Here’s what most prospective quants mistake when preparing for their first quant interview: they overlook the importance of practicing specific Quant interview questions and instead focus too narrowly on general concepts. The contemporary quant interview process is a comprehensive test of ability— not only in terms of intellect and grasp of core theory but also in terms of decision-making and leadership.
A recruiter once told me, “There are lots of great candidates with impeccable skills. In our field, smart and talented people are a dime a dozen. However, applicants that know to communicate effectively are few and far between.”
The key to successful preparation lies in knowing what interview questions are asked most often. In the field of quantitative analysis, you will see questions about business and finance, but they will be in the context of how you utilize data to create algorithmic solutions.
Here are the interview questions you should watch out for in your quant interview:
Here’s a secret about quant and finance interview questions: They don’t often relate to finance. Instead, probability-based questions in finance interviews are framed as quantitative problems and ask interviewees to make calculations based on the information provided.
To do well in these interviews, you need intermediate-to-advanced knowledge of statistics, probability, econometrics, and, increasingly, computer science. Finance-specific knowledge can be helpful, but you don’t need it to pass the interview.
Here are some sample questions that might come up in your next quant interview:
For this section, let’s start with something simple from the realm of basic combinatorics.
Let’s say you’re playing a dice game. You have 2 dice.
Let’s start by solving question one. We’re given two dice, and at least one three has to come up. As a rule of thumb, in an AT LEAST probability question such as this, you’ll find that it’s much easier to solve the chances of never rolling a three than it is of rolling at least one three.
We can break down the question a bit further and then build back to our solution. The probability of rolling a three-on-one die is 1⁄6, so therefore, the odds of not rolling a three would be 1 - 1⁄6 = 5⁄6. Now what happens with two dice? We can multiply the probabilities to find that out. So, the probability of never getting a 3 with two dice is 5⁄6 * 5⁄6 = 25⁄36. With the value of never rolling a three in hand, we simply subtract from 1 to find our chances of rolling at least one three: 1 - 25⁄36 = 11⁄36.
Now that we have solved the base case of two dice, let’s encapsulate this for * dice. Given the probabilities are multiples, we know for:
So then for N dice it would be:
Amazon has a warehouse system where items on the website are located at different distribution centers across any given city. The probability that a specific item is available at warehouse or warehouse in a city is 0.6 and 0.8, respectively.
Given that you’re a customer in a city, and that the items are only found on the website if they exist in the distribution centers, what is the probability that the item would be found on Amazon’s website?
There is another way to frame this problem. The chance that item is on the website is the equivalent chance that an item is in Warehouse or Warehouse , since only under these conditions could the item be listed online. But here’s the catch: it could be in both warehouses, so we need to account for that overlap.
Here’s how you can account for overlap: first, add the chances of the item being in Warehouse and Warehouse , then subtract the chance of the item being in both. After doing the math, you’ll find there’s a fairly high chance that you will see your item listed on the website.
More context: A ride-sharing app has probability of dispensing a 5-dollar coupon to a rider. The app services riders. Some questions you could be asked in an interview include: How much should we budget for the coupon initiative in total? What if there are two passengers? What is the probability that both of them will get the coupon? What is the probability that only one will get the coupon?
Let’s explore how probability works and its applications in different scenarios. When we have an event with a chance of occurring, and this event is repeated independently times, we can calculate the expected number of occurrences. If each occurrence has a cost of 5 dollars, we can also relate this to the total expected cost.
When we encounter variability (or uncertainty) in a situation, one statistical measure we can use to model outcomes is standard deviation. For a binomial distribution, the standard deviation can be calculated using a formula that takes into account the probability of success, the probability of failure, and the number of trials. Incorporating this measure of variability into a budget allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the potential range of costs associated with the events, in this case, the coupon being sent to riders.
Let’s now consider two passengers ordering rides as two separate events. The probability of a coupon being dispensed to a single rider can be squared to determine the probability of coupons being sent to both riders simultaneously. Squaring the probability takes into account the independence of the events and helps us understand the likelihood that the coupon is sent to both.
When we examine the probability of only one coupon being dispensed between both riders, we need to consider that there are two possible ways this can happen - either the coupon is sent only to the first rider or only to the second rider. To calculate this probability, we can utilize the principle of independence and add the individual probabilities of each event occurring, bearing in mind that these events are independent of each other.
It’s important to remember that each coupon or passenger is treated as an independent event. In situations where there are multiple independent events with two possible outcomes, the binomial distribution proves to be a useful tool for analyzing and understanding the probabilities involved.
