Guest Comment: standing out in a crowded job market

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How times have changed, in mid to late 2007 the skills shortages in the banking sector was at its peak. Job seekers were spoilt for choice and companies were paying above market rate to attract and retain good people.

February 2009 paints an entirely different picture. It is estimated that between 10 - 15% of the financial services workforce has been cut since early 2008. This has released a large number of talented professionals onto the market and created a competitive environment for job seekers. Employers are interviewing more people, being more selective on industry background and taking longer to make hiring decisions.

So as a finance professional caught up in this storm, you may find yourself asking how to differentiate yourself from your peers. The good news is that there are some simple and commonsense rules to follow which will assist you in standing out during the interview process.

Employers are looking for well presented, thoroughly prepared candidates who are engaging in interviews and are likely to fit in well with the company culture. It follows that to give yourself the best chance, you need to develop a strong resume, conduct thorough research, articulate your motivations and build rapport during the interview.

For the sake of simplicity let's call this the Four R's: resume, research, reason and rapport. Let's look at each one:


A good resume is your best chance to get your foot in the door - regardless of whether you're applying for a role directly or through a recruitment agency. Many candidates miss out on being considered for opportunities because they don't put time into perfecting their CV. This applies to candidates at all levels.

So ensure that your resume is not cluttered with information. Keep the first page concise and factual, listing your level of education and detailing your qualifications. Steer clear of mission statements or career goals - let the facts speak for themselves so the hiring manager can quickly scan your core competencies.

When detailing your work experience, list your responsibilities and key achievements during your period of employment. If you are in a transactions environment, describe some of the types of transactions you have had exposure to. At the end of your resume list a few of your overall achievements and memberships to sum up. As a general rule your resume should be no longer than four pages.


Before you apply for a job, read the advertisement carefully and be realistic about your suitability. Applying for roles for which you do not possess the core skills will reflect badly on the hiring managers and recruitment consultants involved. Wherever possible, call before submitting your resume if you need further clarification on the role.

It is also crucial to research the company before arriving for your interview. If you are one of two candidates of similar experience under consideration, demonstrating your enthusiasm with knowledge of the company will count in your favour. Search the firm's website for annual reports, media releases and any other information that paints a picture of the company. Spend a minimum of one hour on their website because the extent of your research will set you apart.


The reason you want to work for a potential employer is very relevant in the current employment climate. Employers will want to know why you want to work for them and will expect an articulate and compelling answer. It will count against you if they believe you would not be interested in the role or the company in different economic circumstances.


It can be a challenge to build rapport in an interview because the situation can seem forced and awkward. If you feel that you have not made a good connection with the interviewer, take control of the conversation and ask constructive questions about the culture of the firm. This will encourage conversation and give you insight into the company so that you can present yourself in line with expectations. Remember that nerves are the easiest way to kill rapport. The best way to combat nerves is through research and rehearsal.

While the Four R's are commonsense, they are easily forgotten when you are in the pressured situation of looking for work in a competitive employment market.

On a final note, it is worth considering all options. The contracting market may not be ideal, but it has the potential to keep you busy, focused and paid while you look for that permanent role.

Melissa Tal is a consultant at Michael Page Financial Services.

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