whether you’re looking to make the move into your first corporate finance role or you’ve been in corporate finance for a few years, this question is not only about your knowledge, but also how you present the information. Often, corporate finance roles are client facing and the interviewers will want to test your communication skills and your ability to present information in a succinct and effective way.
You should structure your answer, starting from the beginning of a transaction through to the end, highlighting your involvement. Perhaps think of a particular transaction that you can use as an example and actually relate to. If this is your first corporate finance role, the interviewer will want to see that you’re commercially aware and that you understand what corporate finance is and what the transaction process looks like. How can you interview for a role if you don’t even know what you will be doing?
Talk me through the sale/acquisition process of a business
Similar to the previous question but more specific, and particularly relevant if you are interviewing for a sell-side or buy-side focused role. You should run through your relevant sell-side or buy-side experience and be prepared to go into detail about your experience and involvement.
What involvement have you had in deals?
Whether this is from a transaction support or lead advisory perspective, you should come prepared to talk about the role you have played in a transaction. What you did, how you did it, who you worked with, the structure of the deal team, who you reported into (i.e. directly into the partner or into a manager), what client exposure did you get etc.
Talk me through one of our transactions that interested you
This is another opportunity to show that you have done your research and for you to be able to demonstrate your ability. It will also provide some insight for the interviewer as to what interests you and what your motivations are.
What do you know about our international presence?
This is a question we are seeing more and more with global firms that wish to see a differentiator with candidates. If the quality of candidates is high across the board, often the candidates that can demonstrate next level commercial awareness, passion and have gone the extra mile with their research, will impress.
What experience have you had in (X) sector(s)?
You may be interviewing for a generalist role and you may just be asked to talk through transactions within different sectors. We are however seeing more specialist M&A teams in the market and the requirement to find somebody who has experience in and a passion for a particular sector is becoming more evident.
If you are interviewing within a niche sector, you should be prepared to talk through your relevant experience, your awareness of the sector, the challenges the sector faces, the competitors in that market and why you want to specialise in that particular sector.
Interview questioning formats
Competency-based questions are where you give an example of a time when you did something or demonstrated a certain skill or competency. These questions are a way of predicting a candidate’s future performance and are effectively behavioural questions. These are best answered by using the STAR method: The Situation, The Task required as a result, the Action you took, and the Result of that action.
You may also be asked technical questions relating to the role you’re applying for which could include questions around financial modelling (what is it, how do you build one), valuations (how do you value a company), forecasting, analysis, cash-flow statements, working capital and beyond.
Key reasons for interview preparation
- Confidence. Not only how you feel, but also how you present yourself. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will appear.
- To show you’re genuinely interested in the role; potential employers will likely choose a candidate who is not quite perfect but keen, over one that doesn’t seem bothered but might have the perfect skillset. Attitude is just as important and confidence in an interview.
- To be able to answer technical and/or competency-based questions clearly and confidently. It’s unlikely that you will be able to prepare for every question, however, you will put yourself in a stronger position if you brush up on your technical skills and prepare for questions you may be asked based on the role you’re applying for, along with general competency based questions.
- Finally, you should prepare your own questions. A top tip is to only ask questions that you genuinely want to know the answer to. It can be fairly obvious to the interviewer when a candidate is asking questions for the sake of asking questions. I would suggest preparing up to 10 questions as some of them may be answered during the interview, with the view to asking at least 3 questions.
Examples of questions to ask in your interview
- What is the structure of the team?
- What is the structure of the team when working on a transaction?
- What scope of work can I expect to be involved with?
- What are your growth plans over the next 1-3 years?
- What is a typical career route within the team?
- What do you think are the most important qualities for someone to excel in this role?
- What are the expectations for this role during the first 30, 60, 90 days?
- Describe the culture of the company/team?
- What are the biggest opportunities/challenges facing the team right now?
- What do you like best about working for this company?
- Do you have any reservations about my application at this stage? (This question gives you the opportunity to address any concerns before you leave the interview room)
- What are the next steps?
What other questions have you been asked in a corporate finance interview? Which questions have you found more challenging? Share your experiences with us!