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Financial services and insurance
Skills to get on a financial services graduate scheme

The top skills retail banking, insurance and actuarial employers want

To get a graduate job in financial services you need to convince recruiters that you have the skills to do the job well. But which of your skills should you be making a big deal of in your applications and interviews?
To make a good and lasting impression on assessors, contribute constructively to discussions and activities while listening to colleagues and encouraging them to do the same.

Communication skills

‘In the finance sector you’ll be working with both finance professionals and people with limited financial knowledge,’ says Giovanna Miceli, graduate recruitment manager at Mercer. ‘You’ll need to convey complex information in a professional and jargon-free manner, so learning to tailor your communication style is vital.'

‘Recruiters are looking for evidence that your written and oral communication is well structured, accurate and clear,’ says Giovanna. ‘They usually assess this through your application form answers, how you go about answering interview questions, and group work and presentations at assessment centres.’ You might also be asked about your communication skills in an interview. Giovanna’s tip is to prepare some past examples of when you have communicated well and say how this relates to the role.

Problem solving

Carly McOscar, a recruitment consultant at the Royal Bank of Scotland, defines problem solving as ‘the ability to look at a problem, work through a potential solution and seek input where needed to validate the approach’. Most employers will gauge your problem-solving skills by looking at how you approach case study (or work-based) exercises at assessment centres and answer questions at interview.

‘Problem solving can be demonstrated at interview in the way an individual takes personal responsibility for addressing situations,’ says Carly. ‘Individuals should demonstrate their understanding of the challenge, what the priorities are and how they engage others to meet deadlines successfully.’ It’s a good idea to talk through your thought processes when answering questions as this will give the interviewers an insight into how you think. ‘Inquisitive questioning and logical analysis in an interview situation is not always easy but is one of the key skills we’re looking for,’ says Carly.

Customer or client service

Customer or client service encompasses communication and problem-solving skills, as well as the ability to empathise and listen. ‘You need to understand a company’s clients, their needs and what will keep them happy,’ says Julie Hyett, graduate programme manager at Aon. ‘Learning how to build relationships is the key to winning and retaining business.’ Recruiters will consider factors such as how you interact with assessors and other candidates at assessment centres, and the rapport you build with interviewers.

It will also help you during the recruitment process if you have examples of when you have understood and dealt with the needs of others. Part-time jobs that involved customer service and sales (for example, retail, hospitality or telesales) are good examples of this, but you can use non-work examples too. If you’ve given advice in a voluntary capacity, such as in your student union or as part of a student helpline service, it will impress recruiters.

Numeracy skills

Numeracy skills involve being able to understand and work with numerical and graphical information, draw conclusions, and explain your findings. Some employers, particularly those in the actuarial profession, will require you to have a numerate degree such as mathematics, statistics or economics, as well as a maths A level. ‘If you want to become an actuary then it is essential that you have good numeracy skills,’ says Carla Lakey, partner at Lane, Clark & Peacock LLP. Other finance employers won’t require this, but numerical ability or aptitude for numbers is often essential. Expect your numeracy skills to be put to the test; many finance recruiters hold numerical tests as part of the recruitment process.

Teamwork

Teamwork is all about being able to operate smoothly and efficiently within a group. This includes encouraging others, being able to compromise and put your own interests aside, and being able to communicate with, negotiate, influence and advise your team.

Your ability to work in a team will typically be put to the test during the group exercise at the assessment centre. To make a good and lasting impression on assessors, contribute constructively to discussions and activities while listening to colleagues and encouraging them to do the same.

Organisation and time management

Organisational skills and time management go hand in hand; having good organisational skills is about making the best use of your time to reach a specific goal. On your CV or application form, and if asked by recruiters, try to show how you are able to manage your commitments through your organisational skills. For example, if at university you have to balance your academic work with a part-time job, or extracurricular activities such as societies or volunteering, this would be a good option to talk about and explain how you organise your time and commitments. Alternatively, you could describe how you have used these skills within a working day, for example, during a busy period in places such as shops, cafes, or restaurants.

Leadership and team management

Leadership and team management are all about being able to direct a team to do the best that it can do. In many ways leadership is similar to teamwork, although it also involves taking responsibility for your team and maintaining your influence. This is a particularly important attribute to have for employers such as Aviva, which specifically seeks graduates with leadership skills.

If asked about leadership experience during an interview or in an application form, choose something that was successful and where your actions and leadership had a direct impact on the outcome. For this reason, it would be wise to choose an example that wasn’t all plain-sailing, but still resulted in success due to your input.

An example of this could be if someone became ill leading up to a group project assessment deadline at university, and you took on the responsibility of redistributing their work load between the other members of your group. Therefore, the deadline was met to the best of your group’s ability, with each member still comfortable with their individual workload.

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