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Five Interview Questions for Compliance Officers

Effective compliance teams go virtually unnoticed as they protect the life blood of investment banks, employees, investors and consumers. Their work is serious stuff requiring serious credentials, conviction and the communication skills to play both independent watchdog and corporate employee. “It is important to hire compliance officers with the right educational, professional, and interpersonal skills,” says Marc Lewis of the recruiting firm Leadership Capital Group. “They also need to interact effectively with all levels of the organization as well as externally with regulatory agencies.”

If you’re interviewing for a compliance job, here are some interview questions to expect, and some tips on how to show you’re a person who can protect a firm’s regulatory interests.

Do you have any professional certifications? If not, what are your plans to earn them?

Employers want to see a Series 14, CPA, CFE, or other designations to signal you’re serious about a compliance career. “The licenses you have tell me whether I am dealing with someone who has made compliance their profession,” Lewis says. “Certainly people with legal backgrounds are capable of this work, but additional continuing education tells me you’re committed to it.”

What is your experience working with (a) internal compliance teams, (b) the C-suite and board of directors, and (c) external regulatory agencies?

The way you answer this question tells the interviewer two things: the level of authority you were granted in your past positions, and your ability to interact and communicate with those compliance officers you both will oversee and report to.

Have you ever been involved in an internal or external investigation? If so, what was your role, what were the steps involved in the investigation, and what was the outcome?

To put it bluntly, the best scenario is when a past employer was charged with unseemly behavior, while you came out smelling like a rose. “In most businesses, employers don’t want to be associated with someone tainted by scandal,” Lewis says. “Ironically, when we’re looking to fill a compliance officer position, it’s a badge of honor if you’ve been through an investigation and are not tarnished by it.”

What are the top weaknesses in compliance departments and how can you improve them?

Interviewers want to hear spirited conviction that compliance departments should be granted power to regulate freely. Come armed with concrete suggestions for improving what are often sticky struggles which require finesse in dealing with various personalities, as well as solid technical skills.

Who is a compliance officer at an investment bank most responsible to?

What would you do if you sniff out inappropriate behavior on the bank’s trading floor, but the very powerful head of trading assures you everything is kosher? “I want to know you have guts of steel to stand up to someone like that, as well as the intelligence and skills to know that there is a very high degree of probability that your suspicions are correct,” Lewis says.

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  1. How does an individual who has been in the equities business a long time get started in the compliance area?

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