I was asked to write a blog entry about the top 4 questions that employers are likely to ask a Wall Street candidate prospect during an interview for one of my recent jobs. My initial response was anyone who is interviewing knows what they already are. Wall Street isn’t one of the happening San Francisco Valley media companies that ask you if you were shrunk to the size of a nickel how you would escape a blender before being turned into a human milk shake! I was then asked what harm there would be in reminding professionals interviewing in this climate what they should anticipate each and every time they walk into an interview. So…here I am. For those who know this already, please forgive me and look away! Additionally, if you are a new graduate, this isn’t necessarily for you. This is for the experienced professional responding to job searches for which they believe they possess the correct fit for a job posted on the internet at a company site, job board, or executive recruiter’s “hot jobs” page. Here are the top 4 questions most likely to be asked in your next Wall Street interview.
How are you going to make / save us money?
In this climate and on Wall Street, we must follow the money. Last week, Ben Bernanke signaled that soon, one day soon, rates are going to start coming back up. It was enough to rattle the markets, reduce the stock market index and raise the yields on bonds. Yet, with interest rates still low enough to allow people to take advantage of refinancing their home mortgages, you can understand why this question would come up if you are interviewing for a new job. It can be asked directly, or indirectly, but hiring managers in the front office know that when they talk to investors, the concern is to minimize risk and maximize rewards. If the role is in “alpha generation,” you better have more than one good idea that is designed to make money in this environment. Additionally, managers in the middle or back office want someone who will streamline processes, save time, eliminate waste, and maximize revenue earning opportunities. When a hiring manager asks you for a great accomplishment on your latest job, they want to know how you made or saved money.
Do you have any relationships in your Rolodex that we do not have that we can count on you to bring to our company?
Now more than ever, with the continual move towards more regulated markets and a reduction of the on-balance sheet or risk related activity being taken today, Wall Street has turned back to the “gal they brought to the dance” in the first place. A century and a half ago, most of the banks and I-banks started by making loans to friends and others in need of cash to start businesses, build factories, and finance enterprises. It is only in the last 50+ years and then more so with the repeal of Glass/Steagall that banks began to use balance sheet for more risk related activity, trade on a proprietary basis and try to reap large gains. At this point, even asset managers and hedge funds are looking for professionals with deep- pocketed relationships that they can count on to reach through you.
Can you do this job now that it includes expanded responsibilities?
I remember prior to the Credit Crisis when a client would give us a search and they talked about the team that made up the group and how there was more than one person doing a similar task, or that if the business model allowed a professional to get involved with more than one responsibility in the “events chain” it was because the client had growth in mind for the person and it was a great thing to get him or her started as soon as the person showed up on the first day. Today, we are in the consolidation phase of the market which should take us well into 2014. As a result, there are less people on the team, in the group and in the division because cutting costs is as much a part of the mantra as generating revenue. So is expanding job duties. As a result, the professional is expected to have more experience in more skills than ever before. I asked the client to stop in the middle of a talk we were having, because I had mistakenly believed they were giving me a second search and wanted to know who it reported to, and other important administrative questions. I was told it was for the same job and that the proper pro would have to perform those duties as well!
Can you come back in and meet some more people?
This question used to be greeted with enthusiasm. Of course there was one famous I-bank that for years would have you meet 15 or so pros. It prompted the joke around here that the firm even questioned the security guard down in the lobby on his opinion of your candidacy before making a decision! Now this is just a normal part of the process. No one is willing to make a decision before just about everyone in the relative vicinity of your desk, or position has weighed in on the process and the hiring manager has received the consensus of the group of interviewers on your candidacy. Oh, don’t get me wrong because this is still a good thing! Candidates want to hear that question towards the end of the interview and recruiters want to hear it during the debriefing call following the meeting, but meeting just about everyone slows down a process so much that it becomes more difficult to keep up the momentum as well as the energy necessary in making a hiring decision.
Remember, opportunity is a 3-pillared platform. One important piece is experience, another is skill- set and the last is subject-matter expertise. While there are other “soft” qualifications taken into account during the interview process, these three are counted on heavily in making an interviewing decision. In the near-term employers ask executive recruiters to recruit talented professionals for open positions and present only the qualified. So when the fit is the best, reach out to executive recruiters. We are very good at making presentations and managing candidates’ expectations when we are 3 for 3. Importantly, clients are willing to pay a fee for that service.
Some market participants believe we are in the consolidation phase of this cycle and the layoffs will continue as companies manage costs vs. revenues. I believe it as well. When the market improves, and demand for talent exceeds the supply, we will be able to help those who crave making a move to a role that takes into account a more lenient look at the 3-pillar concept.