Banks, insurance companies, investment firms, and basically all big corporations want to hire top-notch financial analysts for their teams. This rewarding career attracts many young people, who will study for years to earn their Masters Degree in Finance, Accounting, or in Economics. All of them will compete with you for the best jobs, and for the average jobs too.
Statistics show that more than twenty people apply in average for every financial analyst job opening in the United States. Multiply the number by ten when trying to get a job in one of the most famous companies of the world. Let’s have a look at a typical interview process for this position, and what you should do to end up with a new employment contract.
Typical interview process for a financial analyst
The typical interview process consists in screening, behavioral, and technical (practical exercises) questions, and optionally also from a personality test.
You can deal with all these challenges in a single, super-long interview session, or they may split it to a few rounds of interviews (phone interview, online interview, second interview, etc). But it is just a question of a form. You will always deal with the questions, and sometimes also with the tests. The key to success is simple–preparing for everything they may throw at you… Let’s have a look at the questions.
Why do you want to become a financial analyst?
The interviewers want to understand your motives. Have you chosen this career just because it pays well, and offers a relatively convenient position in a nice and clean working environment? Or do you apply because you really enjoy doing the things the financial analysts do on a daily basis? Or perhaps you even see a meaningful purpose in this job?
In your answer you can focus on your analytical and computing skills, on your passion for numbers, or for finances in general. You should simply focus on your strengths. Ensure them that you know what will be expected from you at work, and are ready to bring onboard great attitude, and intelligence, and motivation.
First of all, I believe to have all it takes to excel in this profession. Excellent analytical and mathematical skills, ability to read in-between the lines, passion for numbers and for money in the economy, theoretical knowledge of the field, and, of course also a lot of motivation to work hard and achieve my dreams. And secondly, I see a meaningful purpose in this job, and hope to have an impact in my professional career. Job of a financial analyst in your corporation will no doubt allow me to do so.
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Why do you want to work for our company? Other businesses also advertise the position of a financial analyst?
Browse the major job boards on any given day, and you will find at least ten job openings for financial analysts (or labeled as FP&A), in every big city. While it is perfectly natural (and logical as well) to apply for at least a few of these offers (each recruiter and HR manager is different, and if they do not like your application in one company, they may invite you for an interview in another one), you should try to convince your interviewers that their company is special for you, that you chose them on purpose.
Spend a couple of hours checking their website. Use LinkedIn to find the profiles of other financial analysts who work for them. Search for these people on social media networks. Try to find out more about what they do, and how they feel about their jobs with the company.
Basically you should search for things you can compliment, things you can praise your interviewers for. It can be great working environment, an outstanding reputation of the company, a preference for their brand, good location of their offices, etc. One way or another, you should try your best to convince HR managers that their offer is your first choice for a job.
Your brand is my favorite brand of all. I’ve always admired your marketing efforts, and how you managed to grow year over year, with sky being your only limit. When I was already studying at the university and daydreaming about my professional career, you were the company I had in my dreams. What’s more, your remuneration package for entry level financial analysts is highly attractive for me, and I know two financial analysts who have been working here for some time already, and like what I have heard about this place. Everything considered, you are definitely my no. 1. Of course, if you do not hire me, I may try my luck with some other players in the field. But I hope for a different outcome of this interview.
* A must read for you: Financial Analyst -What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Are you familiar with ad hoc analysis?
Technical questions, such as this one, are not really my expertise. But I can certainly say that the level of their technicality, and complexity, will depend on the person who leads the interview with you, as well as the job you apply for.
Interviewing for a job with an HR generalist differs to a final interview with a senior financial analyst. And applying for an entry level position in a big corporation differs to the interview for a senior FA role, in a smaller company. One way or another, you should give a clear answer to the question, saying what ad-hoc analysis is, and elaborating on it with an explanation of how it has helped you in your work…
I am an amateur trader on the stock market. Ad-hoc analysis belongs to the most common tools I use before making any decision. Regular reporting available on free financial portals is not sufficient, at least not for me, so I do a lot of personal ad-hoc analyses. I also have experience with developing a business case, but that’s mostly from school, not in real business environment.
When did you make your first financial analysis? How did it go?
This question tests mostly your attitude to the job, and your motivation. Do you still remember your first (first analysis, not a first girlfriend:))? Can you recall the details? Do you have enthusiasm in your voice, while narrating the experience?
Your answer to this question should help you demonstrate your passion for the field of financial analysis, and your understanding of it. Try to narrate the details, such as why you analyzed the data, the goals you had, how you did proceed to achieve them, things you learned along the way, etc.
The first one was for a planned startup, the idea I had while still studying at the college. I wanted to make a website, an online directory of companies in the local area with extensive profiles, reviews, and contact details. My idea was to promote it, bring traffic, and eventually sell the profiles to the companies in the area. The plan sounded great, but the financial analyst in me wanted to see the numbers. And so I started, writing down expenses needed for promotion, staff needs, and so on. I also evaluated the potential of the project, considering the number of companies in the area, competition, and everything else. The analysis helped me to see the flaws in my idea, and that it actually had very little chances of turning profitable. And while I was a bit down I realized that I actually enjoyed greatly doing the analysis, and that it can perhaps be my career path. Few years down the road and here I am…
What methodology do you use in your analysis?
