An increasing number of firms within financial services are moving more towards an interview process away from the traditional format of general interviewing and ‘gut feeling’. Although they may not be to everyone’s tastes the more objective approach to candidate assessment is here to stay and it is vital that you have an understanding of what these different methods are.
Competency Based Interviews
The interviewer will ask you a number of scenario based questions, testing your ability to provide firm evidence of how you have demonstrated a key competency required in your field of work. These questions usually start with phrases such as “Tell me about a time when...” or “Describe a scenario...”.
Often the STAR method is seen as the best way of answering such questions. This relates to Situation (what was the scenario), Task (what did you have to do), Action (How you did it) and Result (what was the outcome). Clients are looking for specific, in-depth answers about a particular situation so it is imperative that answers are not too generic.
Whilst it is difficult to predict the exact questions you will face it is worthwhile thinking through what competencies are vital to your role and then specific examples of when you feel you have demonstrated that in the past.
Examples of core competencies include:
• Relationship Building
• Team Work
• Developing others
• Delivering Results
Competency interviews are very popular so it is quite likely you will have to undertake one at some point.
Most commonly this takes the form of a multiple-choice questionnaire. It is to test the interviewees’ level of knowledge across areas such as tax issues, products and their suitability. These are generally used to ascertain potential training requirements rather than penalising candidates for any knowledge gaps.
These are another very popular form of assessment, particularly within the banking world and larger consultancy firms. Typically these will focus on aspects such as undertaking a fact-find, an initial meeting with an introducer of business, or a meeting with a disenfranchised client. They are looking for how you build rapport with that individual and how you use your influencing skills for a favourable outcome. The focus is also on seeing what type of questions you ask and what process you use to ascertain client needs.
Although mostly financial services related some role plays are not, thereby testing your ability to utilise core behaviours in an unrelated working environment.
Short preparation time will be provided by the interviewer prior to the exercise.
Presentations are generally forewarned giving you plenty of time to prepare and can either be very specific “Describe how you will be a success for XYZ IFA Ltd” or very generic; sometimes you are able to present on any given topic, either work or personally related.
These exercises are clearly chosen to assess your planning and communication skills and are common for roles where a lot of new business work is expected.
Also known as psychometric testing these exercises are usually carried out on-line and ask you a series of questions, asking you to agree or disagree, or answer which statements best describes you. You can not really prepare and sometimes the questions can seem quite strange and totally unrelated to one another! The only thing to be is completely honest. It is exceptionally rare for people to be dropped from the process after this stage; they are used more as a way of focusing the interview on any perceived strengths or weaknesses.
This type of profiling is much more situational, asking individuals how they would react in certain work related scenarios. Again the only approach is to be honest.
Although the other methods described above are increasingly popular this is still the most critical aspect of the assessment process.
It goes without saying that you should be well groomed, punctual and polite. However it can still be nerve racking meeting someone for the first time. By carrying out your own preparation you will however not only create a very good impression but will also appear more focused, calm and enthusiastic. “What do you know about us?” and “why do you want this job?” are staple questions for interviewers so make sure you know prior to interview! One of the main reasons people fail at this stage is their lack of preparation and ability to answer the most straightforward questions.
If you are a consultant it is also a very good idea to take along proof of performance for the previous few years or any records of success. A high degree of confidence will come across as arrogance if you can not back up what you are saying.
Another major reason why interviews go badly is that candidates can become preoccupied with describing how bad their current situation is. Although this may well be the case a potential employer does not want to listen to someone bemoaning their luck so always make sure you limit your reasons for leaving to the major issues and put a positive spin on them. “I have given it my best shot but it is just not the environment for me” sounds much better than “I realised from day one it was a bad place to work”. Especially in the first interview, when the environment can be very relaxed, it is easy to fall in to this trap.
Always be positive
At interviews and assessment centres you are being assessed from the moment you arrive. Any defensiveness, aloofness or negativity will be picked up on, no matter who it was with. This will ultimately hinder your chances to a huge degree.
Further some of the tasks required of you may appear unrelated to your role and you may not indeed see the benefit of some of the tasks, but they are there for a reason so see it for what it is – an exercise!