Guest comment: Interview no-nos

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How not to shoot yourself in the foot at interview, by Chris Sevenoaks of financial markets recruitment specialist Finance Professionals City.

Stories, apocryphal or otherwise, are legion when it comes to recounting interview experiences. From the tall tales of eccentric Oxbridge dons demanding that quivering students 'surprise them', to frankly ridiculous recollections of wildly inappropriate attire, we have all heard and can probably repeat a litany of anecdotes about how not to present oneself at interview. However, the reality is reassuringly more prosaic, especially when the groundwork prior to the meeting has been thoroughly covered.

A swift delve into the pantheon of cobwebbed clichés offers us the immortal 'Fail to prepare, so prepare to fail', an adage which nevertheless still holds true. No matter the seniority of the position you're being interviewed for, preparation is imperative in order to convince the potential employer not only that you're ideally suited to working for them, but that you're perfect for any number of their competitors, too. With this in mind, we offer ten key areas where candidates make mistakes in interviews, as an illustration of how comparatively easy it is to impress on that all important 'first date'.

· Focus on the job in hand. The old question of "Where do you see yourself in three years' time?" is a predictable one, but it's how you're going to get there from accepting the job on offer which is especially relevant. The oft-repeated response of "In your seat" is not recommended, but "Working with talented people and progressing my career" is.

· Research the company you're interviewing for. Airily complimenting the reputation of a bank's credit team tends to be rather less than impressive if they've all defected en masse to a competitor the previous week. Recent deals and hires (easily researched on the web or in print) will demonstrate genuine interest and effort.

· Justify your reasons for wanting to move. "My mate says that the breakfasts are good here" doesn't necessarily distinguish your current employer from your prospective one, but being able to name a particular senior individual there who inspires you, does.

· Structure your answers. An industry-specific question is not an invitation to waffle about what newspapers you read, nor to wander off on tangents. Keep it relevant and concise.

· Dress appropriately. An obvious one, this, you may have thought. But it's not solely the more junior end of the market that proves to be less than efficient in the art of properly knotting a tie.

· Mind your body language. We really all should, by now, be abundantly aware of the fact that sitting with one's arms and legs crossed doesn't really 'send out the right signals'. Likewise regarding eye contact - but it's a thin line between paying attention and plain staring.

· Demonstrate conflict resolution. A perennial favourite, whereby the candidate is encouraged to display exceptional skills of diplomacy, tact and maturity when describing how they might (or have) addressed a personality clash at work. Keep the voice level and fists unclenched where possible on this one.

· Have a passion for the industry. Perhaps more relevant to the more junior candidate, who must be able to explain why working for a bank is more breathlessly attractive than a career in the media, law, engineering or any other pointless pursuit. Using the justification "My Dad says it pays well" rarely impresses, as does the all too frequent, "Ever since I was a child, I've always wanted to be an Investment Banker," but being able to rhapsodise over the structure, progression and rewards (intellectual and otherwise) often will.

· Be a team player. It's not enough these days to be able to illustrate how you stayed behind for an hour for three days in a row to get a report finished. And no-one likes anyone who willingly and knowingly uses the word 'maverick' in any conversation outside of a pub. You are, rather, reliable, calm and dependable. And you bring in doughnuts on Fridays.

· Be confident, but not arrogant (even though there are banks which positively encourage boorishness in their staff). Speaking clearly and concisely is key, as distinct from mumbling or shouting dismissively. Keep laughter to a minimum as well, as tension and/or nerves can induce involuntary shrillness. And, above all and under no circumstances whatsoever, should you interrupt or speak over the interviewer - this is extremely rude and is only ever acceptable in Banking if you are at VP level or above.

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