Any job interview is the perfect chance for you to sell yourself to a potential employer, but many questions give you as much opportunity to slip up as they do to shine.
If you're applying to an investment operations role, here are three types of interview questions you'll encounter and my guide to ensuring the answer you give manages to impress.
1) Competency-based question:
Describe the last time you missed a deadline.
Here is an opportunity for you to provide a positive response to what was a negative situation. Deadlines are part and parcel of the sector, and inevitably it's not always possible to hit them.
I want to understand why the situation occurred, what the consequences were and what the candidate did to manage the situation. The last part is key; if you are going to miss a deadline, then you should be proactively managing the issue well in advance of the actual time or date.
This is a chance for you to demonstrate both your communication and team-working capabilities, both of which are integral to the role. As the issue that stopped the deadline being reached became apparent, the candidate should have escalated to their line manager well before the deadline.
You need to be able to demonstrate how your actions helped to mitigate the situation and ultimately reduce its impact. Every response is different, but I'm looking for the candidate to show that they were proactive and able to take ownership of the situation. It demonstrates that you can take a lead, you're resilient to setbacks and you're a good communicator.
Also, don't be afraid to present an example where there wasn't a positive outcome. This isn't always an issue; perhaps you handled the situation badly, but followed it up with additional training. Anyone can make a mistake, but it's how you responded to it that makes the difference. Talk about the steps you took to address this weakness.
This is a relatively generic question that can be phrased in a number of ways, so before the interview, make sure you think of a few examples of this type of situation - the more varied the better. Draw on your previous work experience, life situations or time in college.
2) Technical question:
What is an important issue affecting the financial sector currently?
If you're working in any financial sector role, it's important not to be myopic about your one job role and take an interest in the industry more widely. Therefore, one of the questions I always ask is for candidates to describe a recent issue they think is important to the industry or their sector.
In reality, this is just a chance for me to test that you're keeping up with developments in the financial press. There's no point in telling me that you think that quantitative easing is a big issue at the moment, however, as you can expect some follow up questions both on its implications and why it's of particular interest to you.
Whatever the example you use, it is important to have an opinion and be able to talk at a reasonable level of depth to the subject.
A variation on this question is to ask the candidate what key trends they see, either the industry in general or a particular sector. I also like to ask the candidate what, in their opinion, are the key issues that our industry is facing. Again, it's important that your answer has substance.
In most interviews, you will be asked what you know about your potential employer. This gives you an opportunity to recite some facts and figures about the company. I often like to take this a stage further and ask the candidate who our main competitors are - a competent answer demonstrates that the candidate has done some research (i.e., that isn't on our Web site) and has good industry knowledge. Successfully demonstrating your technical knowledge of the industry is going to differentiate you from the competition.
3)The question from HR:
What would you say are your three main strengths and weaknesses?
Yes, this old classic is still used in interviews, but please don't underestimate its importance. This is a chance to talk about the value you can offer an employer while also being frank about areas of your career that could use developing.
All too often I get stock responses; hard-working, trustworthy, reliable and enthusiastic. If these are your responses to these questions, you've just fallen into the same pot as 75 percent of the candidates I interview. There's no right response here; just try and steer away from the obvious.
I tend to phrase it in a slightly different way: "What three things do you need to get you to the next level?" A good answer is that you want to build your network and broaden your experience (while being specific about what this entails according to your particular field). It also gives us an insight into why you're interviewing for this particular role and demonstrates that you have a clear career plan.
Try and steer away from obvious things like "improve my technical knowledge" - this is a given. Fairly or unfairly increasing your exposure and building your network is more likely to have a material impact on your career than technical knowledge alone. From a development perspective, my follow up question is to ask, "What should you do less of?"
One of the most important pieces of advice going into an interview is to know your resume. This might be obvious, but being able to summarize your achievements across each role is critical. Similarly, being able to call on varied experiences and examples that demonstrate your competencies will go a long way to answering the most challenging questions.
Stephen Barclay, Chartered MCSI, is vice president at Morgan Stanley's Global Wealth Management Group in Glasgow.
This article first appeared on our UK site but applies here as well.