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Interviewing for a finance position

Make a personal commitment that your employer and their customers will get more than what they pay for

Wealth management and investment banking is rarely compatible with a good work-life balance.

THE single best investment that anyone can make is to invest in ourselves, for a better career and higher earnings prospects. These goals lead many young graduates to seek a career in finance.

Having just conducted an extensive round of interviews for a position recently in our company, I felt compelled to write on this topic as there are some very big gaps between what job applicants think a job in finance entails, and what their potential employers expect.

For over 2,000 years, adults have complained about the younger generation thinking only of themselves, being impatient and not having respect for their elders. Since this gap in expectations between generations has always been a fact of life, this article will not be about the laments of older people on millennials preferring work-life balance over hard work.

In the last two generations, after devastating wars and poverty, most workers were primarily concerned with survival. With greater affluence over the last 40 years, worrying about where the next meal will come from is no longer the biggest motivator in finding a job, so loftier goals emerge. These include making an impact on society, finding a calling, or having a more balanced life between work and leisure.

Finding one's calling

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Finding one's calling in life goes beyond specific goals. Achieving a life monetary goal is not as satisfying as you would think. And if the monetary incentives of a career in finance are taken away, most people would likely look for a different job. Finding your own path means choosing a way of life that resonates strongly with you.

In assessing whether finance is right for you, and preparing for an upcoming interview, think about the following points.

Wealth management and investment banking are rarely compatible with a good work-life balance. If the number of days off in a job is a factor in your decision, finance is not for you. On almost every day of the year, stock markets are open somewhere in the world so finance professionals need to be constantly up to date on the latest news.

Be humble. If you are pitching your personal stock trading model and the profits that it makes, be prepared to have your strategy taken apart and all its flaws exposed. If you have not lived through multiple major investment crisis periods with your own money on the line, do not extrapolate one year's results. If despite all this, you are convinced you can compound annually at 20 per cent, borrow $50,000 from your parents and work for yourself. In 40 years' time you'll have more than $70 million.

Your employer has likely seen his share of market crashes and will be sceptical; if they employ you, they will need to spend time, effort and money to train you. Rather than claiming that you can contribute from day one, be grateful for the chance to learn while getting paid to do so. You can focus on what you can contribute to an employer after you have had 10 years of experience.

Do not make stuff up during the interview. If you are going to say that Benjamin Graham's The Intelligent Investor is your favourite investment book, you should know what "net-net" stocks are. If you have never read a book about stock trading, do not say that your passion is investing. A much better choice is to recognise your lack of experience, and be a keen and fast learner. Not only will no one fault you for this, it will go a long way to establish your credibility. Research the company where you are applying for a job, and the person with whom you are interviewing. A cover letter that addresses the reader by name will go to the top of the list, compared to one that starts with "Dear Sir/Madam".

Remember that all of us are hard-wired to be self-centred from birth. Both parties come to the interview with the same question in mind: what can you do for me? If your focus is solely on yourself, your chances of landing the job will not be high.

Finally, instead of focusing solely on what you can get out of the job (salary, days off, perks, etc), if you make a personal commitment that your employer and their customers will get more than what they pay for, you will be a step ahead of everyone else.

  • The writer is co-founder of AL Wealth Partners, an independent Singapore-based company providing investment and fund management services to endowments and family offices, and wealth-advisory services to accredited individual investors

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