The five most critical things to do before a banking job interview

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It's a competitive job market for candidates in financial services across Asia Pacific right now, but all too often we still see people fail at job interviews for one simple reason: they haven't prepared for the interview well enough.

No matter how strong your CV, how confident you may feel, and how many interviews you've aced in the past, you still need to put in the hours to research each new role. From our experience, here are five ways your preparation could make or break your interview.

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1) Don't base your preparation purely on the job description

Don’t view the job description as gospel – we have never placed someone in a role who was a perfect match for the job spec, but didn't get on with the hiring manager. The description can sometimes be intentionally generic to cast a wider net, or by contrast, sometimes a hiring manager might have insisted upon rigid criteria, which may exclude people who are relevant in ways not originally considered.

2) Look beyond their website

Just studying the firm's strategy and history on its website can actually show a lack of preparation – they already know what is on their own site. What they don’t know is your opinion about that information. But avoid giving the impression that the interview is all about you – the overall focus should be on your potential career partnership with the company.

3) Find some common ground

Thanks to social media, it is criminal not to know the background of the interviewer inside out – their education and career history, and any common connections. Use this information to raise common subjects that will compel the interviewer to imagine themselves working with you – the aim is to show them what you are like day-to-day. And the more natural you can make the interview the better – talking about your "common ground" will fill in any awkward silences.

Here's a recent success story we'd like to share: The candidate used social media and alumni pages to find out that he and the interviewer had gone to the same university, studied the same course and started their careers at the same company. He focused on this during the interview to bring the tone to a social level after going through some market-driven questions. The manager then arranged interviews immediately with other team members and the candidate was offered the job in the end.

4) Get specific with your CV

During the interview, it's important to highlight the parts of your CV that are most relevant to the role, so keep your description of your work history short and straight to the point. And when it comes to highlighting deals and transactions, talk about those that relate to the activities of the new firm, drawing specific parallels between these deals and the new job, and suggesting how your background might have been useful in any of the firm's recent high-profile transactions.

Here's an example of how not researching the firm's deals can backfire embarrassingly: A candidate was interviewing for an equity research role at a major global buy-side house. It was all over their website what they specialised in, but the candidate hadn’t looked through the company’s recently listed trades, and spent 25 minutes at the interview pitching a trade that the firm had publically walked away from. He was not invited back for the second round.

5) Ask career-minded questions

Avoid banal questions like "how big is the team?” These will be answered for you during the interview, leaving you stuck for questions at the end. Think about what is actually important to you, for example: “What are the progression opportunities for someone with my skills?”, “What development programmes are in place if I chose to take a management route?”, “Are there any particular skills of mine you think the company would really look to utilise or develop?” This will ensure you come across as career-minded, illustrating that you possess a genuine interest in the firm and the opportunity.

James Brown is group director of Phaidon International, Asia-Pacific & Australia. Matthew Boardman is head of HR Asia-Pacific, Carlton Senior Appointments, part of the Phaidon International group.

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