April 28, 2011

Branching Out: Tips for Coaching Candidates for Interviews at Banks

checkA lot of banks use general recruiting firms to fill branch-level positions, and this can be a great opportunity for general recruiters who want to branch out. Just like a finance professional, you can start with your local bank and build your way to becoming a high-level banking executive recruiter. If you want to build some roots in the industry, start asking around at banks with branches in your local area.

When your local bank is willing to give you a shot and you have some candidates lined up, you need to make sure that you can fill the positions. To do this, you have to get your candidates to nail their interviews. Here are some tips for preparing candidates for interviews at banks (and other financial institutions).

Know the kinds of questions that will be asked.

The most important part of preparing a candidate for an interview is to understand what kinds of questions the interviewer will ask. Usually, banks will ask candidates two types of interview questions: technical questions about financial topics and qualitative questions about their fit for the position. You can prepare your candidates by giving them general interviewing skills for qualitative questions, but don’t neglect technical aspects of banking. Do a little research to see what kind of finance expertise your client will expect from the applicants so that you can help your candidates study.

Systems knowledge in relation to the particular financial instruments can be very important. Within banks, their backoffice systems can be highly complex and customized – don’t assume that your candidate can easily pick up the technology. Instead, prepare them with a detailed map of how their systems knowledge maps to the systems that the bank is using. If the candidate researches both systems and can speak intelligently to their similarities, the interviewer will not have to use “faith” that the candidate will understand their complex systems.

How to Answer Qualitative Questions

These should be questions that you ask candidates for any job, including “Why do you want to work in banking?” and “Tell me a bit about your experience.” Not only should you ask these kinds of questions in your screening interview to see how they respond, you should coach your candidates about how to answer them when they are at the bank. It’s important that the candidate is able to talk about the highlights of their resume without reading it.

They should also be able to articulate their reasons for joining the industry beyond just saying, “I enjoy math,” or “I want to make money.” Very few candidates will personalize and localize their answers to these types of open questions – especially in the banking industry where there is little to differentiate branches, products, and even the companies themselves. The key is to find a personal hook – get your candidate to find one personal reasons that they want to join that particular bank. In a sense, don’t answer the industry question directly. It is better to address why the candidate wants to work for that particular bank, for that particular manager, etc…

About Technical Banking Questions

You don’t have to be a financial whiz to become a great banking recruiter, but you should understand the basics of the industry so you can prepare your candidates. For higher level banking positions, employers are likely to ask about some basic accounting theories like cash flow, financial statements, mergers and investing. Take the time to check out some banking websites, newsletters or blogs written by financial professionals to see what the hot topics are in the industry today. Candidates (like recruiters) can get into trouble when meetings become entirely technical – if your candidate can steer the conversation to topical based conversation or trends (for example, a local banking crisis or relevant news story), the interview can be more fluid and natural.

Brain Teasers

Many of brain teasers used in banking interviews will be simple math questions that candidates should be able to work out without resorting to a calculator, so ask your candidates to brush up before the interview. These types of interview questions are also meant to test the applicant’s logic skills and ability to think on their feet. A brainteaser might also show an interviewer how an applicant deals with having to work math in their head while also remaining calm and personable.

These types of intellectual challenges can be the most frustrating aspect of working with a client. In fact, it’s rather difficult to coach or help prepare a candidate for these types of questions. The most important thing you can do is make sure that the candidate remains comfortable. It can be accomplished through practice – but make sure that they are practicing these brainteaser type responses in front of another person.

Financial recruiting can be a highly lucrative field, as it is quite specialized and complex. The banking industry is itself somewhat of a “closed group.” That means that it’s difficult to experience initial success, but once you do, your connections and experience will tend to snowball into further success. Good luck out there!

Read more in Candidate Management

Marie is a writer for Recruiter.com covering career advice, recruitment topics, and HR issues. She has an educational background in languages and literature as well as corporate experience in Human Resources.