12 Questions You Should Be Ready to Answer in a Financial Analyst Interview (Plus Examples!)

12 Questions You Should Be Ready to Answer in a Financial Analyst Interview (Plus Examples!) was originally published on The Muse, a great place to research companies and careers. Click here to search for great jobs and companies near you.

Are you applying for a position as a financial analyst? Interviewing for a job can be stressful, but being prepared for the experience can go a long way toward making you feel confident and on top of your game. That means being ready to answer common interview questions and those that are likely to come up specifically for a financial analyst role.

Financial analysts evaluate their company’s and other organizations’ past and present financial data and might give guidance to people and companies as they make decisions about stocks, bonds, and other kinds of investments. Typical job responsibilities might include assessing financial data, preparing written reports and giving presentations, studying business trends, appraising a business’s financial statements, and potentially meeting with company management to determine how the firm is doing and to evaluate their leadership team. A financial analyst might work at a bank, an insurance company, a pension fund, or another type of business in any industry.

What Are Recruiters Looking for in Financial Analysts?

Recruiters are typically looking for candidates with business acumen, planning skills, and the ability to deal with financial models and handle the complex numbers involved. Here are some of the qualities interviewers will be searching for:

  • Analytical skills: A candidate must be able to think logically and critically about a variety of financial information, from a company’s financial statements to industry news.
  • Communication skills: It will be essential that you’re able to communicate effectively with top brass at the company and with your coworkers, both to collaborate on projects and to explain your analyses upon request.
  • Problem-solving skills: In this role, you may have to help close a gap, solve a debt issue, or make a part of the company more profitable. So you need to be able to approach your analysis with a larger goal in mind. Plus, interviewers will want to see that you can be resourceful and try to solve problems on your own before turning to your boss every time you get stuck (but also that you know when to ask for help or escalate a problem).
  • Attention to detail: Financial analysis is extremely precise, so attention to detail is a crucial attribute for any financial analyst candidate. In fact, some job descriptions for this role describe it as “microscopic attention to detail.”
  • Technical skills: There are a variety of tools—from software to programming languages—you may need to use to accomplish day-to-day tasks, such as Microsoft Excel, SQL, QuickBooks, and SAP. You may also have to learn new software in the course of your job—so interviewers aren’t just looking to hear about what you already know, they want to see that you can pick up new tools if needed.

Beyond the skills necessary for the position, firms will also be looking for a candidate who’ll be a good addition to their organization and culture. “There’s a person/job fit and a person/organization fit, some of which has nothing to do with the skills and abilities of the person,” says Cabot Jaffee, president and CEO of hiring and recruiting systems firm AlignMark, who’s helped many companies hire for financial analyst roles. “Do their work history and work ethic match up with what we expect as a company? There are different interview questions that would get at that.”

Although the questions in finance analyst interviews may vary, these 11 questions are a representative sample of the kinds of questions you might get:

 

1.

Why Do You Want to Be a Financial Analyst?

Expect to get this question for any entry-level financial analyst role. The interviewer wants to know what your passions are from a professional standpoint, why you’re interested in the role, what led you to finance, what you’re hoping to gain from the experience, and where you see your financial career going.

How to Answer

Talk about what led you to finance as a major, minor, or interest as well as what you’re interested in doing in your first job and what career path you’re hoping to follow in the long term. “I’d encourage anyone at any level to talk about how their background and experience and strengths align with the requirements of the role,” says Steve Saah, executive director for Robert Half Finance & Accounting. What about your background and experience led you to consider a financial path? What things have you done and what skills do you have that lead you to believe that financial analysis will be a good place for you—and that you will be a good analyst?

One answer to this question might be:

“I decided to major in finance because I have long had an interest in understanding how businesses are structured—how they make money and how they’re profitable. Even in high school, I was always reading biographies and memoirs of entrepreneurs and business leaders to glean how their businesses started and continued making money and how they navigated moments of crisis or transformation. I’ve enjoyed the analysis I’ve been able to do in my classes and internships—I love digging into the numbers and details—and I’d like to continue that work and further my experience with this position.”

 

2.

Why Do You Want to Work for Our Company?

The company wants to know why you want to work for them specifically—in this industry, for this type of organization, and at this particular company. There’s a broad range of roles for financial analysts, who hold positions at banks, pension funds, mutual funds, security firms, insurance companies, nonprofits with large endowments, and corporations, and your interviewer wants to know why you’re excited about this opportunity over all the other options.

