Why emotional intelligence matters to your banking & finance application

Emotional intelligence is often overlooked by graduates looking to secure a role in Finance. In the run up to interviews, We're always asked by Bright Network members for advice on technical models and Bloomberg stats, but never asked how to show off the one soft skill which will turn them from a decent financier into a high-flying banker.

So, to help you get ahead, here is our bright guide to improving your emotional intelligence.

What is it?

Emotional intelligence encompasses two things. It is both the ability to understand and control your own emotions, and more importantly, the ability to understand what another person is feeling, and act accordingly.

What’s it got to do with banking and all those numbers?

Relationships in Banking are incredibly important, because clients in Banking are exceptionally important. Being able to quickly and effortlessly empathise and understand a client’s needs will not only mean you win business, but you’ll keep it and grow it. You often hear about “XX Group take over YY Partners in multimillion pound take-over” and that sounds very impersonal, but actual humans sat round tables in teams to create that deal. 

Internal relationships are also vital to a banker and indeed, any sector in which you might work. Understanding a teammate’s needs will help the whole group work better, start long lasting networks and open up a world of knowledge and access to you. You will learn at least one thing from every human you meet, so having the emotional intelligence to build relationships will only add to your ability.

How do I improve my emotional intelligence?

As with many things in life, practice is the key to improving your emotional intelligence. The best types of practice in work experience will be customer-facing roles, especially those which receive customer complaints. Dealing with situations where the other party is deeply upset or angry is excellent practice for when you might have to win over a client on a deal worth millions. 

I myself benefited hugely from working in security as a student: dealing with normally calm and well-to-do people who become incensed and insulting when I confiscated their contraband champagne was excellent preparation for other career positions.

You can also practise your emotional intelligence by volunteering for helplines or charities. The client-supplier relationship is simply a paid-for act of helping after all, the same need for empathy, listening and advice applies to both.

How do I prove I have emotional intelligence in my application?

Emotional intelligence is rarely explicitly asked for in a job spec, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be assessed consciously or unconsciously. It’s a boon to your application if your competitors are piling in examples of the required competencies with no extra thought to what else the recruiter is looking for. It means you have the opportunity to go above and beyond your peers.

Therefore, you should bring examples to the fore without being asked. Your CV should highlight examples of successful teamwork – an indicator of emotional intelligence – examples of when you helped someone else achieve a goal, or examples of times you chose a customer-facing role. Your offline application should mirror this too.

In group exercises at assessment centres, make a point of (subtly) showing assessors you are thinking about the clients’ needs in the projects you are doing, and also what your teammate’ needs are. Perhaps you can see one teammate is nervous, bolster their confidence or set them specific tasks, rather than ignore or dismiss them. Likewise do not lock horns with an over-bearing member of the group but find common solutions and calm them down.

Emotional intelligence is not the most obvious trait, a good relationship builder will make their success look easy and subconscious. But whereas technical knowledge can be taught and analytical skills trained, emotional intelligence is not something the HR department can teach you. So, all the more reason to prove you've already got it in your applications.

And remember, emotional intelligence isn't just for the application process. It's a crucial skill that you'll need throughout your career as it evolves. And the earlier you start thinking about it, the stronger you'll be in the long run.