What does a uniform distribution look like? Simply a straight line over the range of values from 0 to d, where any value between 0 to d is equally likely to be randomly sampled. So, let’s make this easy to understand practically. If we’re given N samples, and we have to estimate what d is with zero context of statistics and based on intuition, what value would we choose?
For example, if our N sample is 5 and our values are: (1,4,6,2,3), what value would we guess as d? Probably the max value of 6 right?
But let’s look at another example. Let’s say our N sample is 5 again, and our values are instead: (20,30,28,26,16). Would our estimate still be the max value of 30? Or would we have reason to think that this would underestimate the true value of d?
Let’s try something harder. A gold miner is stranded in the hills and there are two paths he can take to escape. Path A loops back on itself and will take him 5 days to walk to the end. Path B brings him to a junction immediately (0 days). The junction at the end of path has two paths: Path and Path .
Each path has an equal probability of being chosen, and once a wrong path is chosen, the miner gets disoriented and cannot remember which path he has already walked down. What is the expected number of days he will spend walking before he exits the mine?
Given the complexity of this problem, the geometric distribution can be employed as a useful tool to analyze the various paths and facilitate the calculation. Can you determine the answer to this question?
💡 To explore more probability interview questions for quants, check out our article here.
When it comes to landing a quant position in finance, it’s not all about technical expertise and pure number crunching. Behavioral interview questions play a crucial role in assessing a candidate’s suitability for the role.
These questions gauge your ability to work collaboratively, adapt to dynamic environments, and think critically under pressure. While they may not directly relate to finance concepts, they provide valuable insights into your mindset and approach to problem-solving.
Here are some behavioral interview questions you should prepare for in your next quant interview:
Behavioral interview questions are tricky. While most of a quant’s core skills hover around using the analytical, logical, and critical parts of our brain, behavioral interview questions require interviewees to be subjective.
Instead of clear-cut goals and objectives, behavioral interview questions are open-ended and vague, and there will often be no predefined “correct” answer. For most quants, questions like these are not their strongest area. Nevertheless, behavioral interview questions are incredibly important in determining the likelihood of landing a job.
For logical thinkers, it would be best to tackle quant behavioral interview questions with a framework in mind, giving structure to how you approach subjective questions. The STAR method is a great place to start your preparation.
The STAR Method represents a smart and effective strategy to navigate the ambiguous waters of behavioral interview questions. STAR, an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, and Result, is a structured response technique that enables you to deliver comprehensive yet succinct answers.
Let’s consider the following behavioral question, “Tell me about a time when you had to resolve a conflict within your team using data.”
With the structure in mind, let’s practice answering the following behavioral interview questions:
When talking about behavioral interview questions, these types of questions come up the most. ”How to explain concept X to demographic Y” is a common genre of behavioral interview questions since you will be interacting in the workplace with non-technical peers, senior co-workers, and either your own boss or executives.
Translating your logic, understanding, and methodology into approachable concepts can be quite challenging, even for the brightest quants; these situations can be challenging and potentially frustrating.
When answering this question, it is vital to demonstrate your knack for breaking down complex statistical concepts into simpler, relatable terms. Begin by providing a concise overview of the concept, avoiding technical jargon.
You can approach it by utilizing analogies or real-world examples to elucidate the concept further, making it more relatable and understandable. Visual aids are also useful, with charts, graphs, or infographics effectively enhancing comprehension.
Moreover, actively listening to stakeholder questions, concerns, and feedback, and addressing them promptly and comprehensively, fosters understanding and encourages productive dialogue.
“In a previous role as a Quantitative Analyst at Red Rock Incorporated, we were transitioning to a machine learning model for credit risk analysis, which was rooted in a complex ensemble of algorithms. Our CFO, a brilliant finance professional but not overly technical, needed to understand this change for strategic decision-making. I chose to simplify the idea of machine learning into a familiar context, comparing it to the concept of a group of experts where each has their own opinion on the credit risk, and in the end, a weighted average of these opinions is taken based on the past performance of each expert. I used simple language, visual aids, and a hands-on demonstration using historical data to demonstrate the improvements. The CFO was able to understand the concept and its implications. This resulted in a successful transition to the new model, with strong buy-in from the leadership team.”
💡 Notice how this question follows the STAR method.
Behavioral interview questions that assess how you handle mistakes are highly valuable because they provide insights into your ability to take ownership, learn from failures, and improve as a professional. In the workplace, making mistakes is inevitable, and employers want to gauge your response to such situations.
