Real Investment Banking Interview Questions & Answers

Below is a real example of a form that was used by investment banking professionals to hire new analysts and associates. The form includes the questions asked as well as the answer key.

Analyst/Associate Investment Banking Interview Form

Total Interview time: approx. 45 minutes.

Checklist for Interviewer:

  • Welcome, introduce yourself & your position and thank interviewee for their time & interest.
  • Clarify the time for the interview and explain that you may interrupt if necessary, etc.
  • Provide an outline of what they should expect during the interview. Highlight areas to be covered.
  • Mention you may take notes & give candidate permission for “thinking time”.

Bank/Industry Overview (0-5 minutes):

Warm up by talking with the candidate about how great our bank is and brag about all our big transactions.

Employment History / Resume (5 minutes):

Opportunity for the interviewer to question candidate about the work experience that is noted on their resume. i.e. “Please walk me through your resume in 5 minutes or less.

Problem Solving (5 minutes):

Question #1
“How many hairstylists or barbers do you estimate there are there in this city?  Explain your logic/assumptions.”

Answer: Explain the logic based on population of the city, average number of cuts people have per year, number of cuts one barber can do per year, and thus how many that implies there must be. (i.e. 2 million people, each get an average of 4 cuts per year, which results in 8 million cuts per year.  Each barber works an average of 8 hours per day, times five days per week, times fifty weeks per year equals 2,000 hours of cutting time per year.  Each haircut takes 1 hour.  Thus, 8 million haircuts, equal 8 million hours, divided by 2,000 hours per barber requires 4,000 barbers in the city.)

Question #2
“In the middle of a pond is a single lily pad; the lily pad doubles in size every day and the pond is completely covered on the last day of the month (30 days). How long does it take for the pond to be half covered?”

Answer: 29 days because, if it doubles in size each day it also halves each day. Thus at 29 days is half full in order to be complete full in 30 days.

Question #3
“A windowless room contains three identical light bulbs. Each light is connected to one of three switches outside of the room. Each bulb is switched off at present. You are outside the room, and the door is closed. You have one, and only one, opportunity to flip any of the external switches. After this, you can go into the room and look at the lights, but you may not touch the switches again. How can you tell which switch goes to which light?”

Answer: Switch on switches 1 & 2, wait a moment and switch off number 2. Enter the room. Whichever bulb is on is wired to switch 1, whichever is off and hot is wired to switch number 2, and the third is wired to switch 3.

Technical Knowledge (15 – 20 minutes):

Question #1
“Please walk me through the three financial statements.”

The balance sheet is a snapshot at a point in time.  On the top half you have the company’s Assets and on the bottom half its Liabilities and Shareholders’ Equity (or Net Worth).  The assets are typically listed in order of liquidity and liabilities separated between current and non-current.
The income statement covers a period of time, quarter or year.  It illustrates the profitability of the company from an accounting (accrual and matching) perspective.  It starts with revenue line and after deducting expenses derives net income.
The cash flow statement has three sections: cash from operations, cash used in investing and cash from financing.  It can be calculated using the direct approach or the reconciliation approach.  It “undoes” all of the accounting principles and shows the cash flows of the business.
More info: CFI courses on financial statements

Question #2
“How would you value a company?”

There are three common valuation methods used in IB:
1) The multiples approach (also called “comps”), in which you multiply the earnings of a company by the P/E ratio of the industry in which it competes (and other ratios).
2) Transactions approach (also called “precedents”), where you compare the company to other companies that have recently sold /  been acquired in that industry.
3) The Discounted Cash Flow approach, in which you discount the values of future cash flows back to the present.

Question #3
“You have the opportunity to purchase a series of future cash flows that are $200 in perpetuity. The total cost of capital is 10%, how much are you prepared to pay today?”

Answer: [Note: Value = Cash Flow / WACC].
$2,000, because: $200 / 10% = $2,000 (i.e. 10x)

Question #4
“When should a company consider issuing debt instead of equity?”

Answer: When the expected return on equity is higher than the expected return on debt. If it has taxable income and can benefit of tax shields. If the firm has immediately steady cash flows and is able to make their interest payments.  This is the basis of the Capital Asset Pricing Model CAPM.

Question #5
“List the main components of WACC (i.e. Weighted Average Cost of Capital).”

Answer: Debt, Equity, Tax, Beta. See more on WACC here.

Question #6
“How do you calculate the WACC?”

Answer: This is calculated by taking the proportion of debt to total capital, times the debt rate, times one minus the effective tax rate, plus the proportion of equity to capital, times the required return on equity.

Question #7
“Which is cheaper debt or equity? Why?”

Answer:  Debt because: It is paid before equity / may have security. Ranks ahead on liquidation

Question #8
“What is the average Price/Earnings PE ratio for the S&P 500 Index?”

Answer: About 15-20 times, the PE ratio varies by industry and period in the cycle.

Question #9
“A company has learned that due to a new accounting rule, it can start capitalizing R&D costs instead of expensing them.“

Part a) What is the impact on EBITDA?
Part b) What is the impact on Net Income?
Part c) What is the impact on cash flow?
Part d) What is the impact on valuation?

Part a) EBITDA increases by amount capitalized;
Part b) Net Income increases, amount depends on depreciation and tax treatment;
Part c) Cash flow is almost constant – however cash taxes may be different due to depreciation rate
Part d) Valuation is constant – except for cash taxes impact / timing on NPV

Question #10
“What happens to Earnings Per Share (EPS) if a company decides to issue debt to buy back shares?”

Issuance of debt increases after-tax interest expense which lowers EPS.
Repurchase of shares reduces number of shares outstanding which increases EPS.
Whether it increases or decreases EPS depends on the net impact of the above two points.

Question #11
“What makes a good financial model?”

Building a financial model takes a lot of practices to be really good at.  The best financial models are clearly laid out, identify all the key drivers of the business, are accurate and precise yet not overly complicated, can handle dynamic scenarios, have built in sensitivity analysis and error checking.

Behavioral Questions (10 minutes):

Pick three or four of the following questions:

“Why do you want to work in investment banking? Or at this bank?” [this question is so common we made a separate page with a full answer to it here].

“How do you deal with risk in your personal life?”

“Give a time where you had multiple options and explain how you arrived at your decision.”

“If you could live in any city in the world, and money was not an issue, where would you live and why?”

“What is one of your biggest weaknesses and how do you deal with it?”

“What is one thing you believe to be true, but that most people would disagree with you on?”

“Which is more important in business – IQ or EQ?”

“What does leadership mean to you? Can you provide some examples of good and bad leadership?”

“Are you smart?”

Answers: Grade the interviewee based on how well they expand on their ideas.  There are no right or wrong answers.  The key is to determine the following: do they demonstrate maturity, are they comfortable with ambiguity, can they work as a team, do they have emotional intelligence, would they fit well in our culture, etc.

Questions for Interviewer (5 minutes):

Do you have any questions for me?  About IB, about our firm, about the process?

Next Steps:

Advise that HR will be in contact shortly with an update (within the next couple of hours/days)

Up next: read our investment banking associate interview questions.

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