If you’re interviewing for a financial services job, you will of course be quizzed on technical expertise specific your role. Obviously, a risk manager will not be asked the same questions an M&A banker.
But there are commonalities across all interviews in financial services. The questions below almost always crop up, suggest HR and career consultants, and most people are so focused on presenting their expertise that they’re woefully under-prepared for them.
1. Why are you leaving your current role?
“I will always ask someone why they’re leaving their current firm and why they left their role before that,” says Gareth Hughes, head of HR at Royal Bank of Canada in London.
Purpose: To establish whether you’re the sort of flaky person who jumps from role to role and former employers are glad to see the back of.
2. Why do you want this particular role in this particular business?
Financial services firms want to know that you’ve done your research, and that you know how the company is developing and evolving.
“It sounds obvious, but few people really look into the role or the company and struggle to come up with something meaningful,” says Andrew Pullman, a former head of HR at Dresdner Bank and managing director of careers consultants People Risk Solutions. “The key is to come up with something current and interesting and then be able to turn the question around to the interviewer. I noticed you did this, can you tell me more about it?”
“I want to know why you’re here and what you’re looking for in a new job,” says Hughes.
Purpose: To establish whether you really want this job or are simply scattering CVs like birdseed.
3. Tell me about a situation you should and could have handled differently.
“Banks want to find out whether you’re trustworthy and whether you’re going to put your interests before theirs or vice versa,” says Roy Cohen, a careers coach and author of the Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide. “They want to ensure you’re not going to embarrass them or cost them money.”
The key here is not to give an example that’s too close to home, he says. Talking about an interaction with a former colleague or manager, for example, gives a hiring manager too much to think about.
Purpose: With all the recent scandals, banks want to assess your ethical compass and also whether you’d fit in with the team.
4. Do you match our competencies?
Unless you work in HR, the word ‘competencies’ is probably enough to make you go to sleep. If you work in HR, it will probably be enough to make you spring out of bed. Given that HR play a key role in the interview process, you need to familiarise yourself with it either way.
“Most clients are trying to drill down to a set of competency-based questions that they can measure objectively against,” says one head of HR at a large bank. “Look at the company’s values and extrapolate from those values what their core competencies might be. For example, if a value is ‘client service,’ the competencies might be strong team focus, thinking outside the box, or being a self-starter.”
The head of recruitment at one major US investment bank says that at a senior level, interviews are all about this kind of stuff. “We’ll talk about the business, but it’s particularly about whether you’re a fit with the firm,” she says.
Having identified the desired competencies think of a few examples that illustrate why you embody them.
Purpose: To establish whether, based on past behaviours and actions, you have the ability to do the job and won’t irritate your colleagues.
5. What’s unique about you? How are you different to all the other people we are seeing?
Fundamentally, this is the age-old question about your strengths. “Most people won’t ask what your strengths are blatantly,” says another careers consultant, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They’ll often as what you can bring to the role, or what differentiates you.”
Purpose: To check you are not totally mediocre.
6. Walk me through your resume
Layoffs are a fact of life in most finance roles, so a patchy CV is not the impediment it once was. However, since the financial crisis ‘walk me through your resume’ question is more often phrased as ‘You have a lot of moves on your resume. Explain,” says Cohen.
“Never disagree, just go through each move and explain the reasons for it. You could have moved at the wrong time and been the first out. You may have been offered a buy-out that was too attractive to turn down. A wonky CV is very common now,” he says.
Purpose: To check you’re not the sort of person who makes fickle career decisions. Or the sort of person that people quickly regret hiring.
7. What would your colleagues say about you?
The aim here is to make you objectively think about your strengths and weaknesses, and the fact that they will be approaching your colleagues for references, says Pullman.
“I usually say something like, if I were to go out for a drink with your manager, what would he say about you? If we stayed out for a while, what will they really say?,” he says.
Purpose: To check that you’re not such a megalomaniac that you can’t see some flaws, or that you're not someone with too many flaws to be offered the job.
8. What are your aspirations?
“You will always be asked where you see yourself in five or ten years’ time,” says Pullman. “They want to know where they want to be and how they will get there. They also want to know whether your aspirations are out of line with what they can offer.
Purpose:To establish that you are really interested in this role and don’t see it as a stopgap. And whether you’re just too over-qualified.
9. Why were you selected for redundancy?
If you have ever been made redundant, this will definitely come up. Think carefully for a reason.
Purpose: Ensuring you are not unemployable.
10. Do you have any questions for me?
“You should always have a question,” says the head of HR. “If people don’t, it worries me, big style.”
Goldman Sachs has some good tips for questions you can ask in its guide to interview success. They advise that you focus on the industry and trends, don’t ask about pay and benefits, and don’t ask anything that might make the interviewer feel defensive.
Purpose: To ensure that you are engaged, interested, and capable of initiating a conversation.
11. What are your three greatest accomplishments?
As cheesy as it sounds, banks want to know that you’re a goal-focused individual who can easily list some your tangible achievements. Preparing for one is easy, but you need a few others up your sleeve so you don’t appear over rehearsed, says Cohen.
“This can be identifying new revenue streams, finding solutions, or something outside of work,” says Cohen. “I often offer up the fact that – as a fire warden at the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attacks – I forcefully convinced some fellow office workers to exit when they wanted to stay in the office. They’ve all since thanked me.”