How to write your way to a job in finance

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How to write your way to a job in finance


Job applicants at local financial institutions often hear a common phrase during the process: “You look like you have gotten three years older.”

While banks often ask applicants to craft lengthy essays about life challenges, writing an essay that will land a coveted job at Shinhan or KB Kookmin is a challenge in itself. Essays, which can be lengthy, can make or break an application.

The process hasn’t changed much in the first half of this year’s recruiting season. Job seekers had a hard time finding out what companies actually wanted to hear and struggled to communicate those thoughts in 5,000 characters.

The JoongAng Ilbo talked to human resources employees at Korea’s four major local banks - KEB Hana, KB Kookmin, Woori and Shinhan - to ask what they are looking for in applicants’ essays and see what type of applicants caught their attention.

Woori Bank’s third question in its job applications for 2014 and 2015 was a popular topic among job seekers: “Visit one of Woori Bank’s branches, and tell us the differences between us and other banks.”

This year, the bank changed the question to: “Woori Bank tries to make changes by offering creative services such as Wibee Bank. Tell us about your own experience of making changes through creative thinking.”

Lee Tae-young, a director at Woori Bank, said that the bank changed the question to focus more on finding applicants with creative ideas. Similarly, another question asked applicants to share their own experiences with gutsiness.

Humanities topics are popular essays for applicants. Banks often ask questions like: “Tell us a character that appears in a book that is similar to you.” “Is there a book that changed your life?” “What is art?”

These questions are used to measure applicants’ creativity and communications skills, recruiters say.

“We ask questions related to the humanities in order to find someone who can communicate, cooperate with others and work creatively,” an official at KB Kookmin Bank said. “And of course, we do want to see how much they want to work in finance.”

Questions about strengths and weaknesses are also popular.

Shinhan asked applicants to evaluate the bank’s strengths and weaknesses during the recruitment process and solicited ideas for improvement. This move by the financial institution drew criticism from those who saw the bank as using applicants to get free consulting.

“It was not our purpose at all,” a Shinhan representative said. “We wanted our applicants to think of themselves as one of us and to have them solve or improve the issues that we might have.”

Financial institutions are lowering the word limits. While at one time, banks required essays of 10,000 Korean characters, more institutions are slicing the writing requirements to 3,000 to 5,000 characters after backlash from applicants.

KB Kookmin sets no word count on some of its questions.

Recruiters emphasize that the length of an essay means nothing, even suggesting that applicants don’t have to meet the length requirements.

“It is more important for them to write logically,” said Park Ki-hong, a manager at Shinhan.

Industry insiders recommend applicants write essays based on their life experiences. Many companies ask people to write about lessons to see how they have handled complicated situations in the past. So phrases like “I will be a faithful employee” are meaningless.

Recruiters are also not necessarily seeking creative writers. Instead, applicants need to focus on the question and answer it directly.

“There are many cases where some applicants write down the wrong company’s name and write something that is not relevant to the question,” a representative from KEB Hana Bank said.

Job seekers who ask someone else to write cover letters for them eventually are caught in the interview process, recruiters say. During the interview, recruiters ask applicants questions based on submitted essays.

Industry insiders said that having a ghost writer is a black mark on an application.


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