How to Answer

You should be able to make the case for why you want to be a financial analyst in the industry and type of company you’re pursuing as well as why you’re excited about this particular organization. Why do you want to work for a nonprofit versus a bank? What drew you to a tech startup versus working within the financial industry? And why this particular nonprofit or tech startup? Research the organization and make sure you can talk about what makes it unique and why those qualities appeal to you. That said, don’t be tempted to criticize other companies or your current employer—it’s not a good look.

One answer to this question might be:

“When I think of a bank, I think of an institution that provides capital to entrepreneurs or large institutions, which basically fuels economic growth. I like the idea of being a part of the national and global economy and being able to contribute in that kind of way. I’m also very interested in working with entertainment and media companies, and I know this firm has a strong practice in media and telecom.”

 

3.

Have You Considered or Are You Already Pursuing Licenses, Credentials, and Certifications? How Do They Help You in a Professional Context?

As a financial analyst, there are a variety of certifications and designations you can earn, including Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), Certified Fund Specialist (CFS), and Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC).

While a recruiter can look at your resume or LinkedIn profile to see what certifications you have, this kind of question is meant to help them understand what compelled you to get additional training and how you’re utilizing it on a day-to-day basis. Organizations are trying to see how dedicated you are to furthering your education and skills, what you’ve gotten from your education, and how you apply it. Getting your CFA, for instance, shows a company that you have the discipline to go through the rigorous work required to understand the business, says Charles Sachs, a CFA and Certified Financial Planner with Kaufman Rossman Wealth in Miami.

If you’re an entry-level candidate, don’t panic if you don’t already have these. In this case, the interviewer probably wants to hear that you’ve given this career path long-term consideration. So if you’re planning to pursue a certification or have already begun to take steps toward one, talk about why you decided to do so and how you plan to achieve this goal.  

How to Answer

Don’t just list your certifications. Give context around your thought process in getting each certification, how much time and effort you’ve put into studying for your exams (if you’re still in progress), how you’ve utilized the credential, and how it’s made you a better analyst.

An answer to this question might look like this:

“I’m currently pursuing my Chartered Financial Analyst certification from the CFA Institute in order to further my knowledge of financial analysis beyond what I learned in school. It’s a deep dive into financial instruments, valuations, regulatory concepts and accounting, which I think will be valuable to me in my next position.”

 

4.

Do You Prefer to Work Alone or in a Team Environment?

There are many financial analyst positions in which collaboration is integral to the job. For instance, you might be building sales models for a company, while another employee builds vendor models, and the two of you regularly must combine data to create an overall business model for the chief financial officer of the company.

So this is a question that speaks to fit, both with the company and with the position. If the company is super collaborative and you prefer to be a lone wolf, you may not be the best candidate for the position—and vice versa. “They could be the best financial analyst in the world, and it’ll still be a bad hire,” Jaffee says.

How to Answer

Answer the initial question and give some examples of times in which you’ve worked alone or with a partner or team. But don’t try to second guess what the interviewer is looking for to get a job. “There are no right or wrong answers—some companies value independence and some value working in teams,” Jaffee says. The key is to find the one that matches with your own preferences.

An answer to this question might look like this:

“I prefer working in teams. In my previous job, I worked closely with a colleague to put together a business model for a client. They asked us to build a predictive financial model to outline where their business could be three years down the road. I got to do half of it, and my partner got to do half of it based on our expertise, and we were able to put it together and make a presentation to the client. I really enjoyed working with someone else to create the financial model and present it as a team and also learned so much from my partner that I was able to take with me to other analyses I did independently and with other colleagues down the line.”

 

5.

Tell Me About a Time When You Had to Present Financial Data.

This question helps an interviewer assess whether you have experience and skills making presentations. Some financial analysts are regularly tasked with presenting data to company leadership or other parties, so hearing how you’ve done in the past will help them predict how you’d do in the role you’re applying for. Your answer will offer a glimpse into how you prepare for a presentation, the kind of data you’ve presented (including whether you were presenting your own data or someone else’s), and how comfortable you are speaking in front of people at different seniority levels.

They might also want to know whether you considered the presentation to be successful, what you learned from it, and what you would have done differently if you had a chance to do it over again.

How to Answer

This is a great opportunity to use the STAR method to tackle your answer: Situation, Task, Action, Result. This involves setting the scene, describing what your responsibility was in that specific situation, explaining what steps you took, and talking about the outcome or results of those steps.

Think about your answer before launching into it, and tell as detailed a story of your past experience as possible. “Don’t leave out any facts,” Jaffee says. “Include enough information that will allow the interviewer to get a good understanding of everything that was involved.” And be prepared to answer follow-up questions about the story you’ve told.

