Lexington, Virginia • September 9, 2011
With fewer jobs available in investment banking these days, Washington and Lee University professor Scott Hoover's new book "How to Get a job on Wall Street" (McGraw-Hill August 2011) has already had an effect on the interviewing skills of W&L's students. He now believes it can have a similar effect on college students elsewhere.
"I gave it out in manuscript form to my students last year," said Hoover, associate professor of business administration in W&L's Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics. "Virtually every company that interviewed at W&L came back and said that students were much better at interviewing. So I think it's having an impact in that students get the base knowledge down, and they don't make the silly mistakes so many people make."
While improving the success of W&L students in landing jobs on Wall Street was the main motivation behind the book, "it was also somewhat selfish," admitted Hoover. "Over the last 11 years, literally hundreds of students have asked my advice on the subject and I would get the same questions over and over again. Last year I tracked the number of students who contacted me and it was 226 out of 900 students in the junior and senior classes."
Hoover noted that although other books on the subject are available, the real difference in his book is its approach to the questions interviewers ask candidates. "Other books primarily deal with giving the correct answers to those questions. The problem is that anyone who applies to Wall Street probably knows the correct answers. That isn't going to get you a job. You need to understand why those are the correct answers.
"I'm trying to give students a real understanding of the types of questions they will be asked and what the interviewer is looking for. Interviewers don't really care that much whether the candidate gives the right answer," Hoover said. "What they care about is whether he or she understands the intuition behind the right answer. Students need to take advantage of every single answer to demonstrate knowledge of finance and understanding of the basic concepts. This book also gives common sense, practical advice on how to phrase answers and control the interview."
Hoover emphasized that every sample interview question in the book has been asked repeatedly in some variation. "A lot of the questions are designed in a similar fashion to see if candidates can think through how to estimate something that seems incredibly obscure," he said. "One example is: ‘How many ping pong balls will fit in a bus?'" In the book, Hoover shows how simply guessing at 10,000 ping pong balls does nothing to help the candidate's case, but if he or she can think aloud how to estimate the number in three steps, that demonstrates intellectual curiosity.
In writing the book, Hoover turned mostly to Washington and Lee alumni on Wall Street for help. "Every person I contacted was enthusiastic, and I think a good bit of the reason was that the book would help W&L students perform better in interviews," he said. "Interestingly, nearly everyone said that they would have to check with their compliance people first. So some provided anonymous comments and a few said the compliance people didn't want them to talk to me for fear of divulging secrets about how they interview."
In the book's preface, Hoover argues that because W&L is the only top 25 liberal arts school with a business program, it produces a unique brand of student but also one that needs to compete against students from higher profile colleges. "I think the key to landing a job on Wall Street is for students to understand that you need to be really aggressive to get these jobs," he said. "If you aren't willing to call someone three or four times without hearing back from them, then you're not going to get the job anyway. You've got to be that aggressive."
He added that another key ingredient is having a passion for the world of finance. "Students often come to me and say they've got an interview in a couple of weeks and what books do I recommend they read. My response is it's probably too late. If you're not passionate enough to have already read those books, then it's probably not for you."
In the book's introduction Hoover observes that although it is aimed at investment banking candidates, it will also help candidates with little financial knowledge successfully compete for top-tier jobs at major financial services companies. The book covers the role financial institutions play in society, how to read balance sheets and income statements, the four main concepts of finance and the basics of company valuation. It also discusses recent financial events, which Hoover described as the most interesting chapter for a general audience.
Hoover also sprinkled quotes throughout the book from people in the financial services industry who have been active participants in the hiring process, providing insight from the other side of the hiring process.
Hoover said that he believes the book will also be useful to people who have worked in other careers and want to move into finance. "Those people are in the same boat as undergraduates, so it would be ideal for them," he said. He noted that banks routinely ask about students not just from technical fields such as engineering, computer science and math, but also from fields such as psychology. "Some of our most successful alumni in finance are English majors so you certainly don't have to major in anything business related," he said.
He concluded by saying, "Although job openings are down fairly significantly since 2006, and so it's a bit tougher to get those jobs, at some point the economy is going to turn around and the people who get those Wall Street jobs now will be in really good shape down the road."