Investment Banking Interview Questions – Tips to Pass an IB Interview

Analyst/Associate Investment Banking Interview Questions

This is based on a real form used at a bulge bracketBulge Bracket Investment BanksBulge Bracket investment banks are the top global investment banks. The list includes companies such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, BAML, and JP Morgan. What is a Bulge Bracket Investment Bank and bank for their investment banking interview questions in the hiring process.

Total Interview time: approx. 45 minutes.

 

Checklist for Interviewer:

  • Welcome, introduce yourself and your position, and thank the interviewee for their time and 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 the candidate about the work experience that is noted on their resume.

e.g., “Please walk me through your resume in 5 minutes or less.”

 

Problem Solving Questions (5 minutes):

This section of the investment banking interview questions provides insight into the candidate’s critical thinking skills.

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 the 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. (e.g., 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 completely 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 Questions (15-20 minutes):

This section of the investment banking interview questions provides insight into the candidate’s technical knowledge of finance, accounting, valuation, and financial modeling.

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

Answer:
The balance sheetBalance SheetThe balance sheet is one of the three fundamental financial statements. These statements are key to both financial modeling and accounting 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 and liabilities are typically listed in order of liquidity and separated between current and non-current.
The income statementIncome StatementThe Income Statement is one of a company’s core financial statements that shows their profit and loss over a period of time. The profit or covers a period of time, such as a quarter or year.  It illustrates the profitability of the company from an accounting (accrual and matching) perspective.  It starts with the revenue line and after deducting expenses derives net income.
The cash flow statementCash Flow Statement​A Cash Flow Statement (officially called the Statement of Cash Flows) contains information on how much cash a company has generated and used during a given period. It contains 3 sections: cash from operations, cash from investing and cash from financing. 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?”

Answer:
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 / WACCWACCWACC is a firm’s Weighted Average Cost of Capital and represents its blended cost of capital including equity and debt.].
$2,000, because: $200 / 10% = $2,000 (i.e. 10x)

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

Answer: There are many reasons to issue debt instead of equity: (1) It is a less risky and cheaper source of financing compared to issuing equity; (2) If the company has taxable income, issuing debt provides the benefit of tax shieldsTax ShieldA Tax Shield is an allowable deduction from taxable income that results in a reduction of taxes owed. The value of these shields depends on the effective tax rate for the corporation or individual. Common expenses that are deductible include depreciation, amortization, mortgage payments and interest expense; (3) If the firm has immediately steady cash flows and is able to make their interest payments; (4) higher financial leverageFinancial LeverageFinancial leverage refers to the amount of borrowed money used to purchase an asset with the expectation that the income from the new asset will exceed the cost of borrowing. helps maximize the return on invested capital; (5) when issuing debt yields a lower weighted cost of capital (WACC)WACCWACC is a firm’s Weighted Average Cost of Capital and represents its blended cost of capital including equity and debt. than issuing equity.

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

Answer: Debt, Equity, Tax, Beta. See more on WACC hereWACCWACC is a firm’s Weighted Average Cost of Capital and represents its blended cost of capital including equity and debt..

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 ratioPrice Earnings RatioThe Price Earnings Ratio (P/E Ratio) is the relationship between a company’s stock price and earnings per share. It gives investors a better sense of the value of a company. The P/E shows the expectations of the market and is the price you must pay per unit of current (or future) earnings 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?

Answer:
Part a) EBITDAEBITDAEBITDA or Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation, Amortization is a company’s profits before any of these net deductions are made. EBITDA focuses on the operating decisions of a business because it looks at the business’ profitability from core operations before the impact of capital structure. Formula, examples increases by amount capitalized;
Part b) Net IncomeNet IncomeNet Income is a key line item, not only in the income statement, but in all three core financial statements. While it is arrived at through increases, the amount depends on depreciation and tax treatment;
Part c) Cash flowCash FlowCash Flow (CF) is the increase or decrease in the amount of money a business, institution, or individual has. In finance, the term is used to describe the amount of cash (currency) that is generated or consumed in a given time period. There are many types of CF is almost constant – however, cash taxes may be different due to depreciation rate
Part d) ValuationValuation MethodsWhen valuing a company as a going concern there are three main valuation methods used: DCF analysis, comparable companies, and precedent 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?”

Answer:

  • Issuance of debt increases after-tax interest expense which lowers EPSEarnings Per Share Formula (EPS)EPS is a financial ratio, which divides net earnings available to common shareholders by the average outstanding shares over a certain period of time. The EPS formula indicates a company’s ability to produce net profits for common shareholders..
  • Repurchase of shares reduces the number of shares outstanding which increases EPS.
  • Whether it increases or decreases EPSEarnings Per Share Formula (EPS)EPS is a financial ratio, which divides net earnings available to common shareholders by the average outstanding shares over a certain period of time. The EPS formula indicates a company’s ability to produce net profits for common shareholders. depends on the net impact of the above two points.

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

Answer:
Building a financial model takes a lot of practice to be really good at it.  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, and have built-in sensitivity analysis and error checking.

 

Behavioral Questions (10 minutes):

This section of the investment banking interview questions focuses on the candidate’s soft skills and personality fit in the firm.

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 hereWhy Investment Banking?Almost every investment banking interviewer will ask the question: why investment banking? I want to work in investment banking because it’s the fastest way to learn financial modeling, valuation, Excel, and understand the nature of large corporate transactions. I’m aware the job has a strict hierarchy, very long hours].

“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.  See more behavioral interview questionsInterviewsAce your next interview! Check out CFI’s interview guides with the most common questions and best answers for any corporate finance job position. Interview questions and answer for finance, accounting, investment banking, equity research, commercial banking, FP&A, more! Free guides and practice to ace your interview.

 

Questions for Interviewer (5 minutes):

Ask the candidate, Do you have any questions for the interviewer?  About IB, about the firm, about the process?

 

Next Steps:

This is the end of the investment banking interview questions.

Advise the candidate 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.

 

Investment Banking Interview QuestionsInvestment Banking ResumeInvestment banking resume template. Learn how to write an investment banking resume (Analyst or Associate) with CFI’s free guide and resume template. The IB resume is unique.  It’s important to tailor your resume to the industry standard to avoid being immediately deleted

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