There is a right and a wrong way to answer a Wall Street interview question.
Here's how to nail it, says former trader Raj Mahal.
For those of you graduating from college, hoping to make millions on Wall Street, consider yourself warned - it's as rough a job market out there as ever. My best suggestions would be to go home and live with your parents and work on inventing the next hot app like Tinder. But, if you're still intent on this Wall Street thing, here's my advice:
1. Walk into the interview with confidence.
When you walk into a room, make your presence known in a good way. Good posture, good handshake, dry palms and smile. Introduce yourself and look them in the eye. "Mr. Belfort, my name is Raj Mahal. It's a pleasure to meet you."
If you fail to do this your chance of getting the job may be over in the first five seconds. Wall Street traders make decisions fast. We come up with all kinds of reasons NOT to pull the trigger on a trade - and few reasons to do so. We will do that with you, too, in the interview. We don't be stuck with a bad position and in this case that position could be you.
2. Don't be cocky.
There's a difference between confidence and cocky and you have to walk that line. Even if you graduated magna cum laude from Wharton, when you get to Wall Street, you still are a nobody. You haven't accomplished anything yet. You are still one step above pond scum - but you have potential. Make sure you communicate why you have the potential to succeed. Explain why they should take a chance on you.
Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas in the movie "Wall Street") said he wants them poor, smart and hungry. That's what all Wall Street managers want working for them. The guy willing to run through a wall. The guy willing to do anything (legal) to succeed. The guy willing to stay all night waiting for the Chinese inflation report. The guy who can take the important client out to Marquee until 4am - and still be the first one in the office. Be that guy.
This is the most important interview of your life. Make it seem that way. Don't appear distracted or uninterested. Chances are at some point, your interviewer will become distracted because he has money on the line and he has to make a decision. When he says, "Sorry, where were we?," you had better know. Recap the last ten seconds. Believe me, this matters because it shows you are paying attention and he will want to work with you.
4. Be brief.
Keep your answers brief and on topic. This isn't academia. This is Wall Street. In the real world, we are busy. Nobody wants a long-winded answer.
Question: "What is the market doing today?"
Wrong answer: "Well. When I walked in it wasn't doing anything. Then the CPI report came out and it rallied two points then down two points. Then it was flat again on the open. During the morning session it rallied slowly and dipped and now are at our highs up 1 percent.
Right answer: "It's up 1 percent. It opened flat and rallied all day."
Clear and concise.
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5. Be honest.
This is so important. Don't say you can program Visual Basic if you can't. Don't say you are a scratch golfer if you don't know what a birdie is. Don't say Janet Yellen is your mom's best friend if she isn't. And, most important - be honest about why you want this job. The reason you want this job on Wall Street is because you want to make money for yourself and this firm.
A guy I once interviewed told me he wanted to help people. I gave him another chance. I asked him, "Do you want to help people make money?" He said, "No. I want to help people. I want to make a difference in people's lives." I told him he should become a nurse or join the Peace Corps. Maybe I was a little rough but at least I was being honest.
The right answer is: I want to make a lot of money and give that money to worthy causes like saving the spotted owl, starving kids in India, or blackjack tables at the Wynn Casino.
There are a myriad of questions that Wall Streeters like to ask. You can Google the most popular ones. You will get questions like, "Sell me this pen?" "What's going on in the economy?" "What asset classes would you buy?"
I hated all those questions. The candidate will prepare answers and show me nothing about how they think. I wanted questions that had an actual correct answer. However, the key was to show me the easiest way to come up with the answer.
Here is my favorite question:
In the NCAA basketball tournament there are 64 teams ( I know there are 68 now) that play a single elimination tournament. Say we expanded the field to 512 teams. How many games are played and what is the easiest way to figure it out?
Standard answer: Most of the time they would say its 256 games in the first round, then 128 so 256+128+64+32+16+8+4+2+1= 511. While that's right, that not the easiest way.
The follow-up question would really confuse them. Now we have 348 teams and it's still single elimination, so some teams have first-round byes (That's when a team doesn't play in the first round and automatically moves on). This is where they usually get confused. It takes them a while to figure out how many teams have byes.
Correct answer: 347. The reason is simple. In a single-elimination tournament, there is one winner. Everyone loses their last game. With 512 teams there are 511 losers hence 511 games. With 348 teams, there are 347 losers hence 347 games. You don't need to figure out how many teams get byes. In the 2014 tournament, there are 68 teams and 67 games. UConn was the only team that didn't lose.
Answer this question correctly and you are a winner.
Raj Malhotra (Raj Mahal is his stage name) is a former Wall Street trader-turned-stand-up-comedian. He has worked at Wall Street firms covering three continents, including at Bank of America, BNP Paribas and Nomura. He draws from his unique ethnic background and Wall Street career to entertain audiences nightly, highlighting the struggles of the 1 percent. He can be seen at Gotham Comedy Club, Broadway Comedy Club, NY Comedy Club, Greenwich Village Comedy Club, and the Tribeca Comedy Lounge. Follow him on Twitter @RajMahalTweets.