In his new book, Out of Work and Over 40, author Stephen Laser talks about his amazement at encountering a woman at a department store counter who was able to help him decode his coat size, find the product he wanted and get him a substantial discount in a jiffy. It turned out the woman was a veteran export-import banker with 30 years of experience who had lost her job in the financial downturn.
“Realizing that the shopping mall where she was now working was frequented by a lot of wealthy people, many of whom worked in banking or financial services, she wanted to get direct exposure to this group of customers,” Laser explains in his book.
In fact, she had already landed a half dozen initial interviews and was looking at a few more as a result of her effectiveness and ingenuity.
Laser is a psychologist who is often hired by financial services companies and other organizations to interview and test job candidates before they’re hired to make sure they’re right for the job. These days, people often have to prepare themselves for a period of unemployment before they actually get back to work, he says. But be careful: You don’t necessarily want to squander money getting an MBA over the Internet. It’s often better to start with something part-time that pays and might even provide medical benefits while you are waiting on that interview.
Dos and Don'ts
When you get it, consider these dos and don’ts Laser shared with eFinancialCareers:
Potential pitfalls include:
1. Doing too much of the talking.
Often, in a jobs market like this, people who’ve been sending out resumes and e-mails and getting little or no response go overboard when they finally get that interview.
“They talk the person’s ear off,” says Laser.
Keep in mind that your interviewer has probably had several people in on the day you are scheduled to see him or her. So remember to keep your answers short. When you’re asked to discuss your background, “Don’t start with your first entry-level job all the way to running portfolios.”
One way of knowing how much to say and at what pace is too much is to mirror your interviewer. “If the interviewer is measured and quiet and purposeful, you can slow down the pace to match their level of energy,” says Laser. “People feel more comfortable with people who are like them.”
2. Using financial jargon with HR people.
People in financial services are more prone than others to rattle off the jargon, explaining for instance, “I’m a Series 7,” or referring to sections of securities laws or other ordinances in shorthand.
“Sometimes interviewers are not other finance people and may be glazed over,” Laser observes. It may be useful to ask, “How technical do you want me to be about this?” If the interviewer is game, you can have at it. But if you are dealing with an HR person who is more of a generalist, you’ll probably need to drop back a bit. Whatever the case, make sure you are tracking with your interviewer.
3. Being afraid to list the dates of your degrees.
“I had a candidate I interviewed last month who did not list the dates of her degrees,” says Laser. “This resulted in my almost overlooking the fact that she worked full-time while attending night school as well as juggled important family responsibilities.”
When you’ve managed to juggle things as this candidate did, going to school part-time while raising children, for instance, it’s one of the strongest predictors of success, he says, and “you can take that to the bank,” literally.
Besides avoiding the pitfalls listed above, you’ll also want to do all of the following, says Laser:
1. Research your interviewer.
This is much easier than it once was. Google your interviewer and his or her organization early on, and look up your interviewer on Twitter or Facebook.
It's best to know some people you’ve worked with in common, as well as particular interests and hobbies the two of you might share.
2. Prepare a list of major accomplishments.
Before you sit down with your interviewer, make up a list of three or four accomplishments you are proud of. "Be quick to credit other people if they had a role to play as well,” says Laser, and talk about what you learned from your experiences.
3. Know that every strength has a flip side weakness.
When you are asked to discuss your greatest weaknesses, think about your strengths first. A good salesman may have trouble saying no to discounting products or services or setting limits on extending credit to a customer.
And whereas people in finance can sometimes have amazing ideas and are able to get to the bottom of things faster than anyone else can, they may also be prone to feeling so much on top of things that those who work with them may be intimidated and have trouble giving their own point of view.
Laser worked with a reinsurance professional at one point who was so gifted that the head of his firm decided to promote him to president from CFO at the age of 37. “When financial problems were occurring at the company, before anyone on staff could open their mouths, he would state five or six things to do to correct the situation. Because he made his staffers feel like idiots, he would end up having staff meetings where employees would sit 'like stone statues,' saying nothing."
If this sounds like you, you can tell your interviewer how you’ve learned from such situations and that you’ve since begun to control them more successfully.