Wednesday, 20 October 2010

What's different for grad recruiting in the downturn that you should know about?....

... and I mean apart from the obvious unfortunate circumstance that numbers are likely to be reduced. What are the things that you should know if you want to get a role in a downturn?

Type of Graduate
All graduates looking for jobs in finance or banking should be Risk-aware and able to answer questions about Risk Management - and not just those applying for roles specifically in Risk. No matter what part of the company you want to work in, be aware of what the risks they have to deal with are, and how they are likely to manage risk. Try to have some examples of where you managed risk as part of a project. That's a pretty tricky question to be asked, but if you have something prepared, it comes across that you are prepared and therefore aware of the importance of risk... if you see what I mean! 

Recent history
Make sure you understand the journey of the company in the last 2-3 years in particular. Have they made a major divestment of business, or mergers with other business; what has their results profile looked for the last couple of years - what caused the peaks and troughs? What was the impact on the firm of the major events - e.g. Lehman collapse, etc.  This is one of the few areas of an interview where you really can get an answer right/wrong. I had one grad last year do really well, but when asked about where the profit was mainly coming from in our business (which was pretty readily available in the press, on our website, etc), he obviously didn't know and took a chance and said the completely wrong thing and quoted an area where we were bleeding cash! I felt really bad for him as he did such a good job for the rest of the day, but the two interviewers who heard this answer were adamant that they didn't want to hire him as it made them doubt all the rest of his knowledge... such a shame!  So beware and make sure you have these answers to hand.

Company structures, teams, ways of working and activities are changing more than ever as a result of the downturn. Cost-cutting, regulatory requirements, the aforementioned risk management, and the changing market means that change is continuous. The result of this is the work people are being asked to do is different. Sometimes different to what their expectations are and what their aspirations are. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. People are being asked to 'step up' and sometimes there is a lot more responsibility involved than they were initially intended to have.
This impacts graduate recruitment because of the need to recruit people who are likely to be open to this and 'roll with the punches' a bit more - someone flexible and adaptable; graduates who do not have an exact picture in their mind of what they want for the next five years and feel that they employer is obliged to ensure they get to do all that they want to do.

More Risk talk
In addition to Risk being a likely topic of conversation at interview, it's also a topic of conversation at assessment day wash-up sessions. When times are good, you hear "let's take a chance on him/her" more. When numbers are tight, then the business are less likely to take a risk on a grad. So, basically, it's not a time to go for anything 'quirky' in terms of your approach to answers, clothing, application forms, etc, and it is a time when you need to be very, very prepared for assessment centres.  Whilst you don't have to be perfect across all the activities, you do have to be at least very good in them all. In the past, I've seen someone do badly in one exercise, but if they did well in the others, they get the benefit of the doubt perhaps. This is happening less now. The business want to 'wait' for the perfect candidate to come along, rather than take one that is 'good enough'.

A good representative?
The City has never been under more scrutiny by the press, by the public and by the Government. We want graduates who are likely to represent the City and our company well; one who understand the concerns of the public and can articulate responses to the challenges they raise with regard to our business. We don't want to hire a graduate who is likely to attract too much attention for the wrong reasons in the press - it happens more regularly than you think. In a world of things 'going viral', no bank wants to be in the press for the wrong reasons and it doesn't take much. When you work for a company, you represent them all the time 24/7, 365 days. It might not be fair, but unfortunately it is the reality. So even something you do on a saturday night on your own time will be reported as "The man, a City banker,...." etc etc. Keep in mind everyone that works in the bank, (regardless of role!) is always "a City banker" in the press!

Be creative with your approach
Finally, the reduction in hiring permanent graduate positions does not mean there isn't still the work to do - if anything, there is more work, not less, because of the markets.  If you really want to work in IB, don't think that there is only one way in as a graduate (i.e. through the programmes).  Contracts and temp workers are often hired in greater numbers during a downturn, including at graduate level, when an employer does not want to commit to permanent staff. Agencies are usually the best way to these types of roles and its worth investigating.

Hope that helps; yes, it's tough out there, but it is by no means insurmountable. Really hope the Milkround season is well so far for my readers.

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