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DSC_2756Looking to enter the finance industry or achieving the next step by becoming CEO?

The panel of internal and external recruitment specialists had great advice for all stages of one’s career. Although working with external recruiters was a key focus, the two internal recruiters provided an additional perspective.

Although it is straightforward for gentlemen to wear suits to interviews, Robert Becker, Senior Recruitment Partner at BMO Harris Bank, has observed that is not always the case. On the other hand, ladies do not have it so easy. Laura Pollock, Founding Partner of Third Street Partners, recommended emulating Margaret Thatcher: Pearls are classic. She also advised on conservative colors and midsized heals.  What can we all do?  Make sure your shoes are polished.

Thank you notes maybe ubiquitous, but the finer points set applicants apart. Pollock and others stated a hand written note is ideal, but may not reach your interviewer(s) in a timely fashion, depending upon the company. The sure route is a thank you, within 12 hours, via email in which brevity is important.  Becker prefers two to three sentences that are personalized and unique. Jim Schroeder, Executive Vice President of DHR International, emphasized that one must write as though the interviewers would compare their thank you notes.

Cover letters are dead. Although Lyndon A. Taylor, a partner at Heidrick & Struggles, focuses on executive and board level placements, he spoke generally when stating cover letters have “no value.” Pollock added, when applying by contacting an employee directly, the body of the email is the place where applicants should state how they would add value. On the other hand, an acquaintance informed me that a well written cover letter secured him an interview. My conclusion is that the traditional cover letter is a dying breed in its current form. Evolution is driving it to change with some companies or be ignored in others. In short, it depends.

The Q&A session allowed attendees to address additional topics, such as references. Taylor mentioned three to five references are sufficient. Also, who is listed as a reference and who is not is very informative. The external recruiters generally check informal references first. So Pollock voiced it is best to leave a position in a graceful, thoughtful way.

Compensation can be unpleasant topic, but rest assured, every offer is negotiable. Schroeder continued by suggesting one could ask for additional vacation time; however the sum must be a function of historical economies, current economies, and the company’s internal economies. Negotiate what is most important to you. Julie Nagle, Head of Human Resources with Harris Associates, mentioned she used McLagan’s proprietary compensation publications to ensure their offers fit well within the three economies. Working with a recruiter has the added benefit where it is encouraged to discuss compensation and the filtered counteroffer is proposed.

In addition to the future compensation negotiation, a key topic for the recruiters was the truthful disclosure of a three to five year of historical earnings. Pollock stated if you are not upfront with your previous compensation, she cannot continue forward. Becker provided the perspective that if the requested compensation is out of their range; multiple departments have to rework aspects of the position delaying the hiring process by multiple weeks.

Schroeder recommends building the relationship overtime, but admitted that a failed return call happens on occasion, so recruiters sometimes need pushing. The key in developing the relationship is being forthright with your end goal. These comments seemed directed at the higher level positions and do not directly translate to higher throughput recruiters.

Other than chatting with current or former employees, it is difficult to gauge the culture within a particular company which sparked a discussion on Glassdoor. The panel concurred that employee reviews on Glassdoor should be taken with a grain of salt. One should look for patterns, trends, or common denominators as a means to gain insights.

Pollock addressed career gaps, especially for women. Sadly, taking time off to raise kids was historically frowned upon; however, today stating your focus during the break and your eagerness to achieve in the position should be sufficient. If the company doesn’t understand your decisions, it is probably a company you don’t want to work for. Julie added her encouraging, personal story of resigning to aid her family for about year and return to the force with Harris Associates.

Similarly, if one wants to move into an unrelated position, the panel stated it is best to work towards a move within the company to a comparable position. Otherwise, it becomes dramatically more difficult.  Becker mentioned BMO’s policy of supporting internal moves after three years to broaden individuals and teams’ experiences.

Finally, one of the best pieces of advice the panel mentioned was that looking for a job should be a part of your career.  Keep in contact with your network and reconnect with one’s you haven’t spoken to in over six months. Perhaps, a lifelong friend is a lunch-away.