Discover your dream Career
For Recruiters

Our Take: Hidden Rules of the Candidate Selection Game

Making it through the job-search maze requires a finely crafted story and image. Besides recognizing and compellingly addressing a prospective employer's concrete business needs, a successful candidate must also address hidden requirements embedded in every screening and interview process.

Some financial professionals who've been out of work for a long time may be compounding their difficulty by overlooking one such requirement: A viable resume must show a current, or at least very recent, entry at the top of the "Professional History" section.

Even if your most recent job ended last year or (heaven forbid) in 2008, you simply must show something on your resume that proves you are devoting serious effort to keeping your skills and contacts fresh. Being involuntarily excluded from a full-time staff position is one thing; whiling away the hours playing Modern Warfare 2 is entirely different. And that's the image you unwittingly present when you submit a resume that shows a gaping hole where your (or anyone's) current job description should be.

What can an unemployed job-seeker plug in that hole? Project work, volunteering for professional associations or even charitable or civic groups (especially if finance-related), board service, career-relevant classes or certifications you've registered for, a reference to your career-relevant blog. List your current work as "Independent Trader," "Independent Analyst," or "Independent Writer," as the case may be. Or make up a unique business name to list as your current employer, and call yourself "principal" or "owner." Even if you had just a single client or project, you'll have something to talk about if asked how your independent business is going.

Don't Misrepresent, But Adapt to Prevailing Beliefs

If pressed for details about contract volume or income, tell the truth. The purpose isn't to misrepresent your current activity or income level, but to prove you're conversant with a universal assumption of the talent acquisition game and have structured your post-layoff activities and resume accordingly. The assumption is this: anyone's career "muscles" - their professional skills and revenue-generating contacts - atrophy if not exercised regularly.

Of course, exceptions always exist. But why begin at a disadvantage, by adopting a position where you must prove you're an exception to remain in the game? Instead of setting out to disprove a prevailing belief, you're better off adapting your presentation to conform with it.

Here are two other assumptions that underlie most employers' selection process.

A viable interview candidate must present a credible story about why this job and this company is precisely right for you at this moment in your career. If you're the proverbial "perfect" hire - you're currently performing the exact same job for the company's closest rival - the question answers itself. Excluding that rare situation, at some point in your initial interview (and probably in later ones too) you'll be expected to explain just how your career progressed to its present state and why you're certain the opening you're applying for is the logical next step in your career path. Forewarned is forearmed. (Note: If you feel "regressed" might be more accurate than "progressed," erase that thought from your mind. Apply caustic chemicals, if necessary.)

An Interview is an Acting Performance

A third convention is that a candidate must say only favorable things about her current and past employers. The universality of that rule is perhaps the clearest proof that interviewers aim to gauge candidates' acting skills. After all: If you loved and respected every previous employer, and each of them (of course!) loved and respected you, then why would you have changed employers twice, three times or more? And why would you be out of a job (or seeking to change jobs) now?

Unless you've jumped ship frequently enough to be labeled a job-hopper, no interviewer will point out the inherent contradiction between those two conflicting sets of "facts" you laid out when detailing your work history. Still, you will be expected to have convincing explanations for each job change... explanations that somehow reflect favorably on both you and each employer you left. Right.

All these resume and interview conventions make sense if you understand the person across the table is playing a game and expects you to play along. Not just go through the motions, but play hard and capably - and above all, act sincere.

After all, most finance jobs in one way or another depend on selling products or services that aren't all they're cracked up to be. Whether your expertise is dealing with clients and prospects, counterparties, vendors, auditors, regulators, investors, news reporters or an employer's own work force, performing flawlessly in a job interview just might be the most reliable way there is to prove you'll effectively champion the company's interests where the rubber meets the road.

Think that's hypocritical? Fine. Go off and play Holden Caulfield. But don't expect to work in finance. Holden never would have.

