Private Wealth Management: The Interview Process

by Derek Loosvelt | March 31, 2009

The interview process for full-time and summer internship positions in wealth management starts either on campus, when you sign up to meet with the recruiter, or after you've sent in your resume and are contacted for your first interview. Generally, the first interview is somewhat informal, especially at the college level, though you should always act professionally.

Most large firms target 10 to 12 campuses for full-time entry-level recruitment efforts, usually in September or October of the final school year. After first-round interviews, the human resources department sifts through all the resumes and interview notes to find those candidates they want to bring into the office.

Second interviews also happen in the fall, and candidates are often flown to New York, or wherever the main office is, for the occasion. If there's a third interview required, they will typically occur during October or November. Soon after second- or third-round interviews, you'll have a yes or no.

The interview process for summer internships usually occurs later than that for full-time positions.

Interview questions

The interview is a very detailed dance at most private wealth management firms, with the questions well thought out and structured, and the answers scrutinized carefully. Especially for entry-level positions, a good interview can be the top deciding factor in hiring. "I don't care necessarily what their degree is in. I want to know what makes them tick," says one frequent HR interviewer at a private wealth management firm.As with most Wall Street interviews, you can expect a series of very general questions as well as some questions to determine your financial acumen. However, you'll find that the interview can be more personal at times, with your interviewer asking about hobbies and social matters. You'll also be given some situational questions unique to private wealth management.

You won't find some of the bluster or bravado that you might have experienced interviewing for trading desk jobs or investment banking. Private bankers are still masters of the universe, but that universe is the client, and the client is treated with deep respect. The customer-focused aspects of the business will come through in a very professional, genial interview, for the most part, though the questions can and will be tough.

Sample Interview Questions: General Questions

Why do you want a career in private wealth management?
While private wealth management has grown in popularity as a career choice in recent years, it's still perceived as a smaller cousin to the other Wall Street opportunities. Investment bankers chart the fate of major corporations, while traders can have millions of dollars riding on their actions. Private wealth management? Why would you want to hold Aunt Matilda's hand while working with her on a boring fixed income portfolio for her and her cat? Or for that matter, is the allure of catering to an ultra-rich movie star or famous CEO your primary motivation? (If so, best to back away slowly right now. Those jobs are the most important in any PWM firm, and you just won't get those clients for many years.) Show that you understand what private wealth management is, what attracts you to the job, and the opportunities you see there for your own career growth, as well as the growth of the industry itself.

So what led you to this company?
You should familiarize yourself not only with the firm you're interviewing with, but also a number of other private banks as well, for comparison's sake. At a private bank that's part of a Wall Street firm or financial giant, certainly the reputation of the company is a factor, since you know you'll get exposure to the best in the business. For smaller firms, it's time to talk about the entrepreneurial spirit and the personal touch. Check out the latest private wealth management rankings in magazines like the Robb Report, Worth, or Euromoney. Go through the firm's web site for more details. Know what you're talking about.

What are your greatest strengths?
This is a good place to emphasize not only your financial know-how, but also your personal side. Private wealth management firms want to see someone who's patient, compassionate and cognizant of the responsibility they have in managing someone's fortune. They want someone able to take complex issues and break them down so that average people understand them. Don't get too touchy-feely, but definitely emphasize interpersonal skills.

What are your greatest weaknesses?
Never answer this question with anything remotely unflattering. Impatience is going to be a problem for your candidacy. A lack of social graces will doom you. If you failed math, that's probably not ideal either. Saying that you don't have weaknesses could sound a little too cocky--fine for the guys in the boiler room, but private bankers need a bit more circumspection than that. A difficulty with English lit classes or a propensity toward too much coffee would do nicely, but don't try to be overly witty, and be careful that your answer can't backfire on you.

What skills do you have that make you a good candidate for our program?
Time to get specific with class work, job experience and those interpersonal skills. Be sure to highlight those items mentioned on your resume, and go into those experiences in greater detail. Good problem-solving and analytical skills are important, as is an ability to network and come up with new projects or ideas. You want to present yourself as someone with some good, raw skills in economics and finance, but also as someone who can work a room, listen quietly when need be and act compassionately.

What motivates you?
Yes, greed is good. You can certainly say that the entrepreneurial aspects of the job appeal to you. The money is good, but that's a given for any job on Wall Street. The concept of really helping people to better their lives is a good one, as long as you can pull it off without sounding corny. Something to the effect of, "I do feel like I'm a self-starter, very entrepreneurial, and the opportunity to build a client base, a business really, is very attractive. And yes, money helps. But with this firm, I find the notion of working with people who have worked so hard for their money, helping them manage it and have a better life, that's really compelling."

What are some of your outside interests?
Not that you'll have time to pursue them once you get a job, but feel free to discuss whatever you do to blow off steam, challenge your mind, improve your health or just relax. The interviewer is looking for a more balanced person, since they tend to have better interpersonal skills and can more easily relate to a client's complex needs than someone who goes to school then day-trades the rest of the time.

Are you a risk taker?
Very tricky question, this one. High-net-worth clients may have become rich by taking big risks, but now that they are rich, that desire to put it all on the line over and over understandably wanes. Most clients want to ensure they and their families have plenty of money to live on for years to come, and aren't about to chase massive returns. The best answer is to discuss risk as a part of life, and that yes, sometimes you have to take risk--even enjoy it, at times. However, you should note that there are solid, well-informed risks and stupid risks. You prefer the former.

Where do you want to be in five years?
You really want to say "right here" without really saying that. If you're an undergrad, it's perfectly OK to mention that you might want to pursue your MBA, but otherwise, you should say that you want to be in private wealth management in some capacity, working with clients and helping them with their financial issues.

Filed Under: Finance


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