Part of the interview advice collection of articles.
- Tell me about yourself.
- What did you most enjoy about your last job?
- How would your colleagues or supervisor describe you?
- What can you offer us that other people cannot?
- What about this job attracts you? What is unattractive?
- How long do you see yourself with us?
- How would you describe an ideal working environment?
Standard interview questions might not seem difficult, but your answer to each should be polished and sharp. Craft responses and practice them before your interview so that they roll off your tongue when you face the interviewer. Effective responses answer questions honestly, positively, and briefly, highlighting important qualities and accomplishments that are relevant to the position at hand. Give examples to illustrate and corroborate your statements when possible. Your responses should work together, making connections between what you have previously done, the available position, and your goals.
Mark is preparing for an important interview. He is a recent graduate from law school who wishes to become a financial planner at a mid-sized firm that deals with families who have a minimum account of twenty-five million dollars. Before he went to law school, he was a financial analyst for three years and passed two levels of testing toward a CFA certification. He decided not to complete the CFA training.
His company promoted him twice during his time there, once into a management position that suited him only fairly well. He did not get the kind of training from his company that he felt he needed in order to manage people effectively. Still, he likes to help people make good decisions and he effectively led his team to create a clearer strategy for approaching new accounts. Mark seems to have a sixth sense for how to compound wealth. He knows how to spot trends and retreat from them just as they crest in profitability. He thinks he might one day become an estate planning attorney in a financial planning firm. Of course, he does not know what life will bring him. Mark does not want to constrict his options unnecessarily, and he certainly is not ready to settle down into a firm for the next ten years.
Consider how Mark might answer standard questions effectively and ineffectively.
Ineffective: I am a hard-worker who is good with numbers. After I worked as a financial analyst for a few years, I decided to go to law school. I just finished and now am looking for a new challenge.
Effective: I began developing skills relevant to financial planning when I worked as a financial analyst for three years. In that role, I succeeded in multiplying the wealth of my clients by carefully analyzing the market for trends. The return on the portfolios I managed was generally 2% more than most of the portfolios managed by my company. My initiative, planning, and analytic skills were rewarded by two promotions. As the manager of a team, I successfully led them to develop a more efficient and profitable strategy for dealing with new accounts. My subsequent training in the law, including tax law and estate law, gives me an informed view of what types of investments and charitable gifts would be most advantageous for your clients.
Ineffective: I liked lots of things-the people, the challenge, the rewards. Sometimes we had to work long hours, but it always seemed to pay off.
Effective: Of the many things that I enjoyed, I would say that the strategic aspects of my job most energized me. I liked setting concrete performance goals for myself and finding ways to meet them. I similarly enjoyed analyzing markets for trends and identifying when would be the most beneficial time to enter or withdraw from certain funds. When I was a manager, my team and I developed a new approach to accounts that became a standard for the company. Strategizing gave my work a sense of tangible direction and accomplishment.
Ineffective: I guess they would say that I am a hard worker who is successful.
Effective: My supervisor and colleagues have described me as a dependable worker. My supervisor has appreciated that I prioritize tasks and manage my responsibilities so that she can rely on me. My bosses tell me I have a sixth sense for markets and I learn new information and procedures quickly. These skills account for my two promotions in three years. My boss was also impressed by how I was able to lead my team.
Ineffective: I have a unique combination of skills. I also really want the job.
Effective: I have a track-record of multiplying wealth through investments and developing strategies with teams. Since I have a JD, I also know what legal parameters and loopholes affect families and individuals planning their finances. My CFA training not only shows that I will succeed in the CFP courses, but also gives me a broader view of why financial plans work as they do. Since I am organized and self-motivated, I will add value to the company without requiring much tending and supervision.
Ineffective: I like that it is in the field I am targeting. I don’t like the commute that it will require.
Effective: As I evaluate my skills and goals, this job maximizes on both. I will be able to merge my knowledge of law and markets while strategizing for the sound financial future of clients. Since this is a small company, I imagine that there will be opportunity for increased responsibilities and challenges. I share the values of the company. I am not eager to do much data processing, but the position is very attractive.
Ineffective: I don’t want to make any hasty commitments, and I like to keep my options open. Maybe I will be here for one year, maybe for five. It depends.
Effective: I see myself here as long as we both think that I am contributing to the vitality of the company while still being grown through challenges.
Ineffective: A laptop and cell phone on a beach sound ideal to me. Short of that, I would like an environment in which I am able to work as I please, without much supervision.
Effective: It is important to me that my company has clear objectives and strives for success. Similarly, I like having colleagues whom I admire for their skills and perspectives. When communication is clear between colleagues, our energy becomes synergy. In addition, I find that I flourish when given discretion after having gained the trust of my supervisor.
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