Indeed despite the proliferation of recuritment tools like psychometric tests, the interview is still the bottom line in recruitment decisions.
Above all, employers use them to assess areas not addressed by a CV: specifically, candidates’ broader characteristics and personality fit with organisational culture.
Reflecting this search for character types, Steven Sidebottom, head of human resources at Commerzbank, says: "Commerzbank is aware of the characteristics of people who are likely to succeed. Interviews are significant in ascertaining the presence of these characteristics. At Commerzbank, emphasis is on entrepreneurial flair combined with a strong educational background."
Whether a candidate corresponds to the vaguer notion of "cultural fit" is more difficult to express in terms of tangibles. To some, cultural fit amounts to a simple rapport between interviewer and interviewee.
Charles Routt, a consultant at outplacement firm Sanders & Sidney, says: "Interviews are often a self-selecting process: one is attractive to and attracted to like-minded people." In theory, though, such self-selection is to be avoided and interviewers are expected to avoid the loss of objectivity created by these "Doppelganger effects".
Lorna Young, JP Morgan’s human resources manager for European investment banking, says that interviews are as much an occasion for banks to communicate their culture as they are for individuals to demonstrate their compatibility with that culture.
Young says: "Interviewers are selling the bank and candidates are very judgmental of every interviewer they meet."
In an effort to gauge cultural fit and ensure that decisions are objective, some candidates find themselves having as many as 50 interviews. American banks in particular are known for this so-called "collegiate approach" and often prefer candidates to be interviewed by as many as possible of their would-be colleagues.
Young says: "M&A is a people business, and M&A teams spend so much time together that it’s important for new team members to meet everyone."
Candidates for M&A and some other departments can therefore expect to be interviewed many times over.
Even so, all JP Morgan interviewing lasts a minimum of three rounds – the first with two to three people, the second with five to eight people and the third to meet the head of division.
At Commerzbank, where candidates are interviewed a minimum of four times, Sidebottom suggests that these kinds of multiple interviews are valuable to candidates.
He says: "They are a chance for someone to get a real understanding of the shape of the team and the dynamics of the job."
But, according to consultant Jeremy Cooper of the Charterhouse Partnership, many organisations are cutting back on interviews, for the simple reason that their sheer volume can present a logistical problem.
Exacting schedules mean that it is unusual for busy candidates to be interviewed in airport lounges or for senior bankers to invite potential hires to their house for an interview. Such constraints make it more important for candidates to impress from the outset.
JP Morgan’s Young says: "During interviews we are looking for performance we are looking for predictors of future performance and we are looking for work styles."
Outplacement firms offer a range of services and advice designed to improve candidates’ interview technique.
Linda Jackson, managing consultant at Meridian, for example, says that the ability to suggest performance potential using examples of past behaviour is crucial in an interview.
Equally, body language and dress are important. "You want to look as if you fit into an organisation from the minute you walk in the door," she says.
Max Nicholson, managing director at Fairplace, suggests that a candidate’s positive attitude and sparkle are key to implying an ability to fit in with an organisation’s culture.
In particular, interview experts are unanimous on the value of networked interviews, where a candidate has been personally introduced or is already known to the organisation.
Networked interviews form a surprisingly large percentage of interviews – as many as 30% to 40%, according to Young at JP Morgan.
It also goes without saying that interviewees can benefit from doing research.
All interviews should be attended with an overview of the firm, comprising knowledge of its deals, markets and organisational culture.
John Stork, senior partner at Stork & May, which provides outplacement only for top level clients, says: "It is critical that you establish exactly what the job is before you go to the interview." Interviewees for senior positions also more often know who is to be their interviewer in advance – offering further opportunity for research.
Obviously, interviewees for senior positions are also expected to be more informed about the organisation, with the interview often resembling a meeting.
And the verdict from the interviewers? Sidebottom says: "On the whole most of the people we meet are pretty well prepared. They tend to be fairly impressive."
Traditional interview anxiety may be misplaced. "Most people forget that interviewers want all the people who come through the door to be the right person," says Nicholson at Fairplace.
Given preparation, presentation and a positive attitude, it is therefore not difficult to progress to interview number two – and three and four…