After navigating her first-ever banking interview and bouncing back from her first rejection, our author faces her next interview with a new confidence in part 3 of this four-part series.

It had only been two weeks since the Barclays Super Day, but it felt like months — not only because of how many activities I packed into each day, but also because my knowledge of both finance and myself had deepened substantially. When I washed my hands in the bathroom between classes or brushed my teeth in the morning, I would stare in the mirror and practice answering interview questions in my head.

What’s a weakness of yours?

Not being a detailed person? I thought, remembering my dad’s exasperation every time I forgot to pack something on our family hiking trips.

No! Not that. No banker will hire an analyst who isn’t detailed. Make that a strength instead. Now think of an example of why.

I imagined trying to convince my dad I am a detail-oriented person, chuckled, then shook the image away.

As a credit union officer, my job is to ensure the entire institution is compliant with federal regulations. This requires high attention to detail because…

On the finance side, my head had begun slowly absorbing the 163-page M&I guide (The 400 Investment Banking Questions & Answers You Need to Know), supplemented by my classes. By now, I could see why Wharton was so prized in the high finance industry. Corporate Valuation had taught me to build a model from scratch — from finding comparable companies to making cash flow and balance sheet projections.

When it came time to board the Amtrak to New York for my J.P. Morgan Super Day, it felt like a familiar ritual. I pushed my seat back, turned on my Bose noise-cancelling headphones, and let my mind drift for the last hour of peace before the Super Day.

I had been accepted into J.P. Morgan’s Winning Women program, a diversity program like the one I completed at Barclays that hosted workshops and networking sessions on Thursday, followed by the interview on Friday. Keynote speaker Claudia Jury mentioned rising through J.P. because she wasn’t seen as “competition” by the men — and eventually ended up as the global co-head of foreign exchange.

After the workshops, we were shepherded to a large ballroom to mingle with current employees. I made a beeline toward the group I was interviewing for. It may have been because of the countless information sessions I had attended or the genuine “culture fit” my friend described, but when I talked and joked with the Executive Director, it felt like a private conversation and not an interview.

I didn’t bother asking about analysts’ daily tasks — I had learned enough about that during my phone calls. Instead, I tried to broaden my understanding of why they chose this job over others. Of course this was useful knowledge for me (why should I choose J.P.?), but more importantly it was good fodder for discussion during my interviews.

It poured as we walked back to the hotel that night. The roads turned into gushing streams that we tried to jump across while dodging the terrific sprays of water from passing cars. My little umbrella offered no protection — my hair dripped steadily into my eyes, my blazer and dress were plastered to my body, and my toes squelched in my waterlogged flats. Once I finally made it to my hotel room, I dumped the pools of muddy water out of my shoes and peeled off the cold, wet blazer and dress with relief.

But now I had another dilemma: how could I ensure my clothes and shoes were dry for the interview tomorrow? I had another outfit prepared, of course, but just in case… My shoes went on top of the heater, while my clothes were hung on the door frame to the bathroom.

Clothes drying in the bathroom

With a snort, I Snapped my friends the glamorous picture, and went to bed, revisiting my “story” in my head. Why J.P.? Why investment banking? Strengths? Weaknesses? I needed to include as many anecdotes as possible to supplement my answers.

After arriving at the J.P. Morgan office, the other interviewees and I were brought into a board room to wait for what seemed like an eternity. I exited the room five minutes before my interview, leaving my purse, laptop, and coffee behind. I changed into heels, grabbed my padfolio (Should I bring my phone? But I have no pockets, and what if it rings? — better to leave it here), and followed the signs to my interview room. My assigned time slot came and went, but the door didn’t open. I knocked tentatively, paced back and forth, read the names of the interviewees before and after me, peeked through the peephole to confirm there were people inside, then knocked again. I needed to use the bathroom, but what if the interviewer came out now?

Finally, the door opened and I stepped in. Remembering how calm I was at the Barclays Super Day, I let myself feel slightly anxious and restless because I didn’t want to be placid again; I wanted to be energetic. The interview went smoothly, except for one part where I was in the middle of explaining “Why J.P.?” and I forgot my last reason. Mid-sentence, I swallowed, then remembered — “commitment to diversity” — and finished my speech with a slight hitch and enormous wave of relief.

Once the interview concluded, I dashed to the bathroom — I was already late for my next interview, but what could I do? Maybe drinking coffee before interviews wasn’t a great idea — then ran to the next room, apologizing profusely for being late. Then it was over, and I arrived out-of-breath at my last interview. Some questions were ones I’d been asked already, and I even managed to make my interviewer laugh by referencing banking’s infamous working hours.

I found myself walking back to the waiting room in a daze: hours and hours of networking, phone calls, research, and memorization for 90 minutes of interviewing… and it was over. Now I would just have to wait. Remembering Barclays, I forced myself to keep my expectations low.

My roomies and I always brought back snacks from New York for each other, so I stopped at H Mart on the way to Penn Station. In the middle of swiping my debit card, I felt my phone buzz and my heart jumped to my throat. But I couldn’t reach it; my hands were full and the cashier was asking if I wanted a receipt, if I wanted a bag, if I wanted cash back… my hand shook as I waved her questions away and snatched back my card. Shoving the snacks in my purse, not caring if they got squished, I called the number back while juggling my phone, grocery bag, purse, and suitcase.

A woman from J.P. Morgan answered. “Hello, dear,” she said. “Did you have a good day?”

Who cares about my day? Just tell me already if I got it or not! “Yes, it was great, thank you.”

“Well,” she said, and I clenched my phone in my fist, my heart thudding harder, “We were really impressed with your interview today, so we would be delighted to offer you a spot in our analyst class this summer. You will have two weeks from now to notify us of your decision, and you will be paid based on a pro-rated salary of…”

Her words faded away as I closed my eyes and savored the blissful feeling that coursed from my toes to my cheeks, making me light-headed. She continued talking about the compensation, but it was a meaningless buzz. After a few moments I realized she had stopped talking, and I found my voice again.

“Oh my goodness,” I said, not caring if I sounded young and unprofessional. “This is incredible. Thank you so much!”

“You’re very welcome. Keep on the lookout for your formal offer letter, which will be emailed to you by Monday. Have a great evening, and congratulations again!”

I pressed my phone to my chest, barely remembering to breathe. The lights of New York, the press of bodies, the stink of cigarette smoke, and gasoline — all of it was dazzling and precious and miraculous. Even though I had set my sights on an investment banking career two years ago as a freshman, it was still incredible to me that America — coveted New York, no less — had opened its arms and invited me in.

Four years ago while weighing the pros and cons of applying for college in the U.S., I never pictured this moment. And yet that was the power of Wharton because along the way I became so focused on the goal, I had forgotten my doubts. If this career was attainable for my peers, it must be for me, as long as I worked hard enough. And I had worked hard — it had paid off — everything was worth it.

When I finished hyperventilating, I blasted victorious texts to my family and closest friends, and headed for the train ride home.

Illustration by Claudia Li, C’18

Posted: September 6, 2016

Related Content

Read More Stories