An answer to this question might look like this:

“As a company, we were considering acquiring another competitor and needed to identify what the combined financials of the companies would look like. I had to identify synergies related to head count, technology, payroll, redundant internal services, and ultimately forecast the financials to show the combined companies. I started by making sure I knew exactly what numbers the decision-makers in my company were focused on and why and then dived into the modeling component, sharing with colleagues for verification and input along the way. Once the bulk of that work was done I put together a slide deck that included a model output and highlighted the most important conclusions I’d come to. I presented my findings with specific recommendations to my team as well as a group of executives. They had several follow-up questions, as was expected, many of which I was able to answer on the spot but a few required me to go back to the model and incorporate some of their feedback. In the end, the majority of my recommendations were adopted but I learned the most from the few that had to be altered. The next time I had to put together a similar presentation, I tried to anticipate these kinds of questions and my recommendations were sharper for it (and got adopted with barely a tweak).”

 

6.

Give Me an Example of an Analysis Gone Wrong. What Could You Have Done Differently to Avoid the Problem, and What Did You Learn?

Did you build a model that initially missed three assumptions and this wasn’t discovered until you presented it to someone? Or did you create a model that simply didn’t work the way it was meant to and six months down the road it didn’t produce the expected results?

Everyone gets things wrong sometimes and companies like to hear that you’re able to learn from your mistakes. Your time on the job isn’t as valuable if you haven’t learned and grown from your experiences. “Development is not just a function of time,” Jaffee says. “Development is a function of self-awareness.” (This is also why companies might ask about your greatest weakness.)

How to Answer

There are a few types of stories you should always have on hand in an interview, and one of them should be about a time you made a mistake or something didn’t go as you expected it to. Describe the mistake as directly and openly as you can—that’s part of what the interviewer will be looking for—and then move on and talk about how you’ve learned from it and what you’ve done since to ensure you don’t repeat the same mistake.

An example of an answer to this question might look like this:

“My team was tasked with building a model for how many salespeople we should hire, looking at the cost of hiring and training versus potential revenue. Six months later, we realized the model didn’t work as planned—we predicted three new salespeople would translate to new revenues of $1 million, but we only had revenues of $500,000. In order to understand what went wrong, I reviewed every step of the analysis and spoke to all the stakeholders individually about what, from their perspective, had caused the mismatch between our projection and reality. I learned in that process that we had made some flawed assumptions about ramp-up time and how many customers freshly onboarded salespeople could close per sales cycle. In future models, we made sure to loop in those stakeholders earlier and to dig into even more granular detail to test our assumptions from every direction and make sure we weren’t missing anything.”

 

7.

What Processes Do You Use to Create Financial Analysis Reports?

Reporting is generally a big part of a financial analyst’s job, and the reporting required will depend on the role. If you’re interviewing for a sales organization, for instance, you might be creating monthly, quarterly, or annual sales reports. In your answer, they’ll be looking for technical skills as well as collaboration skills, communication, organization, follow-through, and time management.

How to Answer

Answering this question is about giving examples of what you’ve done in your current or former positions, including not only the specific software and methodologies you use, but how you engage with people at the organization to really understand the requirements they’re seeking. Articulate the thought process you would go through to understand those requirements and then explain how you would execute the task and follow through on your responsibilities. For best results, take a deep dive on one example and go into as much detail as possible—interviewers might follow up for more examples, but your first example should take them through the entire process.

 

8.

If You Could Only Pick One Financial Statement to Make a Decision on a Company, What Would You Pick?

A recruiter might want to see that you have an understanding of the major financial statements a company has. They might ask you to walk them through an income statement, a balance sheet, a statement of shareholders’ equity, and/or a cash flow statement. Or they may ask you a question like this so you can show that you not only know the statements but understand when and how to use them.

How to Answer

The best response here is not just to choose the financial statement you prefer, but also to discuss why you think it’s the most useful source of information for a certain kind of situation and address why the other financial statements might not be appropriate choices.

An answer to this question might look like this:

“I prefer to use the cash flow statement to make a decision on a company, especially if I’m trying to glean how a company is doing in a moment of trouble or crisis. It’s going to show you actual liquidity, how the company is using cash, and how it’s generating cash. A balance sheet will only show you the assets and debt of the company at a point in time, and shareholder’s equity just shows you what’s been paid into the company and what exists net of assets and liabilities. The income statement has a lot of information—revenue, cost of goods and services, and other expenses—but I find the cash flow statement most useful for evaluating a company’s overall health in the short term.”

 

9.

What Do You Think Is the Single Best Evaluation Metric for Analyzing a Company’s Stock?

The recruiter is looking for your thought process as you compare and contrast different valuation methods. This helps an interviewer see that you’re familiar with multiple financial concepts when it comes to stock valuation and that you understand the pros and cons of different types of methodologies.

