Tips to Help You Stand Out on Your Next Interview if You Work in Finance

In the competitive world of financial services, making a lasting impression during your interview can make or break your chances of landing that dream job. We had the privilege of sitting down with Dan Johnson, the Director of Recruitment for our Financial Services team at our Ascendo New York office, who shared invaluable tips for candidates stepping into the interview arena. With years of experience in guiding professionals through the hiring process, Dan’s insights offer a roadmap to interview success. Here’s how to prepare, what to ask, and what to avoid during your financial services interview.

Preparation is The Key to Success

"Coming to an interview prepared is crucial, and it's not just about your appearance," Dan begins, underscoring the importance of both looking the part and the groundwork done beforehand. Preparation goes beyond researching the company; it involves understanding who you're interviewing for and the specific demands of the role you're eyeing.

"Sometimes, candidates fall short because they're not ready," Dan points out. They may lack a comprehensive understanding of the company’s mission, the role's requirements, or even who they are speaking with. This oversight not only reflects poorly on the candidate's interest in the position but also on their professional acumen.


Here is exactly what you need to do.

  1. Research the Company: Dive into the company’s history, values, and recent achievements. Understand its position within the financial services industry and its future aspirations.

  2. Understand the Role: Get a clear picture of what the job entails. Look into the skills and experiences the company values in candidates for similar positions.

  3. Dress Appropriately: Your appearance should mirror the company’s culture. For most financial services roles, conservative business attire is a safe bet.

  4. Craft the Right Questions: Dan emphasizes the significance of coming to the interview armed with insightful questions. "Asking the right questions not only shows you're interested but also helps you gain clarity about the role,”: he explains, "What does success look like in the first 30 days?" and "What are the expectations for this role in the first year?" are examples of questions that serve dual purposes. They demonstrate your eagerness to hit the ground running and provide a window into the company's benchmarks for success.


Here are some additional ideas for questions to consider:

Success Benchmarks: Inquire about what achievements or milestones would indicate success early on and over time. Understanding what success looks like in the role you are applying for is crucial. This knowledge will help you gauge what the company values in their employees and how they measure achievements.

Ask about Short-Term Success: “What are the key achievements you expect from the person in this role within the first 30 days?” This question shows your eagerness to contribute right from the start and helps you understand immediate expectations.

Ask about Long-Term Success: “Looking ahead, what would success look like in the first year?” This allows you to gain insights into the long-term goals and projects you might be involved in, which is essential for evaluating your potential growth in the position.

Ask about Performance Metrics: “How is success typically measured in this position?” Knowing the metrics or KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that define success can guide you in focusing your efforts effectively should you get the job.

Team Dynamics: Ask about the team you'll be working with, including leadership styles and team culture.

Ask about Team Structure: “Can you describe the team I’ll be working with?” This question helps you understand the hierarchy and the key players within the team, giving you insight into how tasks are typically allocated and who you would be reporting to.

Ask about Leadership Style: “How would you describe the leadership style of the head of the department?” Understanding the leadership style can help you gauge how to approach your potential boss and adapt your working style accordingly.

Ask about Team Culture: “What is the team culture like?” or “How does the team handle challenges and celebrate successes?” This helps you determine whether the team environment is competitive or collaborative, and how well you would fit into the workplace culture.

Professional Growth: Understand the opportunities for learning and advancement within the role and the company. For many candidates, the potential for growth within the company is a crucial factor in their job decision process. Asking about learning and advancement opportunities not only reflects your aspiration to grow but also shows that you are thinking long-term.

Ask about Development Opportunities: “What opportunities for professional development does the company offer?” This could include training programs, courses, or any other resources available to employees.

Ask about Career Pathway: “What are the typical career paths for someone in this role?” This question helps you understand the potential avenues for advancement and upward mobility within the organization.

Dan advises, "These questions not only reflect your proactive attitude but also give you essential insights into what the company values in its employees."

Here are some topics to avoid.

While it's important to engage actively in the conversation, there are certain topics Dan suggests steering clear of, especially during the initial interview. "We advise candidates never to bring up compensation in the first meeting," he states firmly. The initial interview should focus on understanding the role and demonstrating your suitability and interest. "Jumping the gun on compensation discussions can give the impression that your priorities might not align with the company’s values," Dan explains. The first interview is your opportunity to showcase your knowledge, skills, and cultural fit. Compensation discussions are generally more appropriate for later stages of the hiring process. Make sure to avoid asking about compensation and benefits. Save these questions for once you’ve progressed further in the interview process.

Avoid asking overly personal questions: Keep the conversation professional and focused on the role and the company.

Dan Johnson’s advice offers a strategic approach to interviewing in the financial services sector. Preparation, insightful questioning, and understanding what to avoid are pivotal in making a positive impression. Remember, the interview is as much about gauging if the company and role are the right fit for you as it is about showcasing your qualifications.

By following Ascendo’s guidance you can step into your next interview with confidence, armed with the knowledge and questions that demonstrate their professionalism and eagerness to contribute. Success in an interview starts long before you enter the room—it begins with the diligence and thoughtfulness you put into your preparation. So, take these insights to heart, and you'll be well on your way to securing your place in the financial services industry.

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