With graduate recruitment in full swing for next year’s programme intake, many young students are preparing for interviews for their first Quant job. We thought you might appreciate some advice on how to nail it, from Quants that have been there and done that successfully.

Tshegofatso Thipe and Brynne Lewis joined Standard Bank’s Data Science Graduate Programme at the beginning of 2021. Both completed an undergraduate BSc, majoring in Mathematics and Statistics. Brynne has completed her Honours as well, and Tshegofatso plans to do hers in 2022. They went through four rounds of interviews and assessments to land their sought-after positions with Standard Bank, and both agree that keeping calm is key to a successful interview.

“Everyone gets nervous,” says Tshegofatso, “it’s perfectly natural, and the interviewers know that. Even so, it’s important to calm yourself beforehand.”

For Tshegofatso, there were three keys to keeping her nerves in check. “I did a lot of breathing exercises!” she laughs. “But it’s also important to do a lot of research on the organisation. And finally, dress the part. If you’re dressed professionally, it shows you take yourself and the interviewers seriously and you feel more confident.”

Brynne’s approach was all about preparation. “I did a lot of research about the company, and I prepared answers for the questions I thought they might ask me during the interview. Because my degree isn’t very technical, I also did some research about data science in case they asked more technical questions. Then, I made sure I had at least 10 minutes of quiet meditation time before the interview started, just to settle myself and clear my head.”

Technology takes centre stage

With most interviews taking place electronically to ensure social distancing and avoid unnecessary risk of exposure to COVID-19, it’s also important to make sure your WiFi signal is strong, and your equipment is working.

Brynne advises: “Find a spot with good lighting and do a camera check beforehand. Interviewers totally understand any interruptions or background noise but do try to be in a quiet place for your interview if you can. If not, be upfront and offer apologies for noise because it will be distracting but it’s easier if you just address it. Join the interview at least five minutes before the start time to make sure there are no connection issues.”

“I had terrible signal on the day of my interview,” Tshegofatso recalls, “and we ended up driving around looking for somewhere with a strong signal so that I could connect for the interview. It was nerve-wracking! But I think in the end my resilience in this situation was one of the reasons Standard Bank offered me the opportunity to join their programme.”

If you are worried about connectivity in your area, let the interviewer know and share your mobile number. If you have connectivity issues on the day of your interview and can’t find a place with good enough signal to do a video call, the interview could be done telephonically instead. At the very least, the interviewer will be able to get in touch you to reschedule if needs be.

Q&A

There are a few questions almost every interviewer will ask, such as whether you know the company’s values, or who their CEO is. “When they ask about the values, don’t just list them,” Brynne advises. “Try to link those values to your own life and share scenarios when you embodied their values.”

Another two favourites are “Tell us about yourself?” and “What are your weaknesses?” For the first, Brynne advises: “Tell them your name, where you currently live, what you studied or are studying and why. You should mention why you want the job and what you want to do next. It’s also a good idea to mention a hobby or two to highlight your personality. I found it helpful to format my answer to this question as past, present and future.”

When asked about weaknesses, Brynne’s advice is to mention the weakness but also mention how you’re working on it. “Don’t simply say ‘Oh, I’m not great at working in a team’. The interviewers are looking for someone who sees the value in improving themselves, so it’s important to show that you’re doing that.”

Another important question to prepare for is “Why do you want to join us?”

“For me, it was about how passionate Standard Bank is about the African Continent – about its development and economic growth, and how the bank plays a part in that,” Tshegofatso says. “You have to show the interviewer that you are informed about the company, and genuinely interested in being a part of what they do. I wanted join Standard Bank because what they do is purposeful to me.”

And one last word advice: “Express your gratitude,” Tshegofatso says. “Remember to thank the interviewers for the opportunity, and for their time.”