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How to Answer the “What Are Three Strengths and Weaknesses” Question

We are posting another behavioral interview question set because this is where most of our readers strike out on their interviews. We would think that most readers that stumble upon our website are fairly diligent and are looking to advance their careers – so mastering the technical interview questions is straightforward to them.

When I first started interviewing for investment banking, I had the behavioral interview questions recited and could fire them off at will as readily as I could with any technical interview questions. I thought the entire behavioral section was corporate HR B.S., but have come to appreciate why these questions are asked – to separate the candidates without social aptitude for the job.

The difference between the technical and behavioral questions is that for the behavioral ones you do not have to knock it out of the park – so in essence they are “gimme” questions. You do not need a tearjerking story to convince someone you have wanted to do investment banking your whole life and are a supreme underdog. You just need an answer that is good enough.

Whereas there is a right answer for how to walk through a DCF, there are a number of passable answers for strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths and Weaknesses Questions

Other iterations of this questions include:

  • What is your greatest strength
  • What is your greatest weakness (ok forget that one, give me another)
  • What are your three greatest strengths and weaknesses?

Even if they have heard it multiple times before, this is more of a check for any red flags. The point is to just get a satisfactory answer in so the interviewer can see if you are technically competent.

Good Answers for Name Me Three of Your Strengths

The strengths portion is asked about 50% as frequently as the weaknesses question set, or at the very most in conjunction.

Because unless you have exceptionally pathetic answers for what your strengths are, this does not tell people anything.

All you need to mention are three things that you are good at that are relevant to investment banking and provide backup examples where your demonstration of this attribute resulted in measurable success.

Here is a list:

For the more annoying interviewers, they will pry about the scenario to get more color. So for example, what was the nature of the task where you ended up showing good attention to detail?

Good Answers for What Are 3 Weaknesses of Yours

For a lot of candidates, this question stumps them because they do not know what the purpose is. Here is some insider information.

Investment banking is an extremely demanding job and the best analysts do not only have the mental horsepower to perform the analytical work, but also can identify where there is room for improvement and actually proactively aim to smooth out rough edges.

So when you hear the question, it is “where do you suck?“, but the way to go about answering the question is to read into it as “where do you suck and how are you addressing this?

Accordingly, look for weaknesses that are real on the job that will not irrevocably handicap you in the eyes of the interviewer.

I get lost in the details and sometimes forget to see the bigger picture

This one is very important and top-bucket investment banking analysts are often guilty of this. It is remedied with time and experience.

Think about the analyst that takes the time to make sure everything is academically correct in line with what they learned in their Mergers & Acquisitions or Valuations class while triple checking their work in earnest. This, by itself, is a marvelous attribute and indicates a demonstrated interest in finance and ample intellectual curiosity.

This would be perfect – if you had all the time in the world. A constant staple of investment banking is multitasking and hard deadlines. If you spend too much time in the weeds, the associate is held back in terms of when he can get to checking your work.

There are some things that have to be absolutely right – if you are valuing a company and your EBITDA is off by a 0, your analysis is meaningless.

However, when calculating whether WACC is 9.7% or 9.8% based on what the academic cost of debt is, if it takes too much time you have to drive on assuming that the math is directionally correct and the numbers tie.

For things that are not essential, executive decisions need to be made to scrap content if an idealistic goal cannot be reached.

To cap off, make sure that you can communicate to the interviewer that you know this and that you are doing better at understanding what the target audience wants and learning how to discern between a “nice to have” versus a “need to have”.

I am used to doing work by myself and have problems trusting other people’s work

In group projects at school, there are deadweight teammates that cannot or will not contribute meaningfully. Accordingly, you just do the work yourself because you want an A and most things you do in undergraduate business school are not that difficult (let’s be honest, a BCOM is not engineering physics).

This does not work in investment banking – there is simply too much work. If you were to try to take on this monumental task of doing everything yourself, you would likely miss deadlines and get burnt out. You would also have to sacrifice quality for quantity, in which case people would stop trusting your work.

Now you understand that you are operating in a high performance workplace with many type A personalities and that it is a team sport. New analyst-to-associate promotes frequently suffer from this – they were rockstar analysts and do not trust the junior analysts – unfortunately, as associates they are assigned to more files for supervision purposes and become extremely flustered.

I am sometimes too proud to ask for help

A lot of people who enter investment banking are Type A and have big egos. Again, it demonstrates intellectual curiosity to try to get there yourself (with help from Google) but for the sake of efficiency, if no progress has been made and it has been 30 minutes, get help.

There is no way work is being assigned to a summer or a first year analyst that cannot be done by anyone else (actually this has been done before but by terrible MBA associates who have been since fired), so if you are stuck someone will be able to explain it to you conceptually and it is then up to you to be able to recognize such scenarios going forward and dealing with it appropriately.

Mention that you understand this dynamic and while you are always eager to take a first crack at things, in the interest of time you will no longer be afraid to ask for assistance going forward when needed.

Likewise, you are eager to assist team members in getting to the right result – again, this is a team sport.

So you can say anything really that would impede your ability to do the job as long as you structure it so that you are taking steps to rectify the problem.

Bad Answers for Strengths and Weaknesses Questions

You are not allowed to answer that you do not have any weaknesses and you are not allowed to throw out joke answers such as upper body strength or beautiful women. And yes, I have been on the other side of the interview table and I guarantee these are neither original nor appreciated.

Fake answers or disingenuous answers are also frowned upon, such as “I am a perfectionist” or “I work too hard”.

The worst answers are weaknesses where red flags go up and we cannot hire you.

  • I throw my teammates under the bus
  • I have deep seated anger issues
  • I have repressed teenage angst
  • I do not like finance
  • I have difficulties talking to people
  • I have problems with authority
  • I do not like working on a team
  • I need a good work life balance
  • I do not like cancelling plans

And the reality is that we all have these prohibitive emotional issues – just that if you are stupid enough to actually say them in an interview how do we expect you to act appropriately in the office or interface with clients?

The hilarious thing is that I heard all of these on a regular basis in first round interviews, and as an interviewer it is important to ask them early so you do not put embarrassing candidates in front of senior bankers (managing directors and VPs) so that their time is not wasted.

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ex investment banking associate

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