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|When seeking the top candidates in the financial services sector, recruiters can and should be asking the standard on-the-spot technical tests that include valuation and modelling queries, accounting questions and old-fashioned brain teasers that candidates expect.
These questions – along with more technical questions along the lines of “What’s the difference between a UK/European Option and a U.S. Option?” and “How do you calculate Value at Risk and what are its parameters?” – ensure that a candidate’s ability matches his or her experience on paper.
While it is important for recruiters to ensure that candidates understand common terminology and processes, it is often more surprising, and telling, when recruiters ask unorthodox, thought-provoking questions. These questions not only allow candidates and recruiters to break the ice and build a rapport, but they can also demonstrate how a candidate’s mind works and how he or she reacts to ambiguity.
For example, Goldman Sachs has a notoriously tough interview process that can see candidates quizzed up to 30 times by telephone and in person. In addition to questions about candidates’ experience and expert knowledge, the company uses more maverick questions as a way to see how candidates may fit in with the bank’s particular culture, one key aspect of long-term employee retention.
The following questions are just a sample of these kinds of out-of-the-box questions (that were actually asked in interviews), and what each answer may show you about the individual who answers it.
The purpose of this question is really to understand what the candidate interprets as a moral dilemma and why he/she thinks it is. Any answer should be tailored around a situation that has not been created or caused by the candidate and that (most importantly) results in an ethical decision/action being taken.
The candidate is not expected to produce the correct answer to the question. The purpose of it is to see how the candidate reacts under pressure and how the candidate uses logical deduction to estimate an answer. It is also important to show spatial awareness and causality.
This question also allows candidates to show how well they think on their feet, as well as offering some clues about which personal attributes they find appealing. For example, if a candidate answers, “A cat, because they are stealthy, and I enjoy working primarily on my own,” you may deduce that he or she would not be a good fit for a team environment.
Ultimately designed to get at the heart of teamwork and selflessness, this question helps candidates demonstrate their ability to see beyond their own responsibilities and job descriptions and prove that they are willing to exceed expectations, perhaps without recognition along the way.
The worst answers to this question involve candidates who claim not to have made any bad business decisions. Humans are fallible, and making (and admitting to) mistakes means that you have had the opportunity to learn and grow, essential skills at any level. Answers that demonstrate a clear pattern of learning from previous mistakes are indicators of a candidate worth consideration.
The best response is around ensuring that the tone is correct at the top of the organisation and cascading it right through the company. Unrealistic or weak answers (ex: “Treat everyone as a best friend!” or “Give everyone a hug!”) demonstrate an inability to see the big picture, follow process, and lead a team.
As with most of these kinds of questions, there’s no “real” answer. However, one way candidates can respond when faced with a difficult question is to admit that they just don’t know. Understanding that people cannot know everything shows that the candidate is willing to admit weakness. Humility is necessary in finance; arrogance can surely lead to failure.
While many candidates may say that their proudest achievement is being a parent, skilled candidates will also have a well-rounded work-life balance and keen interests outside home and work. For instance, running marathons, hiking, playing an instrument, or learning a new skill shows that the candidate is a lifelong learner, willing to take on a new endeavor despite the possibility of failure. One candidate even aspired to read 100 books in a year – and she exceeded her goal!
Ultimately, hiring a bad employee can be a truly costly mistake, so going the extra step to ensure you evaluate candidates not just on their skills, but also on their ability to align with your company culture can ensure that the candidate who looks great on paper doesn’t leave after just a few months.
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