When answering such questions, demonstrating a growth mindset and highlighting the lessons learned from the mistake can help you leave a positive impression on the interviewer. Employers value candidates who can reflect on their mistakes, make improvements, and contribute to a culture of continuous learning and improvement within the organization.
“During my tenure at Shen Hua Analytics, I developed a predictive model for customer churn. However, after its first quarter of implementation, the model’s predictions deviated significantly from actual churn rates. To investigate, I systematically evaluated each step of my modeling process. Upon revisiting the feature selection phase, I realized that the model overly relied on a few features due to a data imbalance. I resolved this issue by applying an oversampling technique to create a balanced dataset and fine-tuned the model to minimize the over-reliance on certain features. Following these adjustments, the model’s predictions aligned much more closely with observed outcomes, improving its overall accuracy by 15%.”
Behavioral interview questions that assess your response to ethical dilemmas in a quant role are crucial in evaluating your integrity, ethical decision-making, and moral compass. These questions aim to understand how you navigate complex situations where ethical considerations come into play.
Highlight the actions you took to address the ethical dilemma, such as discussing the situation with colleagues, seeking guidance from superiors, or proposing alternative solutions. Emphasize your commitment to upholding ethical standards and your willingness to prioritize integrity over personal gain or convenience.
Effectively communicating your thought process, your ethical reasoning, and the actions you took all demonstrate your ability to navigate challenging situations with ethical considerations in mind. Employers value candidates who demonstrate sound judgment, accountability, and a commitment to ethical conduct in their professional roles.
“In my previous role as a Quantitative Analyst at Alfalfa Financial, we were developing a loan approval model. While reviewing the model, I noticed that it inadvertently included a demographic feature, which could potentially introduce bias and result in unfair lending practices, a clear violation of regulatory guidelines. I immediately brought this to the attention of the project lead and proposed that we reassess the model without this feature, arguing that our responsibility was to ensure fair treatment of all potential borrowers. This decision did reduce our model’s accuracy slightly, but it ultimately allowed us to uphold ethical and regulatory standards, which I firmly believe should always take precedence.”
Constraints; are the bread and butter of corporate jobs, and knowing how to tackle situations with heavy constraints will help your employer assess your resourcefulness, adaptability, and problem-solving skills.
Emphasize the steps you took to extract meaningful insights within the given limitations. This may include utilizing alternative data sources, applying advanced statistical techniques, or developing creative methodologies to compensate for the lack of resources or time. Showcase your ability to think critically, make informed decisions, and deliver results despite the challenges.
Discuss how your quantitative analysis influenced decision-making, contributed to problem-solving or helped the organization achieve its objectives. Demonstrating your ability to deliver valuable insights under significant project constraints can showcase your resilience, adaptability, and problem-solving abilities to potential employers.
“At my previous position at Rho Enterprises, we were tasked with building a predictive model for sales forecasting under the constraints of limited historical data and a tight deadline. Despite the circumstances, I understood the importance of the task for the company’s strategic planning. To manage, I employed bootstrapping, a statistical method that generates additional data samples from the original data by sampling with replacement. This approach allowed us to generate a more robust dataset and develop a model despite our original limitations. Moreover, I used ensemble learning techniques, which combined multiple weak predictive models to generate a stronger one, to ensure accuracy within our timeframe. My approach delivered a forecasting model that closely predicted the following quarter’s sales, within a margin of error of 5%. This had a significant positive impact on inventory management, helping to reduce storage costs and preventing stockouts, despite the original constraints.”
This is a classic culture fit behavioral question. Interviewers ask it to see how well you take direction, how you collaborate, and how you might fit in with the team.
“My last job was at a start-up, and I essentially had to build the analytics processes from the ground up. As a start-up, we had to move quickly, which was a great experience because I learned continuous iteration techniques to maintain high output with seemingly impossible deadlines. In that job, I also had to work closely and collaborate with various teams and help build analytics solutions tailored to various stakeholder needs. I really enjoyed serving others and building reporting solutions that made their lives easier.”
Brain teasers are a critical part of quant interviews as they test a candidate’s ability to solve unfamiliar problems using creativity, logical reasoning, and on-the-spot decision-making. In the complex field of quantitative finance, these abilities are crucial for innovating and handling unpredictable scenarios.
