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How to get a job in banking when you've only worked as a barista

From barista to banker

You’ve done all of the hard work for your degree, you’ve gotten a great mark and now you’re interviewing for a banking position. But then they ask you the dreaded question: “Do you have much relevant experience?” For those students who have spent their time at university working part-time jobs or involved in student societies, it might seem as though the honest answer would be a soul-crushing “no”, but this doesn’t have to be the case!

You’ve been asked the question; you get a chance to decide what is relevant! Whatever part-time work you have had, your experiences can directly feed into showing how you suit a banking internship or even a full-time position.

Whether you have worked in customer service or a call centre; as a bartender or an events promoter; a store assistant or receptionist; even jobs from tutoring to cleaning – it need not be a disaster that you haven’t had previous experience in banking.

You need to think about what the bank’s competencies are, why they’re important and examples how you match them! Remember, it is important to STAND OUT. Recruiters can interview 20 – 30 candidates in one day, so being too cliché or generic will get you nowhere.

In our experience, this is what banks from RBS to Barclays, UBS, Credit Suisse, Deutsche, HSBC, Goldman Sachs, ICAP and M&G Investments look for in their entry-level candidates. And this is how to spin your experience so that it suits

Client Orientation

What? – A great focus on clients’ needs and concerns.

Why? – A business without clients isn’t really a business. As customers we all want to feel well taken care of and believe that everything is under control.

Questions you’ll be asked to assess your client orientation: “Give me an example when you went above and beyond to satisfy customer needs?”

An exemplary answer: “During my degree I spent a couple of years working on the bar of a busy restaurant. On a particular busy shift a man came to the bar and began to shout at me because he had been waiting over the average 20 minutes for his food and being diabetic he needed to eat quickly. I sincerely apologised and explained the delay was because of how busy the restaurant was, but because of the circumstances I would make sure he had food immediately. I spoke to the head chef and as the man’s meal was not yet ready I took him a starter, of which we had several pre-prepared, free of charge. He was quite happy with this resolution and upon leaving the restaurant he informed me that he would be coming back in a few days’ time to bring his wife.”

Teamwork and Inclusion

What? – Collaborative with others, incorporates different views and is inclusive

Why? – Teamwork and ‘loyalty’ are sought after in most lines of work, but none more so than banking.

Questions you’ll be asked to assess your team-focus: “Can you give an example of a time you worked with other people to achieve a goal?”

An exemplary answer: "During my second year at University I was a supervisor at a local bar. Being part of a small but dedicated team I quickly learnt that we all had to stick together and that no job is too small. No matter your role you are in a team and there is a common goal that the whole staff works towards together. In the heat of the moment, job titles do not exist. Even though I was the supervisor, I would sometimes start washing dishes if it meant the whole team functioned more smoothly and overall service improved."

Innovative Thinking

What? – New and creative, open to learning; applies analytical and critical thinking to understand the business.

Why? – Knowledge of competitors' strategies and the development of new ideas gives you an edge.

Questions you’ll be asked to assess your innovation: “Tell me about a time you used innovative thinking to solve a problem.”

An exemplary answer: "In the final year of my degree I was the social secretary for the Economics Society. The president was planning on promoting the society through simple posters and at a stall at a fair; I suggested a more interactive approach. I decided that we should also give out some freebies to attract people to the stand and run competitions on social media in the run up to increase our reach. This proved incredibly successful and we ended up doubling our membership!"

Resilience & Dealing with Pressure

What? - The ability to cope with a large and diverse workload, recovering quickly from setbacks.

Why? – The longer you focus on a failure, the bigger and more negative impact it will have on you. This doesn’t have to be learnt at a banking internship, as long as you learn it.

Questions you’ll be asked to assess your resilience: Can you give an example of a time you overcame a problem to achieve a goal?

An exemplary answer: “When I worked as a receptionist [or any similar admin role], I was faced with the need to juggle and prioritize up to twenty incoming calls every few minutes. It was a steep learning curve to begin with and could have been very stressful. However, I developed a system for prioritizing the calls I put through based upon department and seniority and was able to remain calm and to act as a calming influence for the rest of the team. Ultimately, my strategy was adopted by the other receptionists too.”

Drive for Results

What? – Makes things happen; shows drive for closure, impact and sustainable results.

Why? – Having the personal drive and determination to meet targets is an invaluable and transferable skill.

Questions you’ll be asked to assess your drive: “Can you describe a situation when you worked hard to achieve a goal?”

An exemplary answer: “I promoted a club night while I was at university, for which I was paid entirely upon commission. I developed a strategy for distributing fliers at key locations on the nights before the event and set up a Facebook page which got over 600 likes after I pushed it out to friends and friends of friends. Within the space of a few months we became the must-attend night at the university and I was able to use the money I earned to pay my fees.”


•  Practice: do your preparation and research. You should read up on the company and know all of the recent news stories involving it. Find the competencies they seek and be ready to demonstrate (with examples, like above!) how you match them.

•  You need to be ready with good questions and not just answers. Ask amazing questions at the end that will make you stand out.

•  How you dress is THE first impression. Your bosses and clients will often judge what you do and how well you are capable of doing it by the way you look. As unfair as this may be, dressing smartly may get your foot in the door.

Jack Shardlow is the chief editor of Interview Bull Blog. Interview Bull provides affordable and personalised online interview coaching, specifically designed for students and recent graduates. Interview Bull’s experienced HR experts coach ambitious students to get the jobs they want through success at interview.

AUTHORJack Shardlow Insider Comment

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