This question is more likely to come up if you’re interviewing to work for an investment bank or research firm. But you should be prepared to walk interviewers through how you come to an answer on any type of process question you receive.

How to Answer

Walk the recruiter through your thought process in choosing the metric you prefer and talk about what it can tell you about the stock and how that would help you evaluate a company. You can also mention other metrics in your answer to help you explain why the one you chose is better or what secondary metrics you’d pick if you could add others to support your primary choice.

An answer to this question might look like this:

“Of the three most commonly used valuation methodologies, discounted cash flow, comparable company analysis, and precedent transactions, I think that comparable company analysis is the most beneficial across all different types of companies and industries. Specifically, I like to look at the P/E ratio [price-earnings ratio] since it provides a yardstick for determining whether a stock is undervalued or overvalued as compared to its comp set. A low P/E ratio—when compared to similar companies and stocks—might be a sign that the price of that current stock is inexpensive relative to the company’s earnings, while a high P/E ratio might indicate that the stock’s valuation has become too high especially if it’s higher than others in its comp set. It’s important to note that one methodology or ratio generally does not tell a complete story by itself and others should be utilized for a more holistic approach, but I think P/E ratio comp analysis provides the least room for variability.

 

10.

Which Profitability Model Would You Use to Determine if a Project Will Be Profitable?

This is another question in which a recruiter wants to understand how you do things. They’ll be looking for the steps you take to get from point A to point B, such as looking at revenue streams and looking at the costs associated to come up with that profitability model. They want to see if you understand how to calculate a net present value and discount cash flows.

How to Answer

You may have to do some math, particularly if a company gives you a specific problem to solve. Be prepared to walk the interviewer through your thought process. “I had a question like this when I was interviewing,” says Nathan Atkins, an investment banking analyst at M&T Bank. “They asked, ‘We want to invest in a higher quality leather for our seats in a car; it’s going to cost X amount of dollars to do it, and we need it to return Y, so is this a good investment?’”

For instance, an answer might look like this:

“Net present value is a good model for forecasting, since it finds the difference between the present value of cash inflows and the present value of cash outflows over a period of time. If a company was investing in a project, you’d want the required return, the number of periods, and the cash flow coming in over that time. You’d take cash flow, divide it by one plus your hurdle rate to the power of the time period, subtract your initial investment and that would give you your net present value. What this should tell you is the value today of this future stream of payments. As long as it’s positive, that means the project is worth doing.”

 

11.

What is EBITDA?

There’s technical knowledge associated with a job as a financial analyst, and you’ll be expected to know and understand it. Luckily, this isn’t the part of the interview that most financial analyst candidates find stressful. “The assumption is that most people applying for a financial analyst job would understand the basics of finances, so those are questions that most candidates are going to get right,” Jaffee says.

In short, be prepared to prove that you understand the financial concepts that make up your job. You might be asked to analyze a spreadsheet, read a financial statement, discuss how you’d solve a problem in Microsoft Excel, or explain a financial term (like positive cash flow), among other things.

How to Answer

In this case, you should explain the concept of EBITDA—starting by spelling out what the acronym refers to—and make sure you also say why it’s an important metric in evaluating a company’s financial health.

For instance, your answer might be:

“EBITDA stands for Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization, and fundamentally, it’s a measure of net income with interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization added back to the total. It’s a useful metric for analyzing and comparing financial health across firms since it removes financing and accounting decisions from the equation. But I’d also add that there are drawbacks and EBITDA can be misleading on its own, as it doesn’t take factors such as capital investments into account.”

 

12.

How Are the Income Statement, Balance Sheet, and Cash Flow Statement Related?

This is another question that gets at technical knowledge that interviewers assume you have walking into an interview for a financial analyst position. They ask it to make sure that you have a baseline financial knowledge, but it’s also a good barometer for how seriously you’re taking the interview process and how prepared you are by how easily, accurately, and clearly you respond.

How to Answer

Make sure you practice your responses to this and other technical knowledge questions out loud and in front of the mirror prior to your interview so that you have a fairly concise and accurate answer at your fingertips (without sounding too rehearsed!).

For instance, your answer might be:

 

“The first line of the income statement is the revenue line or “top line,” and after subtracting various expenses you arrive at net income or “bottom line” for the company. Net income comes into the cash flow statement as the first line, which is then adjusted for all non-cash expenses to get to a change in cash over a specific period. This change in cash will correspond directly to the cash line item in the balance sheet, providing a more detailed look at why that specific balance changes. The balance sheet is unique in that it is a snapshot of the balances of accounts at a specific time vs. a period of time (i.e. the previous quarter). Net income also connects to the balance sheet as a change in retained earnings.”

By Kate Ashford - The Muse
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