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10 pet peeves that drive financial services HR employees up the wall

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You don't want to annoy HR executives.

Every financial services job has its unique sources of stress and frustration, and HR is no exception. While many discount HR as merely the first hurdle of the interview process, if you’re applying for a job at a bank, private equity firm, hedge fund or management consultant, it pays to stay on their good side.

This is the behavior to avoid if you want HR to keep your application going.

1. Being a cocky braggart

Overachieving candidates have the tendency to walk into an interview expecting to put on a show of what they think HR executives want to hear rather than being themselves. The hiring process isn’t only based on your qualifications, but also how well you fit into the firm. If HR specialists hire someone who put on a show because they said all of the right things, then they could be making the wrong decision but only find that out later on when their true colors start to show.

“Don’t be afraid to be yourself,” says an HR administrator and internal recruiter formerly with Northwestern Mutual who asked to remain anonymous. “Nobody is asking for perfection, and the value that you as an individual can add to a company could be just what an HR exec is looking for.”

These candidates also tend to overshare information that has little-to-no relevance to the job they are interviewing for.

“I have had people talk at me during interviews rather than to me on more than one occasion,” she says.

2. Being inflexible

Work environments are changing and evolving so rapidly. During an interview, financial services HR executives are looking to identify a candidate’s ability to be nimble, agile and willing to work with ambiguity.

“If a candidate seems resistant to change or too stuck in their ways, it’s a huge turn-off to today’s employers,” says Laura Mazzullo, HR recruitment specialist at East Side Staffing.

3. Being overeager, pestering or creepy

Don’t be a stalker. Following-up is one thing, but patience is required. The interview process involves a lot of people conferring on the decision and this can take time.

“Show you’re interested, but also show you are patient and respectful of their time,” Mazzullo says.

There’s also a difference between doing your due diligence and being a private investigator. Don’t tell HR executives things about themselves that only their closest friends and family know. “I understand that in today’s technological world it is very easy to do some sleuthing, but don’t be creepy,” the Northwestern Mutual recruiter says. “If you see a common connection on my LinkedIn that you want to ask me about, find a way to strategically weave it into the conversation.”

4. Being incapable of talking about yourself

Candidates should be able to articulate their own motivations, reasons for changing jobs, passions and philosophies about their field of expertise. HR executives appreciate a level of self-awareness in the candidates they bring onboard

“Self-awareness and articulation indicates someone is confident, passionate and capable of expressing their own frustrations or desires once on the job,” Mazzullo says.

5. Being too confident in your own abilities 

A self-entitled candidate will walk into an interview and wonder why you’re even putting them through the interview process. They seem to think that anything and everything they do is golden and the HR executive would be crazy not to hire them.

“The self-entitled candidate is typically defined as a millennial, but I’ve seen plenty of seasoned candidates in this category as well,” the ex-Northwestern Mutual recruiter said. “Don’t get me wrong, confidence is a huge plus and everybody should embody some sort of confidence, but one should also be humble and know that there is always room for professional development.

“No candidate knows everything, especially when starting a new job,” she says. “You need to go into it ready to learn and integrate.”

6. Bringing up compensation too early 

Especially early in the process, avoid talking only about money and title. Employers want to know that you are interested more deeply in their organization, your role, a boss who will be a mentor and overall culture.

“They want to hire someone who wants to specifically work for them and want to hear concrete reasons why their firm and that specific role is a fantastic match for you,” Mazzullo says.

7. Poor formatting or exotic font on your resume or cover letter

Resumes with non-traditional fonts and backgrounds are a big pet peeve of HR executives. Don’t try to be different or cute with columns and small text. Make the information as easy to find as possible. Send your resume as a plain Word document or PDF.

8. Canned responses

A common piece of negative feedback from banks’ HR personnel is overly rehearsed responses. There is obviously a lot of preparation that goes into a banking interview, but all that work spent practicing is causing some bad habits, above all talking as if you are reading off of a script. Interviewers want natural conversations, not memorized lines, so know the general direction you are going to take an answer but don’t make it look like you’re going through a routine.

9. Regurgitating your resume

One common question that you’re bound to hear in any interview is “tell me your story” or “walk me through your resume.” The biggest mistake people make when responding is giving them information that they already have. There is no need to regurgitate everything that is on your resume. The question is a prompt to bring a personal touch to your background and explain how your experience showcases your attributes and what makes you unique, along with how it positions you well for the company and role in question.

10. Speaking in generalities rather than being specific

You should think through several specific examples for each strength you want to highlight and each thing that the job description lists as prerequisites or nice-to-have attributes or qualifications. Don’t say, “I am a strong project manager.” Instead, tell the HR exec,”I am proud to have often received feedback that I am particularly good getting project teams aligned and energized, which has meant I have often been selected for project startups and rescues.”

Photo credit: LittleBee80/iStock/Thinkstock

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