When applying for a financial analyst job, get ready to spend huge amounts of time and energy polishing and customizing your résumé and cover letter — they’re the entry point to landing a job interview. But once you get the call to meet in person, that’s no time to relax.
Now the Real Work Begins
Recruiters and hiring managers are quick to note that too many job applicants don’t dedicate enough time preparing for the most important part of landing of the whole process: the in-person interview.
Fortunately there are ways to prepare. Here are some tips for acing the interview based on conversations with financial services recruiters and active hiring managers.
1. Know the company and sector inside and out. You’re applying for a research job, so you had better show that you actually took time to research the company and its place within the financial world.
Study the company and make sure you’ve covered all these areas:
-Fields of expertise
-Any recent big deals or acquisitions
-Names and backgrounds of the chief executive and the people who will interview you
-Recent press releases and any other up-to-date news about the firm
It’s all readily available via Google, Wikipedia, Yahoo Finance, Bloomberg, government regulatory agencies and other sites. While you’re at it, talk to friends, relatives and acquaintances who might be knowledgeable about a company — or at least its reputation.
2. Tailor your answers. Don’t treat financial analyst jobs as cookie-cutter positions automatically transferrable from one finance sector to the next — they’re not. Research the specific sector and expertise of each company you interview with and be prepared to tailor your responses so they’re a match.
3. Draw up a mental list of your strengths and weaknesses. It’s corny, but you’ll almost inevitably be asked a variation of “So, tell me your greatest strength,” or “What’s your biggest weakness?” Similar inquiries include: “Tell me your greatest success at a job,” or “What was your biggest mistake while on a job?” Create a list of what you think are three or four of your strengths and a few of your weaknesses.
4. Assemble a portfolio. To support your answers, review any past examples of research reports or other business assignments you’ve done as an intern (or as a junior analyst if you’re applying for a senior analyst position). Analyze the specifics of those particular cases, and be prepared to answer detailed questions about them. Bring the reports — along with any accolades from supervisors or teachers — in an organized portfolio to the interview.
4. Plan to talk about life experiences and career goals. Be ready for discussions about your career goals, college major, extracurricular activities, summer jobs, post-college jobs (if any) and other items on your résumé. One investment banker says he also likes to hear from candidates about non-business successes they’ve achieved in life. “I’ll say, ‘Tell me one thing you’ve really mastered and are good at.’ It can be music or painting or running road races. We want (to hire) someone who has already proven they’ve done something really well.” And whatever you do, be confident but not cocky.
5. Be able to explain why you want the job. One commercial mortgage banker, who asked not to be named, says he carefully explores a financial analyst candidate’s knowledge of his industry and why they specifically want to get into commercial real estate. “I want to find out if they’re serious about getting into (the field) and so I’ll ask them, ‘So, why aren’t you applying for a financial analyst job on Wall Street? Why are you here?’ ”
You’d better have an honest answer — with details about the type of financial company and position that you’ve applied for.
6. Be prepared for spontaneous tests. The same investment banker says he’ll sometimes verbally outline a general business scenario, such as one firm trying to buy another firm, and asks candidates, “So why would someone want to buy such a company? How would you go about researching that company?” Such “tests” are not meant to be trick questions. They’re meant to see how you might react and approach a problem.
If you’re working with a recruiting company to land a financial analyst job, they’ll often subject you to a number of assessments before you head out to an interview, says Richard Deosingh, a recruiter at Robert Half in New York. Recruiters might test how well you know Excel or if you can efficiently organize spreadsheets, for instance.
During interviews, companies rarely ask candidates to physically prove they know how to use Excel, PowerPoint and other software programs needed to conduct, analyze and present data in research reports. But they may ask you detailed questions about the programs or how you’ve used them in the past.
7. Ask questions that show your interest. Interviewers almost always invite questions from candidates. This is another chance to be personable and demonstrate interest in the job, so have a list ready in advance.
Some questions to consider include:
-What’s a typical day like for a financial analyst at this firm?
-What type of clients will I work with?
-Would I specialize in a specific field of interest?
-How did you (the interviewer) get his or her start in finance?
-What are the prospects for promotions?
Preparation is key. Practice, get your story straight — and you’ll be on your way to crushing the interview.
Jay Fitzgerald is a business journalist based in Boston. Over the years, his articles have appeared in The Boston Globe, the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Herald and other publications.