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Five top tips to ace interviews in a difficult job market

Job Interviewer

Nordic banks may not be shedding staff at the levels seen in the UK, where Royal Bank of Scotland alone axed an additional 3,500 jobs, but with the big banks predicting a leaner, tighter financial services sector, hiring in the region is expected to be, at best, muted during 2012.

In this difficult climate, if you do succeed in landing an interview what should you expect? Have banks changed their approach as a result? With vacancies increasingly thin on the ground across Europe, how best to make a positive impression, maximise your chances and, crucially, ensure you don’t slip up?

1) Be realistic about your compensation expectations

The technical hiring process – the types of interview, the structure, the questions being asked and so on – have not been changed that much by the economic climate, concedes Erkki Tuominen, managing partner at CV Group in Helsinki.

“I do not expect the recruitment process to be any different when jobs are thinner on the ground. We look at the same criteria and ask the same questions as before,” he emphasises.

But in a “hirer’s market” employers can afford to be more choosy and so, conversely, candidates may need to lower their expectations.

“We and the employers are much more diligent in the analysis. Overall compensation weighs more in the recruitment process when times are tough. Those with excess salary and bonus expectations will be easily ignored.

“Thus my only advice is to focus on the job, your competence, your motivation, and not on the perks. Be humble with your demands,” he adds.

2) You should be able to explain clearly your reasons for switching jobs

Honesty (or at least not outright dishonesty) is always a good idea during an interview, whatever the economic climate. But in tough times employers increasingly look for very clear answers as to why you’re happy to be chucking in a reasonably secure role for something else, advises Jonathan Nicholson, managing director at recruitment firm Astbury Marsden.

“The economic climate is meaning people are looking much more closely at why a candidate wants to move and what their motivation is for leaving. There is something of a sense of ‘better the devil you know’ so, if you are in secure circumstances, there will be some questioning as to why you want to move on.

“It will be important to explain why you are leaving, especially if it is because you are caught in a downsizing process,” he adds.

3) It’s more important than ever to be able prove your achievements

Being able to back up your claims with hard evidence is a core part of shining in competency-based interviews, and is especially important in the current climate, says Nicholson.

“Even more now, you’ll need to be able to show clear evidence to support what you say you have done or achieved. You’ll need, too, to be very clear on who it is who is able to corroborate your claims.

“Banks are still hiring and interviewing in isolated functions but to land a role you have to be right on the money with core competencies, cultural fit and motivations. Having said that, if you are serious about moving and in a relatively secure role then you are potentially in a position of strength and can afford to be considered about any decision you make.

“Everyone thinks they’re worth 20% more than they’re being paid, that hasn’t changed. But at the moment it probably pays to be pragmatic and prudent when it comes to remuneration. Fixed remuneration has ticked up for well documented reasons, but don’t have expectations around the bonus. The key is to be realistic,” he adds.

4) Prepare for a more vigorous grilling

Employers will be looking to see a candidate is able to cope under pressure and respond to multiple interview styles and questions, for example panel interviews or presentations, says Andy Dallas, associate director at Robert Half Financial Services.

“Candidates can expect to be grilled on how they helped their company during the economic downturn and will need to show measurable results. Employers are also keen to see that you have a business network, with the potential to bring in new business or valuable contacts.

“Remember that prospective employers are likely to look you up on LinkedIn or Facebook, so work on developing your social media profiles and ensure they are up-to-date,” he adds.

5) Do even more pre-interview research

It’s always been a given that to get by in a competitive banking interview you need to have done your research, and in the current climate this is even more the case, suggests Dallas.

“You have to show that you have something extra. Conduct thorough research prior to the interview to demonstrate that you have a broader knowledge of the company and industry than your competition.

“Those who come to the interview armed with information about the interviewer/company, the content of their CV and anecdotes that reveal their skills and talents will be most likely to land the job in any economy,” he advises.

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