It will come as no surprise to most of us in the financial services sector that the uncertainty of Brexit has put a dampener on new job opportunities, with many firms favouring increasingly cautious hiring policies. So how can you stand out from the crowd and secure your ideal role? Chris Stappard, Managing Director at Edward Reed Recruitment, shared what recruiters and employers are looking for in this difficult employment market.
There can be little doubt that it's currently a tough employment market for the financial services sector. Amid the turmoil of Brexit, new vacancies dropped 39% in 2018, according to research published in the Independent, making competition for top roles fiercer than ever before.
While there might be less opportunities, the good news is that many companies are still looking for top talent where it counts: they just have higher expectations than ever before. And, employers are willing to offer excellent incentives to find the best hires, with firms offering 21% higher pay packages to the right candidate (Independent).
In such a tough employment landscape, you need to demonstrate a varied skill set, stellar interpersonal skills, and highly relevant experience. Here, I'll tell you how you can boost your chances of getting a top financial role.
Interpersonal skills are key in all roles
It used to be the case that many financial roles required less in the way of interpersonal skills. As long as you had the analytical ability and the qualifications and experience to back it up, communicative skills were put on the backburner, or seen as a mere bonus. But these days, companies are looking for the whole package — particularly at senior or middle management level.
Employers want someone who can project a great image of the company in all interactions and build excellent relationships with clients. This can really make or break your application: when looking at two equally qualified candidates, it's very likely that recruiters and employers will go for the candidate with stellar interpersonal skills. It's all a matter of 'faking it until you make it' — particularly at the interview stage.
While many people assume that great interpersonal skills are something that can't be taught, there's certainly a lot you can do to improve them. Putting yourself out there and attending seminars and networking events can work wonders for your confidence, as can volunteering for more hands-on client-facing work in your current role.
Show your skillset in action during interviews
During the one-on-one interview stage, employers want to test how relevant your qualifications and skills are to the role you're applying for, so try to be as specific as possible. Instead of speaking in broad terms, use the STAR method (situation, task, action, result) to demonstrate how your skills work in practice.
For instance, instead of just claiming you have strong analytical ability or can work well under pressure, give a specific example. Explain the situation, describe the problem, and then tell the interviewer how your skills were able to solve it. Remember to detail what the outcome was, and how your action benefitted your employer.
One of the best ways to excel at job interviews is to attend as many as you possibly can. Apply for jobs that you may not want to take, or don't think you stand any chance of getting, and let the interview process be a chance to practice and refine your skills. This can work wonders for your confidence and technique, and you never know — it could lead to a fantastic role you never dreamed you'd land.
Prepare for group interviews and practical assessments
More and more often, recruiters and HR teams are using group interviews and practical competency tests to screen out the best candidates. You might be asked to solve a problem as a team, or collaborate together on a project or pitch. This is more than a test of your skills and qualifications (although these are important, of course). It's a chance to see how you work as a team, how well you communicate, and whether you can think on the spot in a fast-moving group situation.
Be warned, impressing during a group interview isn't just about being overconfident and talking non-stop. You won't score any points for dominating the conversation and talking over the other candidates. Instead, it's all about showing you can collaborate and communicate effectively and respectfully. You can practice this in your current role — treat each day as if you were being screened for a new role and watch your skills improve.
Refine your CV
If you struggle to make it even to the interview stage, chances are your CV needs work. Remember, your CV shouldn't be an exhaustive documentation of every career move and success you've ever had: it should be a focused highlight reel, demonstrating only the skills and experience that are relevant to the job at hand. You want to pique the employer's interest enough that they'll invite you to an interview.
If possible, it can help to ask someone who is already in a senior role, or who works in recruitment and HR, to look at your resume and offer some constructive feedback. There are also professional vetting services who will look at it for you for a fee.
Get additional qualifications
Even if you already have a relevant degree, chances are, you'll be competing against a sea of other candidates who are similarly qualified, and may have more experience with a particular field or software. That's why it can help to get an additional, specialist credential. If listings for the job you're interested in keep specifying that a particular software or skill is 'desirable', then take a course or qualification and get up to speed. This will really set you apart.
A high-level career in the financial services sector takes more than a degree qualification and a few years of experience: you need to prove that you're a brilliant all-rounder and that you have highly relevant experience. Use the tips I've shared here to refine your CV, impress during an interview, and give yourself a competitive advantage in this tumultuous employment market.