Interviews are the final hurdle before bagging a new job, but many candidates have a talent for putting their foot in it. Headhunters vent their frustrations about where interviewees in financial services slip up.
“I notice again and again that candidates have done too little preparation for the interview,” says Mark Dowsett, director at recruiters Stamford Consultants. Applicants often think that half an hour of preparation is enough, whereas employers expect half a day. “We put in a lot of effort in advance and check how much the candidate knows about the employer,” says Dowsett.
“Not being well prepared is one of the most serious errors, but it can be easily avoided. Our candidates are always advised to study the homepage of the company and the exact job description,” says headhunter Emanuel Kessler from kessler.vogler. “Being ill-prepared alone can be a reason for rejection”, he warns. Good preparation is even expected from candidates at a junior level. Kessler recommends that candidates consider exactly why they are applying to the company and why they are suitable for the job.
Dowsett stresses that “a visit to the employer’s website and a read of the latest news is absolutely basic and doesn’t suffice.” Applicants should study the company intensively by, for example, reading the annual reports. “Candidates should be able to ask more in depth questions,” he recommends. These are questions that go beyond simple facts – like, for example, business strategy – and that demonstrate an engagement with what the company does.
Many HR departments will often ask the same questions at interview. So candidates can easily prepare for them. A classic is the question of what a candidate’s three greatest strengths and weaknesses are. “I have heard these questions throughout my twenty year career,” says Dowsett. These questions will often be posed in the context of a hypothetical situation.
Dowsett denies that these are pointless questions. They are, on the contrary, a way for the employer to get a sense of your personality and character. But it’s not enough to list key words like ‘communicative’, ‘team-player’ and ‘performance-oriented’. “When asked about weaknesses, a candidate can demonstrate how they deal with their weakness and improve on it,” says Dowsett. “It demonstrates self-confidence when you can talk to an employer about a weakness.”
Kessler also urges candidates to have a think about their strengths and weaknesses. “If you’ve thought about it, then these questions should be easy to answer,” says Kessler. The questions are frequently asked indirectly and posed with a situation example. Because the point is to find out whether you are suitable for the position, would you work well with the team and would you fit in with the company culture.
Headhunter Stephan Surber from Page Executive has noticed that managers and experienced financial professionals sometimes find it particularly difficult to present themselves appropriately in interviews. Candidates who have spent 20 years with the same employer have to fight extra hard. “There are candidates in their mid-forties who want to reposition themselves. This is often difficult.” Such candidates have naturally not had very much experience with job interviews and would nurse certain fears. “There are candidates who summarize 20 years of professional activity in five minutes.” Surber advises that these people do some more preparation.
“If a candidate is caught out by contradictions, it will not go down well with the employer,” explains Kessler. The applicant should be as honest as possible. “If something isn’t true then it’ll come out quickly and you’ll have ruined your chances.”
“A job interview is a bit like a ‘beauty contest’,” says Kessler. “An interview is really about selling yourself. Nevertheless, one shouldn’t over do it, as it can turn negative. The candidate can appear inauthentic.”
Being late can ruin your chances before you’ve even opened your mouth at an interview. “The rule is: not a minute too late and not 15 minutes too early. It’s best to arrive 2-5 minutes before the appointment,” explains Kessler. Younger candidates in particular tend to turn up half an hour too early. This is also to be avoided.
Surber has one last special tip: “Candidates should never bad-mouth their former employers.” It happens frequently in job interviews, but is seldom positive. “It should be avoided under all circumstances.”