Financial services is a broad but competitive industry. Often topping lists of the most sought-after careers, it can be both highly-lucrative and a satisfying challenge for any well-educated bright brain.
As such, if you think this might be the career choice for you, you’re going to have to be at the top of your game to secure a sought-after graduate role. Here, we’ve collated seven top tips to help you do just that.
1. The power of an internship
Increasingly, employers are no longer offering internships as a chance for a graduate to find out whether a career is right for them; internships are now extended job interviews for a graduate career.
In the latest High Fliers Graduate Recruitment Report, nearly half of the recruiters who took part in the research repeated their warnings that graduates who have had no previous work experience at all are unlikely to be successful during the selection process and have little or no chance of receiving a job offer for their organisations’ graduate programmes.
Don’t miss that crucial interview. Start looking for, and applying to, internships from your first year.
Articulating and analysing the narrative of the last decade in financial terms is key to proving your commercial awareness.
2. Find out the firm’s competencies
Each firm puts a lot of thought into the qualities it looks for in a graduate. These competencies will differ from firm to firm so it is essential to find out the unique mix for the role you’re applying for. Certain competencies are very common, e.g. leadership, but occasionally there’ll be a more unusual need, e.g. courage, which you need to highlight to your advantage. After all, you need to differentiate yourself from the 4000 other applicants.
3. Get the motivational question right
Some application processes won’t specifically ask for a cover letter, but there’ll almost certainly be an opportunity to ask a question along the lines of “Why do you want to work for us?”
You need to combine honest motivations for your application with the tactic of differentiating yourself from your competitors. Your answer should contain evidence that you’ve researched the company extensively (while not just regurgitating stats and facts) but for the killer blow, tie that knowledge to your own profile so that it’s relevant.
Also, try to avoid vague platitudes, the company doesn’t need to know you want to work there because it’s “amazing” and you’re a “hard-worker” and “passionate”. You need to prove those three things, but with evidence. Anyone can say they’re a hard-worker, you need to back up your points with examples from your CV.
You may wish to include a sentence which starts with “unlike many students”. This will get you thinking about why you specifically are different and reinforce that in the minds of the employer. Again, avoid finishing the sentence with a vague “I work harder” “I’m cleverer”, but look for a past experience or achievement which marks you out. A medal-winning sportsman? A charitable endeavour? Skills gained from an unusual hobby? They’re all worth mentioning.
4. Get an example bank
Some of the questions you receive in applications will be similar. They usually start with “give me an example of…” and you can get ahead here by already having a well-structured and relevant answer. The usual examples should contain leadership, difficult team experiences, proactivity, increased effort and initiative. However, you don’t have to draw these examples from finance internships.
If you took the initiative while stranded in a Cambodian village during a public transport strike, then that counts. Don’t hold back your experiences at these crucial points, but ensure you speak about them analytically. Don’t just tell them a story. Be structured in your approach and ensure you answer the specific question.
A firm’s culture is very important and the best employers will pride themselves on their unique culture, sometimes to the extent that the most important question they ask themselves when interviewing a candidate is whether the candidate will embody the culture.
Therefore, when researching a company, do not just research their clients, market share and big deals, but also the values and culture. If the firm is listing fun, social, tight-knit and out-going as qualities, and you naturally shy away from extrovert behaviour, then you shouldn’t apply to join them. Not only will you be unlikely to pass an interview, you probably wouldn’t enjoy being there if you did.
6. Know what you don’t want to do
Leading on from my last point, a useful marker for knowing whether you’ve researched the industry well enough is being able to say which jobs you don’t want. If you have applied to every structured finance job you could find, you risk not only ending up in a job you’ll hate, but chances are you’ve done nowhere near the level of research of your competitors.
7. Understand the Financial Crisis
Articulating and analysing the narrative of the last decade or so is key to proving your commercial awareness.
Stronger candidates are able to articulate facts and opinions on the Financial Crash, but weaker candidates cannot. The credit crunch and recession of 2008 is recent history for professionals, but it goes back further than that for some. The effects are still taking unexpected turns now, so doing some historical research to able to talk about how modern events are affected by older ones will be an asset to your application.
And finally a bonus tip!
Practise the aptitude tests. We've got lots of handy advice and practice tests - and practice really does make perfect.