When asked about why you have applied, you need to have a more specific answer than: You're an international and highly regarded organisation.
If you go for a graduate interview with a retail bank, insurance firm or actuarial consultancy, you can usually expect a first-round telephone or video interview with HR and/or a face-to-face interview with senior and experienced members of the organisation (often completed as part of an assessment centre). A similar structure will usually be followed for roles at a regulatory agency, such as the Financial Conduct Authority.
During the coronavirus pandemic, it may not be possible for in-person interviews and assessment centres to take place, so video interviews may be used as the final stage of the recruitment process. However, much of the same advice for preparation and answering questions will apply.
The interviews aim to gauge:
- your skills and abilities, which include competencies such as commercial awareness and analytical skills
- whether you’d be a ‘good fit’ at the organisation and in the team
- whether you’ve taken the time to research the employer
- your understanding of what the job involves
- your interest in finance
How to practise answering interview questions
Below, we’ve included some questions that have previously been asked by employers in this sector, according to past interviewees.
You might want to ask a friend or family member to ask you some of these questions to help you prepare for your interview. Alternatively, our partners Shortlist.Me have online resources to help you practise answering typical graduate interview questions in a mock video interview context. You could also consider booking a practice interview with your careers service.
Typical competency questions
All interviewers will ask you questions about your competencies, experience and strengths. These will be about times when you developed and demonstrated a skill, your experience to date, and how you react to different situations. Typical questions include:
- ‘Tell us about yourself’
- ‘Describe your previous work experience and how it is relevant to the role’
- ‘Tell us about a time when you had to work as part of a team’ (a very common question, as all financial services graduates need to work in teams)
- ‘How do you cope with tight deadlines?’ (said to be asked in the past by RBS)
- ‘What are your strengths and weaknesses?’ or ‘How would your best friend describe you?’
- ‘How do you feel about deadlines when they change?’ (said to have been asked by Aviva)
- ‘Describe a time you had to lead’ and ‘Describe a time you had to deal with a difficult person’ (reportedly asked by American Express)
- ‘Tell us about a time when you had to lead a team’ (employers in this industry hire graduates to become future leaders, making this question a popular one. It’s said to have been asked by Nationwide Building Society and RBS)
Previous interviewees at RBS have said the bank may delve deeper into the questions about teamwork and ask:
- ‘Tell us about a time when you had to deal with an uncooperative member of a team’
- ‘Tell me about a time when you led an efficient team’
The STAR technique (explained here) will help you to provide a succinct and structured response to competency questions. Whether explicitly asked for an example or not, you will still need to offer one to show you have the skill. Take some time before your interview to look up the competencies the employer seeks and brainstorm examples of when you have developed them.
Typical questions about dealing with setbacks and failure
Several financial organisations seem keen to test both your resilience and ability to get things done despite any difficulties. For example, it is said that AXA has asked in the past: ‘When you suddenly find out that a project you’ve been working on has gone in the wrong direction, what do you do? Tell us in general and then give a specific example of when this has happened.’
These questions focus on what you did to overcome the difficulties, so try not to choose a situation that you were unable to salvage. You will have to be able to explain what you did to turn it around and what you learned from the situation. If you choose an example that wasn’t salvageable, say what you learned from it and what you would do differently in future.
Examples of typical setbacks or failures for students and graduates are not gaining a position in a society or group (eg student president), and not achieving a desired academic grade (eg you did poorly in one assignment so you worked extra hard to keep your grade average up). Some recruiters may also ask hypothetical questions about how you would handle challenging situations in a financial services environment:
- HSBC is said to ask: ‘How would you handle difficult customers?’ or ‘How would you deal with customer complaints?’
- Coventry Building Society has asked: ‘Tell me about a time when you have supported a peer through a difficult situation; what did you do and how did they respond?’
Typical industry questions
These questions probe your passion for finance, your ability to analyse information and your lateral thinking. Do you know what’s going on and can you identify possible implications? Past questions are said to have included:
- RBS: ‘What do you think caused the financial crisis?’
- Lloyds Banking Group: ‘What are the problems facing Lloyds Banking Group at the moment? How will they affect us in future? How will they affect you?’
- HSBC: ‘Tell me one change introduced by the government which has had an impact on the banking industry’ and ‘Tell me about a recent piece of news that’s interested you. How would this affect HSBC?’
To answer these types of questions you have to have done your research, both about finance generally and the employer itself. You can’t get away with just reading the Financial Times on the day of your interview. As well as reading the employer’s financial reports and press releases, read the business sections of broadsheets regularly – the commentaries as well as the news – and form your own opinions.
But don’t get hung up on having to give the ‘correct’ answer or saying what you think the recruiter wants you to say. There usually isn’t an agreed right answer, and recruiters are more interested in how you have come to your judgements and how you substantiate your case than the answer itself. Be prepared to be challenged, to be asked further about your views and to argue your points.
Typical questions about the employer and the job
- Willis Towers Watson is said to ask you ‘What does an actuary do?’
- Coventry Building Society has asked: ‘What is the difference between a bank and a building society?’
- Lloyds Banking Group and RBS are said to ask about your willingness to relocate.
- ‘Where do you see yourself in the company in five years?’ (said to be asked by RBS)
- RBS interviewers reportedly ask you to tell them three facts about the organisation.
- Lloyds Banking Group is said to ask you what differentiates the bank and graduate scheme from its competitors.
- Lloyds Banking Group has asked: ‘The programme involves customer facing roles – how did that influence your decision to apply?’
- Aon’s past interview questions are said to include: ‘How do you expect to build a client base having only been in the market for a short time?’
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