The personal questions you will always be asked in financial services interviews

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Any interview at a bank or other financial services firm will include technical questions to assess whether you have the skills necessary to do the job. However, recruiters and career experts are always telling us how candidates tend to fall short because they fail to respond well to behavioral questions. While these inquiries are simple on the surface, there is still plenty that you can do the prepare for them. It’s as much about what not to say as anything else.   

Below are five personal questions that banks and other firms often ask candidates, along with suggested answers and a few other tips from hiring managers and career experts.

Tell me a little bit about yourself

“We’re not asking you to talk about your family or your favorite sports team,” said a former vice president at Deutsche Bank. “It’s a cue to walk us through your resume, explain how you got to where you are professionally and why you are interested in the job.” End by talking about how your passions align with both the company and division, rather than just the industry, she said. This is where junior candidates frequently miss the mark.

“It sounds obvious, but few people really look into the role or the company and struggle to come up with something meaningful,” says Andrew Pullman, a former head of HR at Dresdner Bank and managing director of careers consultants People Risk Solutions. “The key is to come up with something current and interesting and then be able to turn the question around to the interviewer. I noticed you did this, can you tell me more about it?”

What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?

Come prepared with at least one “soft skill” strength – like a competitive drive or ability to work well within the team, with a pertinent example – and one “hard skill” that is directly related to the job at hand, like being a whiz with Excel or valuations, says the former Deutsche VP. Just don’t lie about the hard skill as it is likely to come back to bite you.

As for the weakness question, try to actually answer it. "The biggest mistake is people not thinking about the weakness question and answering with a pat – ‘I am too perfect’ or ‘I work too hard’ fake answer,” said a Wall Street recruiter who asked for anonymity. “I know people are imperfect and am interested in how they identify, interact and minimize weaknesses,” he said. However, choose a minor weakness that you’re working on remedying that doesn’t seriously affect your ability to be successful on the job. Preparation can help find that middle ground.

Do you have any questions for me?

The most important thing: just don’t say no. You should always have a list of questions written down beforehand that show you’ve done your homework and have a passion for the business. Coming prepared with questions can also make the interview more conversational and, if nothing else, can provide you with a bit of a respite from being the sole focus.

Asking about specific recent deals the company has been involved in or industry-wide trends that are relevant to the division in question demonstrates you’ve done your prep work. You can also ask the hiring manager how they ended up in their current position. “Bankers love to hear themselves speak,” said the Wall Street recruiter.

Don’t ask about hours, pay and benefits. And don’t waste their time with banal or clichéd questions, such as: "What is the typical work day of an analyst?"

Why did you leave your last job (or why are you considering leaving)?

“I will always ask someone why they’re leaving their current firm and why they left their role before that,” says the head of HR at one Canadian bank in London. The purpose is to establish whether you’re the sort of flaky person who jumps from role to role.

The question can also set you up for failure if you’re not careful. Don't be negative about your company or your boss, said Anne Crowley, managing director at Wall Street headhunter Jay Gaines and Company. Even if your current work situation is intolerable, and not at all a fault of your own, you’ll only hurt candidacy by burning your current employer or boss. Taking the high road – explaining that you want to further your career or that you’re looking for a better culture fit – also ensures your words won’t get back to your current or previous employer. This also lets the interviewer know they won’t one day be receiving the same treatment.

What are your hobbies/what do you do in your spare time?

The only real mistake you can make is bluffing and trying to be someone who you’re not in an effort to sound impressive. “You can smell the bull**** a mile away,” said the VP. If you are interviewing for a front-office position, think about choosing one of your hobbies that include socializing with other people. Reading books and doing crosswords can be fine, but you don’t want to create the impression that you’re an introvert if you’re going to be client-facing, she said.


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