Equally important is the candidate’s capacity to communicate intricate concepts clearly - a skill readily assessed by their ability to articulate their thought process during these brainteasers. In essence, it’s not just about getting the right answer, but demonstrating adaptability, cognitive agility, and communicative effectiveness.
Here are some sample brain teasers for you to wrap your head around:
Difficulty Level: Easy
Imagine you have 8 cubes of cheese, all of which look identical. However, one of the cubes is slightly heavier than the others but not enough to notice by just holding it. You have a balance scale, but you can only use it twice. How can you determine which cube is the heavier one?
First, divide the cheese cubes into three groups, two with 3 cubes each and one with 2 cubes. Place the two groups of 3 on the balance scale. If they balance, then the heavier cube is in the group of two. If they don’t, then the heavier cube is on the side that tilts the scale.
If the heavier cube is in one of the groups of 3, take that group and choose any two cubes to weigh against each other. If they balance, the cube not on the scale is the heavier one. If they don’t, the heavier cube is on the side that tilts the scale.
If the heavier cube was in the group of two, simply put those two cubes on the scale to find out which one is heavier.
Difficulty Level: Easy
You have 10 sacks; each filled with 100 gold bars. All the gold bars in one of these sacks are counterfeit and are a gram lighter than the genuine gold bars. You have a digital weighing scale. What is the minimum number of times you need to use the scale to identify the sack with the counterfeit gold bars?
The scale only needs to be used once.
First, number the sacks from 1 through 10. Take 1 gold bar from the first sack, 2 gold bars from the second sack, 3 from the third sack, and so forth until you take 10 gold bars from the tenth sack. You should end up with a total number of gold bars that adds up to 1+2+3+…+10.
If all the gold bars were real, they would weigh that total sum in grams. However, if any of the sacks contain counterfeit gold bars, the total weight will be less than the number of grams equivalent to the number of gold bars taken from that particular sack.
For instance, if the weight is less than 0.1 gram, then the sack with the counterfeit gold bars is Sack 1. If it’s less by 0.2 grams, the counterfeit gold bars are in Sack 2, and so on.
Difficulty Level: Medium
The Infinite Café has an infinite number of tables, each of which can accommodate one person. Currently, all tables are occupied. Suddenly, an infinite train pulls into the station next door. The train has an infinite number of coaches, and each coach has an infinite number of passengers.
Question: How can the Infinite Café accommodate all the passengers from the train without asking any of the current guests to leave?
Here’s one way to solve it:
Difficulty Level: Easy
The Infinite Bakery is a one-of-a-kind establishment. They have a special baking oven capable of baking a single loaf of bread at a time. At the start of the day, the oven begins baking a loaf of bread. A strange feature of this oven is that each baking session takes exactly half as long as the previous session to finish baking a loaf.
The first session takes two hours to bake a loaf, the second session takes one hour, the third session takes half an hour, and so on, with each subsequent oven taking half the time of its predecessor.
Here’s the puzzle: If the bakery starts baking at 8 AM, what time would they be able to serve an infinite number of bread?
Note: The answer is not 8 AM!
Initially, it may appear that the bakery would have an infinite amount of bread in no time due to the progressively decreasing baking time. However, this is not the case.
To determine the time at which the bakery can serve an infinite number of bread, let’s consider the total time taken by each oven. The first oven takes 2 hours, the second oven takes 1 hour, the third takes half an hour, and so on. This forms a geometric series with a common ratio of 1⁄2.
In general, the sum of an infinite geometric series with a common ratio ‘r’ (where |r| < 1) is given by the formula a / (1 - r), where ‘a’ is the first term in the series. Here, the first term is 2 (from the first oven) and the common ratio is 1⁄2.
Plugging in these values into the formula, we get:
Hence, it will take 4 hours for the bakery to have an infinite number of loaves of bread ready to serve, despite the baking times decreasing for each subsequent oven, and the Infinite Bakery would start serving an infinite number of bread at 12 PM.
Difficulty Level: Medium
Two trains are moving towards each other on the same track. They are initially 100 miles apart. One is moving at 5 mph, and the other is moving at 15 mph. A bee is flying back and forth between the two trains at 25 mph. The bee starts at the same location as the faster train. How far will the bee have flown when the two trains collide?
The key to solving this problem is to realize that you don’t need to keep track of all the back-and-forths of the bee. Just figure out how long the trains will take to collide and then see how far the bee can fly in that time. The trains are 100 miles apart and closing at a combined speed of 20 mph (15 mph + 5 mph), so they will collide in 5 hours (100 miles / 20 mph = 5 hours). The bee is flying at 25 mph, so in 5 hours, it will have flown 125 miles (5 hours * 25 mph = 125 miles).
