Despite talk of an improved job market, it’s still tough to make a new career move, particularly as investment banks continue to roll out redundancies in the wake of weak FICC revenues, while others supposedly implement ‘soft’ recruitment freezes.
Nonetheless, candidate confidence has improved and people are venturing out into the job market once again. There’s even the suggestion of a skills shortage emerging in certain areas. So, what if you’re trying to make a move, but are consistently striking out despite the fact that you feel suited for the roles you’re applying to? Recruiters in the financial sector tell us why candidates generally fail, and what you can do to maximise your chances in the future.
It’s not just about having the technical skills, usually an investment bank is looking for a particular personality type that they either don’t currently have or that will fit into the team dynamic. Sometimes, it’s simply down to cultural fit, says Ben Cowan, director, change solutions, at recruiters Investigo. “You could fit the job spec perfectly, but if you’re not the right personality type, you will be rejected,” he says. “In change management in particular, for example, often employers could be looking for a Rottweiler type who can shake up the processes, so being a meek technical person won’t get you the job. But this can also be vice versa.”
How to remedy this: Obviously, it’s not advisable to change your personality, but discuss the role and the team with the recruiter in the first instance and if it’s obvious you’re not going to fit in, don’t pursue the application further. Instead, says Cowan, try to ingratiate yourself with the recruiter and inquire about any alternative current roles or ensure they’re left with a solid understanding of your abilities for any future opportunities.
We are now moving towards what recruiters like to term a ‘candidate-driven’ market, meaning essentially that the ball is now more in your court, says Jake White, associate director at Selby Jennings. Conversely, this has made it even tougher: “Clients interview more candidates, often more times, and place even greater scrutiny on their decision,” he says.
How to remedy this: It’s all down to interview technique, says White. Candidates are too focused on explaining to potential employers “what they want” and how technically proficient they are without actually getting across why they are the right person for the job. “Interviews should not be seen as a test, instead a meeting to identify what mutual value exists in forming a working relationship,” he says.
Unusually for an industry where employees have to sell themselves during feared 360-degree appraisals, a large proportion of investment bankers have become so entrenched in their current role that they’re unable to convey their abilities when applying for a new position, says Andy Dallas, director of Robert Half Financial Services.
How to remedy this: Use your CV as a starting point, with the expectation that the interview process will be an opportunity to fully explain your value, rather than simply run through your experience. “While your CV will get you through the door, it is your presentation, communication and commercial skills that will land you the job,” says Dallas. “Think about how you’ve provided measurable ROI for your previous employer. Ensure you speak confidently, offering concise and specific answers.”
As important as soft skills are, never lose sight of the fact that it’s the core technical elements and experience that will impress recruiters. Candidates are more likely to fill their application with clichés of being a ‘team-player’ or ‘innovative strategist’ that they forget the fact that the first stage is simply a case of ticking the boxes required in the job spec.
How to remedy this: Pay close attention to the job spec, be honest with yourself and don’t apply if you’re not suited. “Generally, candidates focus too much on the softer skills in a job advert at the expense of more tangible competencies. For example, people will see phrases like ‘hard-working’ or ‘well-organised’ and think ‘I can do that', without really taking into consideration the technical skills that are required for the role,” says Joss Collins from the financial services team at recruiters Venn Group.
One recruiter, who declined to be named, said that a particular candidate – seemingly perennially employed on temporary contracts – applied for just about every available role they had, thinking they were merely being persistent. Not only this, they were applying internally directly to the HR team at the bank they were working at. It came to the point where the recruiter was exasperated and the HR requested not to be sent any applications from this candidate. This is an extreme case, but recruiters generally suggest candidates are not discerning enough with their applications.
How to remedy this: Remember, you are applying to people not to an automated inbox. The financial services recruitment industry is really comparatively small, so don’t develop a bad reputation, and choose the jobs you apply to carefully.
Back in the good old days, when jobs were plentiful and recruiters were struggling to convince the right candidates to move, they were considered a persistent annoyance for bankers with plenty of options. Now, the calls may be better received, but this doesn’t change the fact that you could be speaking to someone who doesn’t fully understand your business area and could ask some stupid questions. “Often candidates are rejected because they’re too harsh with recruiters during the first screening process,” says Cowan. “On more than one occasion, I’ve had to call back a candidate I know is suited for the role after they’ve been rejected by a more junior consultant because they couldn’t explain why they are suited for the role.”
How to remedy this: If you’re interested in moving, simply remember that every conversation with a recruiter is a potential opportunity, even if it’s not evident at the start, so learn some patience. “Some roles, notably business analysts, require you to explain complex technical ideas to laymen in the business. If you can’t convey yourself to a recruiter, how can you do this to other divisions in the bank?,” says Cowan.
Most people try to move on to a position more advanced than their current job, but in the current market you need to manage expectations. “The amount of times we see professionals applying for roles that pay £50k more than their current position is staggering,” says Collins. “Businesses are unlikely to pay the extra fees for someone who hasn’t proved themselves before, so be realistic in your job search and don’t go overboard on salary demands.”
How to remedy this: Research the market, know if your skills are in-demand and whether there’s a shortage. If so, talk to recruiters about how you can tailor your application to something you're not entirely suited to. “You should match more than 75% of the skills requirements, or have similar transferrable skills,” says Dallas. “Tailoring job applications to each individual role and thinking about why you would make the ideal candidate will help you market yourself to potential employers.”
Let’s assume you know you’re suited for this job and it’s the recruiter holding you back. Best to go directly to the source, find the name of the hiring manager and get in touch to explain your suitability, right? No, you’ll probably get blacklisted from that recruitment firm, and recruitment consultants tend to move jobs fairly often, so you’re not doing yourself any favours.
How to remedy this: Recruiters, rather obviously, say just to stick with the process.