Carnegie Mellon University
April 19, 2021

A Leg Up

Quant Club expands mock interviewing to spring and invites MSCF students to participate

By Emily Payne

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Communications, MCS

Since 2017, the Quant Club has brought together computational finance students and alumni every fall to prepare for internship season. Students practice their interviewing skills, complete technical problems on the spot and receive in-depth feedback on their performance during mock interview sessions.

This year things looked a little different. The mock interviews went virtual, which yielded a few unexpected benefits.

For the first time, the Quant Club hosted the event in the fall and in the spring. The spring session, held over two weekends in March 2021, focused more heavily on preparing computational finance sophomores to enter the recruiting season. The change comes as banks and financial institutions have begun signing student interns one to two years in advance.

“Some banks are trying to lock people in for two summers,” explained Bill Hrusa, professor of mathematical sciences and Quant Club advisor. "Companies are seeking talented students who they can train over the course of two summers and bring them on as full-time employees upon graduation."  

The extra session also welcomed juniors and Masters of Computational Finance (MSCF) students who were on the internship hunt.

Overall, 30 undergraduate and 15 MSCF students met with 27 Carnegie Mellon alumni for two to four interview practice sessions. That’s more than twice as many interviewers as the in-person sessions could offer.

"The virtual format helped us provide so many more interview opportunities to students."

Alumni who normally wouldn’t have been able to fly to Pittsburgh for a weekend were excited to be able to participate by hopping on Zoom.

Interviewers who joined came from a range of financial institutions such as Bank of America, Citibank, Goldman Sachs, Castles and Commodities, Barclays and several smaller firms to offer their professional expertise and industry insights to the students.

One of the best parts about the experience, explained Amelia Kuang and Cindy Ding, Quant Club’s president and vice president for finance, respectively, is that each interviewer has their own style. Some interviewers focus on behavioral and resume questions while others drill students on quantitative, programming and market knowledge questions.

Both styles get students acquainted with the kinds of questions that will come up during interviews, says Ding.

Knowing their resume inside and out and how they’d handle on-the-job situations helps students demonstrate their professional capabilities while quantitative questions get students more comfortable with solving problems in front of interviewers.

This kind of practice helped Kuang land an internship with Citibank as a sophomore. Previously, Kuang reviewed her homework and textbook problems to prepare for quantitative questions.

“But during the mock interviews, I realized that the company would be more interested in asking questions that are more out of the box and interesting to the industry,” she said. Her interviewers suggested that she turn to interviewing books as a resource.

“Reading interview books definitely helped me a lot. I reviewed an entire section on probability and actually got a few similar questions in actual interviews, so I think that that was really enlightening for me,” Kuang said.

What Kuang and Ding appreciate about the event is how flexible interviewers are to understanding the students’ needs. Interviewers will offer students multiple sessions and give direct feedback on how to improve, something that real interviews rarely provide.

After the event, the club hosted a networking dinner on Zoom with a few of the alumni and students who participated in the mock interviews. Students were able to connect with their interviewers in a more relaxed manner and ask questions about the industry, job hunting, firm cultures, and how Covid-19 has impacted the alumni’s experiences.

Ding and Kuang worked hard to adapt both parts of the event virtually and were pleased with the successful turnout. They matched up ideal interview pairs based on students’ interests, made sure everything ran smoothly technically and worked with the MSCF Career Services staff to help organize the event. In particular, Vaishali Gakhar, MSCF’s career services director, gave a presentation about how to prepare for a career in quantitative finance as part of students’ preparation for interviews.

“The virtual format helped us provide so many more interview opportunities to students,” said Kuang — hinting that it might even become a lasting change for future mock interview events.