Brilliant questions to ask in any banking interview

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You're interviewing for a job in an investment bank. At the end, it's your turn to ask questions. Do you avail yourself of it and ask the sort of things that will get you noticed and leave you better informed about the role? Or do you ask something formulaic and call it day?

If you're interviewing for a banking job, you need to employ the first tactic. With most applicants for banking jobs rejected, you need to ask impressively brilliant questions. And with most banks reviewing their strategic priorities, you need to clarify exactly what kind of job and organization you're stepping into.

We asked a selection of bankers, recruiters, banking analysts and coaches for their advice on questions to conclude your interview. This is what they said.

1. What kind of training will you offer with this role? Which skills would you expect me to acquire or develop?

Victoria Macpherson, a former banker and recruiter turned coach, suggests you need to use your questions to subtly unearth how supportive the firm you’re joining is. Now that pay is less significant in banking than it used to be, she says people are more interested in culture and working hours. What’s it really like to work for Bank X? Questions about training can help clarify whether an employer is supportive or not.

2. What will success look like in this role? Now, and in three years' time?

Ok, so this question may sound generic, but it helps establish exactly what’s expected of you. What kind of P&L are you expected to generate? How many cost savings are you expected to make? How much client business are you expected to bring in?

3. What kind of leadership and personal development training do you offer?

If you’re asking about training, Macpherson advises focusing on softer aspects alongside hard skills. If you aspire to management, what will the firm you’re joining do to prepare you for this? “You want to establish that you’re joining an organization that has systems in place to care for its people,” says Macpherson.

4. What would you say my growth potential is in this role?

This is essentially a straight-up version of question one. Michael Karp, CEO of global financial services recruitment firm Options Group, says this is the fundamental thing you need to find out during your interview: where will the job take you?

5. Can you let me know what kinds of benefits you offer alongside your compensation?

You want to know about pay. But it’s not a good idea to make bald queries about remuneration during the interview (you can inquire later, or through the recruiter – assuming you used an intermediary). By asking about non-monetary benefits, you’re putting the issue of reward on the table and probing the extent to which the firm rewards in softer ways. This can lead to a conversation about flexible working, for example.

6. If I'm successful and you offer me the job, what should I be doing to prepare myself for starting in this role?

This was suggested by a recruiter at a bank in London. By asking this, you’re focusing interviewers’ minds on the possibility of employing you. You’re showing too that you’re genuinely interested in the job and thinking about how to prepare for it.

7. Where are you in terms of any strategic re-positioning of this business?

Most banks are in a state of strategic upheaval - especially when it comes to their markets businesses. Ian Gordon, a banking analyst at Investec, says it’s therefore worth asking whether changes have and are taking place, and their likely impact on the role you’re interviewing for.

8. What are the biggest regulatory challenges you've faced in the past three years?

This is another question suggested by a banking analyst. The head of the European banks team at one U.S. bank in London, says it’s worth probing how regulation has already impacted the business. This sets you up for a conversation in which your interviewer is able to moan about/share his/her experience of regulatory change.

9. And how is regulation expected to impact this area in future?

This is the inevitable follow-up to question eight. How is the role you’re interviewing for – and the business you’re joining – likely to change as regulation evolves?

10. How do you assess people at the end of the year?

Macpherson advises asking this question as another way of eliciting information on a firm’s culture. Ideally, she says you want to join a business that conducts 360 degree assessments (eg. Goldman Sachs). They’re fairer and indicate that the bank is genuinely interested in appraising its people properly.

11. What would you say is the single biggest mistake made by analysts in their first year of this role?

This question was suggested by a first year analyst at a bank in London. As with question six, it shows that you’re thinking yourself into the role and are genuinely interested in learning from the mistakes of your predecessors.

12. Is the capital allocated to this business likely to change in the next 12 months?

Gordon suggests asking this question as another way of phrasing question seven. Is the business you’re joining likely to undergo big changes as its capital allocation is cut?

13. And how are changes to the capital allocation likely to alter your strategy?

This is simply a follow-up to 12. With most businesses cutting capital, it’s “perfectly fair” to ask what the likely implications will be, says Gordon.

14. How does the return on equity in this business compare to the group target?

Gordon suggests asking this as another means of establishing the extent to which the group you’re joining is in a process of upheaval. If the return on equity is significantly sub-par, big changes are inevitable.

15. And how do you plan to increase the return on equity to meet the group target?

This helps nail down exactly what’s likely to happen in the unit you’re joining…

16. How do you expect technology to change this business and this role?

Suggested by the head of banks research, this question both demonstrates your strategic awareness and helps clarify whether the job you’re interviewing for will be adversely affected by new technology. To what extent will you be given the opportunity to work with new technologies in future?

17. Has cost-cutting impacted this business area? How are you working more efficiently?

Another question suggested by the first year analyst. With the possible exception of some areas of HR and compliance, most banking divisions are being asked to become more efficient. How are these efficiencies likely to change the role you’re applying to?

18. What do you like most about working here?

Finally, it helps to give your interviewer a chance to talk about themselves. People love to discuss their own experiences. Asking personal questions provides this opportunity. It also gives you another opportunity to probe the cultural aspects of the firm you’re thinking of joining. Two birds, one stone. Good luck.

Photo credit: What? by Véronique Debord-Lazaro is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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