Graduate Telephone Interviews

Employers use the telephone as a time-management tool, to screen out candidates.Your goal is to get an interview or Assessment Centre invite. So all you must do is convince the employer that he or she will not be wasting their time in meeting you. Here’s how.

Be ready. If its a large financial institution these calls are normally scheduled.Clearly be in a suitable place to take the call. If for some reason you are caught ‘off-guard’ perfectly fine to say in a calm pleasant manner “Thank you for calling Mr Smith. Would you kindly wait a moment whilst I shut the door?” Take 20 seconds, calm yourself, call up their website, get your notes together. Remember which programme / division you have applied for. Thank him for waiting. Otherwise you should have all this ready to go.

Allow the person to guide the interview. The interviewer may not give you the normal opportunity to sell yourself so always have a few intelligent questions ready so you can do so. More to come on questions. Furthermore, to help keep your end of the interview going, always add short comments that don’t interrupt the interviewer’s flow e.g. “That’s interesting”  “I see” “That’s great”. If the interviewer talks about the company try and add a comment admiring a achievement by the company / bank e.g. “Yes I saw XYX was ranked 1st in etc…”

Specific Questions

  • Obviously avoid any yes / no answers and at the same time no ‘waffling’.
  • Nothing wrong in the call saying once “ May I just think about that for a moment..”
  • Try and give real life examples. This was the problem. This is what I did. This was the outcome. Show that everybody benefitted.

There are many questions you could be asked in a face-to-face interview, and I cover these in other posts, but the questions you are likely to be asked on a telephone interview are a lot more limited as it’s not the time for the either party to really drill down into the detail i.e.you! They’ll do that face-to-face.

Furthermore the interviewer at that stage is likely to be an HR person or a non-senior business person, perhaps an analyst who was on the Graduate Scheme a few years ago. You’re unlikely to get ‘grilled’ at this stage. So questions are more likely to be about you as an individual rather than the deep workings of the financial industry.

Be prepared for Tell  Me A Bit About Yourself?” Given a telephone interview may only be 10-15 minutes long you need to cut down the normal face-to-face interview 60- 90 second answer to this question to about half this length.

Certainly the content of a classic Cover Letter will likely come up:

  • Why you ?
  • Why this sector /programme e.g. M&A?
  • Why this company e.g. Deutsche Bank?

The suggested content answers to those questions are covered in my Cover Letter post. 

Certainly be ready for

 “What are your greatest strengths?”

If you know of specific skills they are looking for e.g. risk management, quant, credit analysis, sales then clearly refer to your skills, academic and real world exposure to this if you have this work experience.

If it’s a general programme refer to your all-round financial academic and work experience skills including “people skills”  i.e. enjoy being part of a team etc..

“What is your greatest weakness?”

Lots of applicants struggle with this. Don’t necessarily pick an actual flaw or weakness. Rather go with a skill you are not so great at but have made a proactive effort to improve e.g. I know haven’t spent much time in any leadership situations, so I’m not totally confident in that at the moment, but to address this I put myself forward, and have been elected, for the Chairman of the University Athletics Club.

In other words. You recognise a weakness and these are the steps you are taking to address it.  

“Tell me about your hobbies” 

Not a difficult question assuming you’re prepared. Make it non-academic. Reading The Economist or Financial Times is a poor answer. Employers want well-rounded individual who are going to fit in. Referring to team sports of course is a good fit here but always have some non-sport related activities at your fingertips e.g a voluntary work reference or similar.

I see you have this Work Experience. How did you secure that? 

Again you should be prepared for this. Stay away from any favours you used to secure this. Much better is how you pro-actively approached a number of individuals or companies until it all fell into place. Any slightly unconventional approach where you thought ‘outside the box’ will go down well.

Your Closing Questions

Towards the close of the telephone interview you will be asked if you have any questions. Again never ask the questions you really want the answer to. Ask perhaps two questions which are ;  

  • straight-forward for the interviewer to answer rather than put him / her on the spot
  • open-ended allowing the interviewer to talk on a bit if they so choose
  • continue to sell yourself

e.g. Do graduates tend to stay with your company (once they finished the Graduate Programme) as I’m really looking to build a career with a company rather than just secure a job offer?

e.g  You mentioned about X, could you say a bit more about that?  (and when he / she is finished “Sounds good “).

e.g. Can you tell me what the next steps are please should I be successful in progressing to next stage (this also gives them a mental image of you progressing to the next stage!)

Finally in closing your conversation thank them for their time today using their exact surname (not many will do this and everyone likes to hear their own name) and say that from everything you have learnt today you remain very keen on a potential career with XYZ and look forward to hearing back from them.

Get their full name and email them with 24 hours stating the above.  

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About Paul McCormick

Paul McCormick is the founder of Opening City Doors and is a Financial Market Specialist having worked for several leading Investment Banks and financial technology institutions additionally.He therefore provides a unique insight, and unusually broad perspective, into the opportunities available in London Financial Markets and related sectors and how to launch your career in the ‘City’.