BlackRock, like most large financial institutions, is over-subscribed with applicants for its available jobs. Assuming you make the cut and end up at an interview, what questions can you expect? Here are some questions that BlackRock asked a portfolio manager who eventually landed the job, together with some tips on how to answer them from specialist asset management recruiters.
This is the classic 'getting to know you' question asked in any interview. George Wilbanks, the founder and managing partner of Wilbanks Partners, an executive search firm for the asset and wealth management sectors, suggests asking for specific parameters to better gauge exactly what the hiring manager is looking for:
“What part of my background is most interesting to you, and how much time would you like me to spend answering the question?”
Laurie Thompson, principal in the global asset management and hedge fund practices at executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, advises candidates to be concise
“Pause to check in – pay attention to your audience and check in if you see you’re losing their attention,” Thompson said. “Ask, ‘Would it be helpful to go in to more detail here or summarize?’ Speak in specifics, as opposed to generalizations, but avoid long-winded storytelling or name-dropping.”
“Keep it positive,” Thompson said. “Don’t disparage colleagues or your current firm. Be honest and transparent but professional,” she said.
Wilbanks agrees: “Assuming that you’re not unemployed, always focus on the positives of the prospective employer and the role they’re looking to hire for. Avoid negatives about your current role.”
“Tell the truth,” Wilbanks said. Thompson stressed that you have to take ownership. Being defensive or blaming others for career missteps is a red flag.
“For example, if you had a personality conflict with a manager, you could say ‘After two years of working together I just couldn’t figure out a way to work well with him/her’ versus ‘My boss was a jerk,’” Thompson said. “Another example would be if the position wasn’t what you expected, say, ‘I regret not doing more due diligence on the firm and the situation’ versus ‘They lied about what the job really was,’” she said.
Thompson said that any time you’re asked to describe challenges, be sure to include what you learned as a result.
“Come prepared with case-study-style stories about real experiences that that the interviewer can verify with a reference call,” Wilbanks said.
“No respect for the rule of law in one of the most brutal dictatorships in history?” Wilbanks said.
That’s probably not the best way to approach it, but the point is to research various hot-button countries and markets so that you can come up with an intelligent response on the spot, even if it’s relatively brief.
As an asset management professional, you should be able to talk about this until the cows come home. This also works as an ice-breaker at conference cocktail hours and other networking events.
This is where all of the research you’ve done on BlackRock and its various business units before the interview will pay off.
“Be enthusiastic but avoid coming across as desperate,” Thompson said. “It’s a fine line to walk.”
“Be well-informed about the organizational structure, the backgrounds of peers and superiors, the competitive framework and performance of products of the prospective employer,” Wilbanks said.
“Highlight your strengths and provide specific examples of how this has served you in your career – in a way that is relevant to the job you’re interviewing for,” Thompson said.
For example, if you consider yourself very strategic, highlight a situation where you were tasked with taking on an important assignment that used this strength, and highlight the benefit to your firm and team, she said.
“If you list a strength, tell a story about a real-world experience that exemplifies this, and provide a reference that the prospective employer can use to verify it,” Wilbanks said.
“Same as when you’re describing your strengths, if you cite something you need to work on, be prepared to tell an interesting story about how you discovered this shortcoming and what you have started to do to improve upon it,” Wilbanks said.
“This is a real opportunity to demonstrate self-awareness, openness to growth and change and the fact that you’re always looking to improve,” Thompson said.
Ask a question that’s intended to start a conversation about what’s going on with that particular portfolio or firm.
“You’re asking questions but they are really more of a conversation to demonstrate your knowledge of investing and the firm’s strategies,” Thompson said. “Pick anything that demonstrates you know what’s going on in the world and how it may impact investments.”
This is a really important part of any interview, Wilbanks said.
“Make sure they are well-thought-out and written down, and try to research answers on your own to show initiative, letting them elaborate for you,” he said.
This is another instance when you have to be honest. Especially for large firms like BlackRock, saying you need a work visa may be an annoyance, but assuming you check the other boxes they’re looking for, it certainly won’t be a deal-breaker.
“I recommend considering the notice period at your current firm plus any additional notice that may be expected to leave on good terms plus garden leave, if applicable, plus working in one or two weeks’ vacation,” Thompson said. “You want to arrive at your new job energized and rested, and you may not have this opportunity again for a while.”
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