Hong Kong Hunter: improve your maths if you've got an IB interview

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Our regular columnist, who works in equity research, shares his thoughts about interview techniques and the importance of knowing your times-tables.

"What is 104 times 104?" a trader once asked me in a silent interview room. This is a very simple arithmetic question, which under normal circumstances, even a primary school student could easily answer. [It's 10,816. I needed a calculator, editor.]

However, during a job interview, a lot of candidates panic and cannot give logical answers to mathematical questions.

A friend of mine recently explained why he thought i-banks still like to test out your arithmetic during an interview.

"Financial companies like to hire people who can make swift and concise decisions, especially when you apply for a trader position. It's intolerable to make any foolish and careless mistakes, especially when you are dealing with money, not to mention a firm's or a client's capital."

I personally think interviews are a chance not only for the company to know more about you, but for you to know more about yourself.

When I finished college, like many graduates, I dreamed of being an M&A or IPO investment banker, with a nice suit and shiny shoes; or a trader, holding multiple speaker-phones in the middle of a busy trading floor. Graduates blindly think these are the best jobs in banking.

But in fact, they don't know much about the finance world, so they don't properly know their own strengths and weakness.

Before any interview, I would prepare myself to answer the likely questions. I'd start with a simple one, such as my own introduction, which I think is the first step to let your interviewer get to know you.

Furthermore, it is always good to have a firm handshake and keep direct eye contact with your interviewer. It's a sign of commitment to the person who meets you for the first time.

Also be prepared to know the functions and requirements of the job before going into the meeting room. This lets both of you have a more meaningful interaction.

In my opinion, a financial institution, such as an investment bank, generally requires only three types of professionals to run its business: 1) sales people; 2) lawyers; and 3) maths gurus.

My friend who I mentioned earlier had a graduate degree in a maths-related discipline from an Ivy League school. True to form, a bank wanted him. He eventually found a position dealing with complicated financial instruments, such as credit default obligations. Proof that maths can get you a long way in the banking world.

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