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How graduates can convince finance recruiters that they have leadership potential

From retail banks to investment management firms; organisations across the finance industry seek graduates who have leadership potential.
You don’t actually need to have led a team in order to convince finance organisations that you possess leadership skills.

Leadership potential is among the qualities that finance recruiters seek in graduates vying for a job in the industry. For example, investment bank Goldman Sachs and insurer Aviva have included a question about leadership in their past online application forms, while retail banks including HSBC typically take on graduates with the hope of developing future leaders. But, what does leadership potential, leadership skills, or the like, actually mean?

What is leadership experience?

Leadership is the application of certain skills, qualities and knowledge to ensure optimum performance and the best possible results are achieved from people.


establish where outside assistance might be needed | give clear direction and encourage communication | delegate responsibility appropriately and fairly | consider potential obstacles or constraints | identify and understand the objective | trust others to use their judgment | make and implement decisions | intervene when necessary | plan to achieve the goal | show appreciation | monitor progress | meet deadlines | give feedback.

The best examples you can give are those where you have led people and your leadership made a direct contribution to the team’s success. They can be taken from your university, work, extracurricular or personal experiences. Perhaps during an academic group project your team was presented with an obstacle and you made a quick decision and took effective action on behalf of your peers. Why did you take action? How did you come to a decision? How did you persuade your peers that this was the best action to take? What steps did you take to resolve the problem? What was the outcome?

Why do finance recruiters ask about your leadership experience?

Finance employers don’t expect you to be able to lead a team or project immediately – you’ll undergo training for around two years if you’re a graduate recruit. Employers want to find out if you have leadership potential because, should you be employed permanently, it’ll enable you to make a greater contribution to the business down the line.

An associate at Goldman Sachs told TARGETjobs that leadership is one of the essential skills an employee should have. Further into his career with Goldman Sachs, he was asked by management to set up a new venture for the bank. This is the type of project you could lead in the future if you have this competency.

What if you don’t have a leadership example?

You don’t actually need to have led a team in order to convince finance organisations that you possess leadership skills. You have more than likely developed some of the skills listed above outside of an explicit leadership position.

Mull over the list above and think about a time when you have displayed any of those skills. Did you intervene when the group was going off track? Did you motivate colleagues when they were losing enthusiasm? Or perhaps you recognised the contribution others made and praised their work?

How can you succinctly answer a leadership question?

If asked about your leadership experience in an application form or during an interview, use the STAR method to provide a concise and relevant response.

  1. Situation: set the context in which you had the experience. For example: ‘During a group exercise at university, we were due to complete the final pages of our website, and a classmate lost the disc on which the related data was saved.’
  2. Task: what was required of you. For example: ‘It was my responsibility to build and maintain webpage links and upload images, which I did before my classmate lost the disc.’
  3. Action: what you actually did. For example: ‘I had also developed a few basic webpage templates earlier in the process that could have been easily adapted, should the group have needed them. I extended our deadline by persuading our tutor to give us more time, and got the team to use my templates to finish the project.’
  4. Result: the outcome. For example: ‘We submitted a complete website just a few hours after the deadline, and our tutor was pleased and gave us a good grade.’

The example above shows that it is possible to provide a detailed answer within the limited word count on an application form. Additionally, included in the example are other competencies that finance organisations want candidates to have, such as:

  • highly motivated
  • sound judgment
  • innovative and driven
  • persuasion and influencing skills
  • technical skills (if you’re going for a technical role)