Another question that borders the technical aspects of this job. Unless you speak with an HR generalist, you should use terminology, you should show them that you know how to do the job, and that you follow a certain way of analyzing data.
I suggest you to mention different methodologies, ensuring the hiring managers that you know your job, and won’t stick with one thing only, when doing your analysis.
On the contrary, you will adjust your methodology of work to the conditions and the set of data you analyze…
We worked with all methods at the college, including vertical, horizontal, trend, comparative and fundamental analysis. From what I have learned, it is always better to use more than one method, to be able to analyze the project in detail and make good forecasts regarding future sales and profitability. At least that is the theory we learned at school, and I cannot wait to see how it is done in a real corporate environment.
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Have you ever used profitability models?
A behavioral question. Interviewers try to understand your real level of experience. In a good answer you should narrate a situation when you (successfully) used the profitability models, and how they helped you with your analysis.
Try to speak in details, use numbers, show results. Questions of this type represent your opportunity to demonstrate your readiness for the job, and also your motivation, and right attitude to work. Do not forget to talk with enthusiasm in your voice…
I have used historical, financial and analytic profitability models for forecasting a project, both in school and in my job. However, it’s tough to say which one is the best model. In the past, I would go for historical model, anytime it was possible to apply it in a given situation, that means anytime we had enough data from the past. However, markets are as volatile as ever nowadays with the recent pandemic and problems we face in the world, and we have to think twice which model to choose now.
Where do you see the stock markets heading in the near future?
Good analyst should have some knowledge of the markets. Be bold in your predictions, show them that you have an opinion, that you do not just wait for the others to tell you what to expect. Great analysts are ready to work independently, to come up with new ideas, and with new approaches to the analysis of data.
Your predictions do not have to come true later–and nobody will really remember them one week after the interviews (unless you predicted somethings crazy and it came true). The key is simply to show them that you have your opinion, are interested in the stock market, and understand how it relates to your work, and to the business of your employer.
In my opinion, stock market is always heading in right direction–that is if we keep the bigger picture on our mind. Look, I am no dreamer when it comes to the question of equality in the world. Big players will continue to dominate and amass more wealth down the road. And on the stock market the biggest and most traded companies are the big players. Hence even if we see some volatility recently, I am not afraid of the future of the stock market and our investments.
Special tip: Download the full list of 20 questions in a simple, one page long PDF, and practice your interview answers anytime later:
What reporting methods do you use and why?
Another technical question, please check the answer to “Are you familiar with ad-hoc analysis?” question, the third one we have analyzed on this page. You should always keep their business on your mind. When speaking about doing your job, your methodology, and your approach to financial analysis, try to connect your methodology of work with the goals of their company.
For example, you can say that you use a certain methodology because your experience (or collective experience of modern day analysts) proves it most accurate, and will help them to take the right decisions, and achieve better results (higher profits of the company).
What do you consider the biggest mistake you have ever made as a financial analyst?
Describe a mistake, and elaborate on it with the description of a lessons you learned from this experience. Each of us makes mistakes, and we learn the most in hard times–interviewers are aware of this fact. The only person who never makes mistakes is the one who never tries anything significant in their life…
Demonstrate your upbeat attitude, and convince the interviewers that you do your best to make accurate analysis. Show them that you try to make the best out of every experience, including the negative experiences, setbacks, and mistakes…
I remember one demand forecast that went completely wrong. My employer paid the price, losing money in the process. But it was my mistake. What happened is that I underestimated certain market indicators, and was too optimistic in my analysis, predicting much greater demand for a certain product in the summer months. The company bought stock and proceeded accordingly, but my forecasts turned out wrong. At the end of summer we ended up with a lot of stock that we could not sell during autumn or winter. But I prefer not think about it much. It happened, I learned my lesson, and I would not repeat the same mistake. In my opinion, everyone makes mistakes. And while it is important to analyze them and learn from them, dwelling on them won’t take us anywhere.
Continue your interview preparation with the following resources
- FP&A Interview Guide – Multiple brilliant answers to 25 interview questions you may face in your entry level financial analyst job interview, including practical exercises. Forget the headaches and nerves. Check the eBook page, see the sample answers, and see for yourself how it can help you get this great job…
- Finance and banking interview questions (our article) – You can check also interview questions and tips for other positions in the finance and banking sector, such as bank teller, investment banker, private equity, etc.
- Why do you want to be a financial analyst? 7 sample answers to the question you will always face.
- Resources.workable.com/financial-analyst-interview-questions (external resource) – Interview from another perspective. If you are an employer trying to hire new analysts, but struggle to come up with the right template of interview questions, you should check the one Workable.com offers. You can actually download the template for free, and use it immediately in your interview.
- Udemy, Financal Analyst Course (external resource) – If you struggle with answering the technical questions, or do not feel quite ready for your interview yet, you should have a look at the Udemy Financial Analyst Course. They make a slight update each year, to keep the information relevant, and many people left excellent reviews on this particular course. Try it out and improve your skills.