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Finance job interviews take twice as long, here are 10 tips to excel

If you want to get a financial services job, be patient. The average candidate now has to interview for six hours before an offer is extended – more than double the time required to get hired when the financial crisis hit in 2008, according to new research.

Recruiters Randstad Financial & Professional surveyed 170 UK-based financial services job-seekers in February and found that six hours was the average time spent in interviews, compared to 2.6 hours five years ago. And hiring managers are testing candidates more as well. As many as 21% of roles require some sort of psychometric testing, up from 10% in 2008.

In some sectors, interviews can be even more intense. “I work with investment bankers who have had to go through 49 interviews, so six hours doesn’t seem too bad,” said Dr. Rob Yeung, director of consultancy Talentspace in London.

“Financial services firms aren’t slowing down the recruitment process just because they’re being picky,” added Andrew Pullman, managing director of People Risk Solutions and a long-standing investment banking human resources professional. “They need to show the regulators that they’re going through the proper recruitment process. Gut instinct isn’t a basis for extending an offer any more.”

What to do when faced with a seemingly endless interview process? Here are 10 top tips, according to recruiters and career consultants.

1. Subtly imply that you’re juggling other offers

Just because the financial services job market is slow and heads continue to be chopped doesn’t mean you have to accept any offer. Desperation is an unattractive trait, particularly when hiring managers want the only the best. Imply that you have a few balls in the air, said Linda Jackson, managing director and co-founder of career management firm 10Eighty in London.

“This is best done in combination with flattery – say that you’re excited about the role and love the company, but suggest that there are other opportunities on the table,” she said. “It’s a good tactic to turn up the heat a little.”

2. Don’t give up hope

Recruiters are being pressured to put forward an ever-growing number of candidates, usually in different tranches as hiring managers linger over whether anyone in the first batch was right. Then, after rejecting the last group, they go back to the beginning.

“It’s not uncommon for hiring managers to see 30 candidates and then go back to number three after a long period of time,” said Tom Forrest, director, Financial Services, Randstad Financial & Professional. “This can be frustrating for candidates, but it’s important to be patient.”

3. Tap your network to put in a good word

As the recruitment process becomes more elongated, firms are increasingly likely to seek informal recommendations from former colleagues. It’s best to prime any contacts within the organisation you’re applying to.

“Make sure you work your network before going through the interview process and ensure that people are on your side,” said Jackson.

4. Don’t be too perfect

You may have prepped for the role, the company and the interviewers to the extent that you’re convinced you have the perfect answer for any question. This is likely to raise some red flags, however.

“It used to be that employers would expect candidates to be 70% right for the role, now it’s closer to 90%, but automaton-style answers to interview questions will put recruiters off,” said Pullman. “Financial services firms are wary of people who interview too well, only to fall down when they actually take the role.”

5. Be prepared to answer the same questions enthusiastically and consistently

Although the length and number of interviews has increased, the structure is still lacking to some extent, suggests Pullman.

“We advise investment banks to split the interview process and ensure that every interviewer takes responsibility for assessing a particular aspect of the candidate’s suitability, but the fact is that this still normally doesn’t happen,” he said. “They will confer on the consistency of your answers, however and – although it can be frustrating – make sure you’re just as enthusiastic each time.”

6. Seize on any sort of personal connection with your interviewer

Cultural fit is the most important thing when it comes to securing an investment banking role, according a 2012 study by Lauren Rivera, assistant professor at Kellogg School of Business. This isn’t what you do at work, nor is it necessarily complying with the corporate culture espoused by firms like Barclays, but what you do in your downtime.

“Find any sort of commonality with your interviewer, whether you grew up in the same county, went to the same business school, support the same football team, both have young children, or even Labradors,” said Yeung. “It’s human nature to connect with someone you feel shares your interests.”

7. Take advantage of recruiters’ expertise

In an era when it’s possible to find information about the firm, interviewer and team you’re likely to be working in with a simple Google search, it’s tempting to rely on technology to give you the edge. However, Forrest advises taking a more personal approach.

“We work with specific banks and hiring managers, often over a number of years, and know what they look for in a candidate,” he said. “Financial services firms’ public profiles are naked, available to everyone and won’t give you an edge.”

8. Remember the three-minute rule

It’s a cliché to suggest that first impressions count, but Yeung suggests that hiring managers often make a decision on a candidate’s appeal within the first three minutes, and this stance rarely changes after 45 minutes to an hour.

“It’s likely that no formal questions will have been asked at this point, just enquiries about something quite mundane like the weather or your journey to the office,” he said. “It’s important to be positive and engaging even at this point.”

9. Mirror mirror

The technique of copying the interviewer’s body language – or mirroring – is a long-established tactic that’s liable to make you look like some sort of mocking puppet. It’s still important to show your interest in a non-verbal manner, however.

“Think of it like going on a date,” said Jackson. “Your body language needs to show enthusiasm and engagement – you wouldn’t spend the entire night glancing over your date’s shoulder to see what else was on offer, after all.”

10. Be specific

The S.T.A.R [Situation, Task, Action, Result] method of answering questions is a good way of ensuring that you give specific examples of your experience outlining your involvement. This is not the time for modesty.

“British people in particular have an issue with blowing their own trumpet,” said Jackson. “You need to highlight your achievements with specific examples, rather than talking in general terms about your skills and experience.”

AUTHORPaul Clarke

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