Bonus question, not necessarily a brain teaser.
Difficulty: Easy where n = 4, but hard where 0 < n < ∞.
The traveling salesman problem is an infamous problem due to its sheer complexity despite its rather simple premise. A salesman must travel between 4 cities. The distances between each pair of cities are as follows:
💡 Note: The visual length of the edges is not equal to its actual length.
What is the shortest possible route the salesman can take, assuming he starts from City A? Given that:
First, let’s list all permutations of the cities (excluding City A because the salesman starts and ends there):
Next, calculate the total distance for each route:
Hence, the shortest possible routes are A-B-D-C-A or A-C-D-B-A, each with a total distance of 80 units.
💡 If you found this question rather simple, try generating a general algorithm to solve this problem for any number of vertices/cities.
Quant finance interview questions serve as a litmus test for candidates aspiring to navigate the intricate world of quantitative finance. These questions delve deep into the realms of mathematics, statistics, and financial theory, challenging individuals to apply their analytical prowess and domain knowledge to real-world scenarios.
Here are some common Quant finance interview questions along with some sample answers:
The Greeks is a collection of values that provide a way to measure the sensitivity of an option’s price to various factors.
These ‘Greeks’ are useful to traders because they help traders predict how the price of the option will change when market conditions change. They are also essential for risk management and hedging strategies.
A volatility smile is a pattern in which at-the-money options tend to have lower implied volatilities while in- and out-of-the-money options have higher implied volatilities. This contradicts the assumptions of the Black-Scholes model, which assumes that the implied volatility is constant and doesn’t depend on the strike price.
The presence of a volatility smile can significantly impact option pricing. If you were to price options using the Black-Scholes model without accounting for the volatility smile, you might significantly misprice options, especially those that are deeply in or out-of-the-money.
The volatility smile adjusts our understanding from the Black-Scholes model by introducing the idea that volatility is not constant and that it varies with different strike prices and expiration times. It thus introduces the concept of a “volatility surface,” which is a three-dimensional graph combining implied volatility, strike price, and time to expiration. Traders can use the volatility surface to select the best strategies for their expectations about the future.
The development of an algorithmic trading strategy involves several steps:
Factors to consider during this process include transaction costs, liquidity, risk tolerance, overfitting, market impact, and the need for robustness in the face of changing market conditions.
When translating a backtested quantitative trading strategy into live trading, there are several challenges that might arise:
Overfitting: This is when a strategy is too closely tailored to the historical data and performs poorly with new, out-of-sample data.
Mitigation: Use techniques such as cross-validation, regularization, and keeping the strategy as simple as possible.
Market Impact: Large trades might move the market, making the actual prices different from the ones used in backtesting.
Mitigation: Use strategies that spread trades over time to minimize market impact.
Transaction Costs: These can eat into returns and are often not fully accounted for in backtesting.
Mitigation: Make sure to include all possible costs (such as commissions, spreads, and slippage) in the backtesting process.
Liquidity: A strategy might look good in backtesting, but if it relies on trading illiquid securities, it might be hard to execute in real life.
Mitigation: Always check the liquidity of the securities used in a strategy.
Changing Market Conditions: Markets evolve over time, and a strategy that worked in the past might not work in the future.
Mitigation: Regularly review and adjust the strategy as needed to adapt to new market conditions.
Quantitative analysts, or “quants,” are responsible for developing and implementing complex mathematical models that allow financial firms to price and trade securities and manage risk.
In a private equity firm, quants might be involved in tasks such as:
In a hedge fund, the role of quants can be somewhat different. They might be involved in:
In general, the role of a quant in a hedge fund tends to be more focused on the short-term, due to the higher frequency of trades and the greater emphasis on exploiting small inefficiencies in the market. In contrast, the role of a quant in a private equity firm is more long-term and strategic in nature, focusing on assessing the value and potential risks of substantial, often multi-year investments.
However, both roles require strong quantitative skills, a deep understanding of financial markets, and the ability to develop and implement complex mathematical models.
Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that the specific tasks of a quant can significantly vary from one firm to another. Some private equity firms might have a less quantitative approach than what is described, and not all hedge funds use high-frequency trading algorithms.
Additionally, it might also be worth mentioning that quants in both private equity firms and hedge funds may contribute to developing and maintaining proprietary databases, creating and implementing statistical models, and conducting quantitative research.