Big banks have taken it on the chin in recent years, arguably the victims of their own hubris, financial and otherwise. Now financial institutions are looking for a tenacious new breed of banking professionals, ideally with a thick skin and even thicker experience collaborating with mobile colleagues and making tough, independent decisions.
According to an April 2013 study from Robert Half, a Menlo Park, CA-based professional staffing firm, 90% of financial services executives surveyed report "difficulties in recruiting good talent." In short, analysts at Robert Half say that banks want to hire, but are focusing on tough-to-fill positions.
"While some areas within financial services institutions have seen cutbacks, other more profitable product lines are receiving further investment, which has resulted in additional hiring," explains Neil Owen, a director at Robert Half. "This is creating challenges in finding the requisite staff to capitalize on emerging opportunities. Competition for the industry's top talent continues to intensify for middle and back-office roles, particularly accounting and finance, as well as operations positions."
Part of that trend comes from surging demand by banks for new hires with the regulatory background needed for government mandates from the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Other critical areas of need for banks include consumer fraud protection, as financial institutions staff up to combat identity fraud, and for mortgage service professionals to handle burgeoning demand for new home purchases from U.S. consumers.
But that only explains the responsibilities banks are looking for new hires to fulfill. It doesn't dig too deeply into who banks want to bring on board and what character traits they possess. Banks, it turns out, have an image problem after huge taxpayer bailouts, miniscule rates of return on bank savings investments, like certificates of deposits and money market accounts, and tight lending and credit practices.
"People don't trust bankers," says Rick Maurer, a change management consultant who advises financial services firms, among other industries, on how to streamline their operations and operate more effectively. "Consequently, banks need employees who can earn people's trust – and that's not easy." The trust issue is the number one trait that banks are looking for in new hires. Here are some more traits, or make that "abilities," to add to that list:
Maurer says that banks are really looking for new hires that can mend fences, collaborate and who know how to rebuild that "trust" issue that's important to banks.
"Since banks need to regain that trust, especially big banks, they're looking for new employees that know how to build strong working relationships. That's on the top of the list for financial institutions," he says. "In order to attract investors, get regulatory agencies to listen to your point-of-view and convince people throughout the bank to support major new projects, banks need leaders who can collaborate. A bank's future rests on that leader's ability to earn people's trust. Without it, it's all just a bunch of numbers."
Great Academic Performers
Banks, especially the bigger ones, interview thousands of job candidates. Try as they might, separating the wheat from the chaff isn't easy. When a hiring decision comes down to two equally matched candidates, both of whom performed well on interviews and have strong experience for the post, banks usually wind up taking the candidate with the higher college (and in lower-level posts, high school) grade point averages. Why? Frankly, because it's easier for hiring managers, and choosing candidates based on GPAs has a good track record.
Strong GPAs and high SAT scores are a reliable predictor of performance. As they say on Wall Street, past performance really is an indicator of future performance. For more advanced job candidates that have been in the job market for 10 years or more, references can take the place of strong GPAs. Again, banks are looking for accurate predictors of performance, and academic records and professional references are among the first items on their checklists.
Candidates Who Perform in Multiple Fronts
Banks love top performers who have a good track record in multiple areas – the more specific the better. That's why banks are looking for those specifics on resumes. In fact, they use sophisticated keyword software to weed out unacceptable candidates. If terms like "profits," "mortgages," "interest rates," and "relationship banking" aren't on your resume, they should be. Banks will move on if they don't see you have experience on the multiple fronts they're looking for.
It's also best to be as specific as possible on your resume to survive that keyword software cut. For example, instead of saying you were so good at relationship banking that you brought in multiple accounts, say you landed $5 million in new accounts and or that you managed $50 million in bank customer assets.
Banks also favor new hires that come with a strong work ethic. Top hires have resumes that show candidates with multiple jobs at one time, or demonstrate an ability to juggle hectic schedules and still perform. That's why so many investment banks hire college athletes.
The Bottom Line
These obviously aren't the only traits banks look for in new hires. The ability to speak multiple languages and having a master's degree in business certainly will boost your chances. But in a dynamic banking environment where change is constant and demand for talent is high, leverage the traits listed above and see if that doesn't land your financial services dream job.