If you’re in your final year of college, or you’ve recently graduated, chances are you’re dedicating a good portion of your life to searching for jobs, polishing and distributing your resume, and preparing for the ultimate nerve-test: the job interview. Interviews come with inherent pressure, stress, and mystery. Unfortunately, they’re a necessary part of the job hunting process. The good news is you don’t need to love job interviews to be successful in them. You just need to know how to prepare.
We talked with Clay Skurdal, COO of Advisors Ahead, about the most critical and commonly asked finance job interview questions. Advisors Ahead provides a bridge between finance students and the financial services industry, ensuring recent graduates come into the business with the training and background it takes to be productive on day one. Clay has sat across the desk from thousands of job seekers, and he knows what it takes for an applicant to stand out from the pack.
Here are Clay’s top four finance interview questions you should be prepared to be answer.
1. Why do you want to start a career in the financial services industry?
The worst thing you can do when you’re asked this question is to deliver a safe, meaningless answer. The interviewer is trying to figure out what makes you “you.” Telling the interviewer that you want to help people won’t make you stand out. If you say you want to help people, the interviewer might ask you why, and might continue to ask you why until they get to the core of your motivation.
The best way to prepare for this question is to write a “passion essay” on why you want to get into the business. Write your real story. Did your family go through a tough financial period that inspired you to learn about money management? That’s the kind of honesty the interviewer is looking for. There are as many answers to this question as there are applicants for the position you’re interviewing for, so the only wrong answer is a non-answer.
2. What are you most proud of in the last 12 months, and why?
This question is intended to get a better idea of who you are as a person, and find out what you’re passionate about. It could be an exam or paper that you worked hard for and did exceptionally well on. It could be a problem you solved in your internship or your night job. It could also be an example from your personal life. This question helps the interviewer understand who you are and what you value. It also shows them that you have the ability to set and accomplish goals.
3. Tell me about a time someone asked you to bend the rules or do something unethical. How did you handle that situation?
In a finance career, there are unlimited opportunities to go astray and abandon your moral compass. This question helps the interviewer better understand your capacity to do the right thing, even in the face of extreme pressure. They want to know if you have a strong ethical center, or if you can be led down a bad path by poor judgement or outside influence. Again, have an example ready before the interview. Be prepared to tell a story that demonstrates your strong moral character.
4. Tell me about your extracurricular activities, and why you’re passionate about them?
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but companies aren’t interested in hiring robots. Interviewers who ask this question are trying to see if you’re passionate about something other than work. What are your hobbies? When you’re not at work, how do you choose to spend your time? They want to get past the front that you’re putting up and learn more about you as a person. Situations that demonstrate your ability to lead or be an active member of your community are great examples to cite.
According to Clay, it’s more valuable to prepare your story than prepare for specific finance interview questions. Listen intently to the interviewer and find a way to tell your personal story within the questions that are asked. Finance is a “people” business. Who you are as a person is what tells the interviewer if you’re the kind of employee who can add value to the organization. When you walk into the interview, you are Jane Doe, a name on a resume. You’re not that different from the other resumes in the stack. To set yourself apart from the group, prepare for the interview and ensure your name, face, and story make a lasting impression.