If you’re looking for a banking job and are persistently unsuccessful, either at the interview of the application stage, you might want to adopt some different tactics. Yes, you can redo your CV. Yes, you can use the STAR interview technique. You could also set out to actively ‘reframe’ the way the way you’re perceived.
This latter technique is called ‘impression management’. Fundamentally, it means dropping explicit markers to steer how people think of you. According to a recent academic study, it really works. – Especially if you happen to be someone subject to age discrimination.
“Impression management means contradicting stereotypes,” says Franciska Kings, one of the study’s authors at the University of Lausanne. “The challenge for older workers is that they’re perceived as less competent – even though this has been proven not to be the case. The assumption is that they’re more rigid, lower in flexibility, and less adaptable. The challenge is to counteract that.”
King and her colleagues asked 515 undergraduates to evaluate transcripts from fabricated interviews involving older and younger candidates. Sometimes the older candidates used impression management and sometimes they didn’t. In all cases the older candidates were ranked lower for hireability than the younger ones, but in the scripts where impression management was used the discrepancy between the two was reduced by as much as 80%.
We’ve included some examples of the academics’ use of impression management below. They don’t concern banking directly, but the finance industry is notoriously youthful (at PwC, a professional services firm, the average age is just 28), and the generic tactics used by the researchers apply as much to an application for a job in M&A as to a job in retailing or technology.
The fundamental formula is simple: first you identify why the person hiring you might be prejudiced against you; then you set about to actively contradict that. This can be done multifariously. For example, you can avoid behaviours associated with the “devalued social identify”. You can emphasize how similar you are to other groups who are identified with more positively. You can communicate the more favourable attributes associated with your stereotype (for example, older workers might be perceived as more knowledgeable.) Or you can explicitly negate likely prejudices with language that contradicts them.
In the study, the academics set about to refute five proven negative stereotypes of older candidates: the perception that they can’t handle pressure as well as younger ones; the perception that they don’t learn as quickly; the perception that they’re less achievement oriented; the perception that they’re less adaptable, and the perception that they have fewer technology skills. Impression management had a positive impact on all dimensions but technology skills – here, there was nothing that could be done to disprove the stereotype. If you’re older, you may just have to accept your perceived technical inadequacy, fair or not.
Technological bias aside, the examples below demonstrate what works according to the academics. Impression management is simple, but effective. You might want to try it next time you write an application letter or attend a finance interview.
When you’re asked: “How well do you deal with stress and working under pressure?”
You can answer: “I believe I can manage pressure well. In my previous job, I often had to finish tasks under short deadlines, so I am used to working under pressure. As a travel you constantly deal with customers and there is a lot of pressure to address customers’ queries while also completing administrative tasks. While I generally prefer to take my time and do the task thoroughly to avoid mistakes, I understand pressure is sometimes necessary.”
Or, you can use an impression management response: “I believe I manage pressure very well. In my previous job, I often had to finish tasks under short deadlines and actually I have to say I prefer it in several ways. As a travel agent you constantly deal with customers and there was a lot of pressure to address customers’ queries while also completing administrative tasks. When I work under pressure I tend to be more focused and motivated. It keeps me alert and helps me complete my tasks on time and effectively. I must say this kind of drive, keeps me going.”
When you’re asked: “How open are you to learning applications and procedures? Can you give me an example of a situation when you learned something new?”
You can answer: “Sure. I am open to learning new things and I think I’m good at it. One example? Yeah, in my last job I had to learn how to use the company’s in-house web application to track the status of my sales and the best travel deals for the region of the world I was acting as an agent for. It was very difficult at first because the application was not very user friendly and I had to invest a lot of time familiarising myself with it. It was a challenge but after a while I was able to use it as well as the rest of my colleagues.”
Or, you can use an impression management response: “Actually, I’m quite open, learning new things comes easily to me. For example, in my last job I had to learn how to use the company’s in-house web application to track the status of my sales and the best travel deals for the region of the world I was acting as an agent for. It was hard at first because the application was not very user friendly but I enjoyed the challenge and soon I found I was able to use the application’s algorithms to do tracking that even my colleagues weren’t sure how to do.”
When you’re asked: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
You can answer: : “Hmm…I see myself five years from now being in a good position, where people can recognise me as a good employee and as an asset of their organisation. Although the future is unpredictable, what I can say for sure is that the day I will join the firm, I will try to understand my role in the company, and will give my 100% to make my work productive and whenever to contribute fully to the development of the organisation.”
Or, you can use an impression management response: “Hmm…I see myself five years from now being in a managerial position. Though it is quite ambitious I believe that with hard work and a well set plan, it can be achieved. I see myself progressing, learning new skills, and having more responsibilities. My goal is to improve clients’ experiences while contributing to the development of the company. I can see many challenges lying ahead of me, but I am eager to experience them.”