AUTHORJon Jacobs Insider Comment
  • jb
    5 August 2010

    Now, when I apply for a Loan Officer position I hear, "you don't have a current book of business" to bring to the table, when, anyone who bought or refinanced their home in the last 3 to 4 years most likely can't sell their home or refi now because they are too far under water to get a viable appraisal.
    In the last 2 years I became licensed in Insurance and Annuities, remained current with all the guideline changes in Conventional, Government and Reverse Mortgages, and continued to orginate loans for the clients I developed in the Financial Services industry. I have the ability and have proven that I can "find new business" in whatever field I work in through networking. Why do you have to already be doing a specific job currently in order to be a qualified candidate for that job now? Why doesn't experience and ability to create new business count for anything?
    By entering the Financial Services industry, I aggressively pursued a relative work field which afforded me the opportunity to use my experience and expertise to provide additional financial help to customers.

  • Ph
    15 July 2010

    If you are experienced human being they assume you are set in your ways and will not adapt to THEIR culture- right or wrong those are facts for 99% of the established companies out there.
    They want you to not make waves, suggestions or find a more efficient way of doing something- kind of like the Federal government although not as wasteful or cumbersome. Just do as we say and we will pay you a living wage to fit in.

    Mostly it's go along to get along which sounds good in theory but when you have a decade or more of experience you can ad some additional value to the bottom line of a company although the lackeys and screeners have no clue to do that.

  • Ce
    15 July 2010

    I see exactly what is being said. I gave 2 excellent Intnerviews. My 3rd interview not do good I allowed my self to ne put on the defensive. I bommed completely. The people conducting my interview easily rattled my game plan, I was not able to take back my control. I née it once I walked out the door. O got my rejection call the next day. They doubted my longevity with them because i admitted I wanted to complete my MBA. That must be a big NO these days. Don't express wanting to advance or better yourself to much.

  • Jo
    Jon Jacobs
    14 July 2010

    NJ Resident,

    I don't think there is any trend toward people strategically declining to answer business communications that might take them out of their comfort zone. In day-to-day business situations I think declining to reply has always been an available option (and one that's always been utilized some percent of the time) when faced with a request you don't have a good answer to, or need to delay, or will place yourself at a disadvantage if you do answer. Today, if anything, people probably respond to all manner of communications in a higher percentage of cases than 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, simply because technology has made it so much easier to do so. Including in cases where it might be wiser to remain silent.

    The pragmatics and ethics of how employers communicate with job candidates is a separate issue. I've dealt with that in at least two prior columns (Our Take: Kiss Off, and Our Take: A Loaded Relationship) as well as one past article: No Respect From Firms You Pursue? Don't Be Shocked.

    -Jon Jacobs, eFinancialCareers News staff

  • NJ
    NJ Resident
    14 July 2010

    Jon - I have one other response to one of your earlier responses (and I am very thankful that you have aired this dirty laundry, because all of this needed to be said) with regard to discourteous behavior toward candidates. Would you consider collecting some information for a column about today's communications etiquette? Having 20+ years of corporate experience in multiple industries, I have noticed a trend toward people ignoring the communications of colleagues, job seekers, etc. that take them out of their comfort zone. For instance, the HR rep who won't return inquiries re: a candidate's status, a colleague who ignores requests for information from another team (this hapened repeatedly in a merger integration in which I participated recently), clients ignoring requests for a response to a vendor's proposal (I was on the giving end of this one but did my best to give my vendor a reason for the silence).

    Any experience with this trend?

Sign up to our Newsletter!

Get advice to help you manage and drive your career.

Boost your career

Find thousands of job opportunities by signing up to eFinancialCareers today.
Latest Jobs
Deutsche Bank
Production Engineer - Associate
Deutsche Bank
New York, United States
EllieBlu Human Resources Consulting
Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
EllieBlu Human Resources Consulting
Farmington, United States
Momentus Capital
Smart Growth Loan Officer
Momentus Capital
San Francisco, United States
EllieBlu Human Resources Consulting
Associate Advisor
EllieBlu Human Resources Consulting
Farmington, United States
EllieBlu Human Resources Consulting
Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
EllieBlu Human Resources Consulting
Williamsburg, United States

Sign up to our Newsletter!

Get advice to help you manage and drive your career.