Skills and qualities you need for a finance apprenticeship
Finance recruiters don’t expect you to hit the ground running, but they will assess you for specific skills and qualities to find out if you have the potential to juggle your responsibilities and become a contributing member of the team. Here are some of the main attributes recruiters look for in school leaver candidates.
Finance employers need new starters to be able to grasp and learn new concepts quickly. There will be a lot of terminology, subjects, products and services to get your head around – both in work and in the training you’ll be given. Your good grades at school will demonstrate your intellect, as will a strong performance in any tests employers use to select candidates.
Many finance employers look for a B or above in GCSE maths (some will accept a C grade, however - check employer websites for details), and some only accept applications from candidates who have also got a strong maths A level. The recruitment process for some finance positions includes a numerical reasoning test, which will usually require you to answer questions using facts and figures presented in statistical tables. Even if you’re a whizz in maths, it’s worth taking a few numerical reasoning tests online to practise – many are free.
Genuine interest in finance
You’ll be one step closer to getting onto a finance apprenticeship or school leaver programme if you have a genuine interest in finance. And if you can demonstrate particular interest in the area of finance that you’re applying to – be that accountancy, retail banking, insurance or another – all the better! Recruiters are looking for school leavers who are after more than a well-paid job and sponsored education.
School leaver programmes in finance can last anything from two to five years, so dedication is a must-have quality. Recruiters want school leavers who will commit to a scheme for its duration – and even stay with the company thereafter – not somebody who’ll drop out halfway through. Demonstrate your dedication during the recruitment process by highlighting any extracurricular activities that have required you to commit to regular attendance over an extended period of time.
You’ll need to be an excellent communicator as you’ll be working with colleagues and clients. Communication isn’t just about being able to speak and write in plain English; it’s also having the ability to tailor your communication style to reflect the ‘audience’. The way you communicate with friends, for instance, will be different to how you communicate with teachers. Asking questions and listening when others are speaking are also crucial ingredients in the art of effective communication.
Finance recruiters want to see that you can work well with others. Most employers will help you to build relationships with colleagues across relevant areas of the business through mentoring, networks or development programmes, but you’ll need to possess the basics of what it takes to get along with people: communication, listening skills, patience and tolerance. Your chance to demonstrate your teamworking abilities will be during the group exercise at the assessment centre and at interview.
All roles in finance will require some liaison with customers and clients, so being able to identify and serve clients’ needs is an essential requirement. Some finance companies require customer service experience, which might have been gained during a part-time summer job, while others don’t. For the latter you’ll still have to prove that you have the potential to develop the skills needed to deliver in future. There are examples you can use from your school, college or social life to illustrate your potential; perhaps you helped out at your college’s open day, for example, which involved welcoming potential students.
At the end of some training programmes in finance, such as those run by retail banks and insurance companies, you will be expected to take on a team leader or managerial role. For this reason finance recruiters seek candidates with leadership potential. During the recruitment process you’ll be asked to explain how you believe you have demonstrated leadership skills in your academic, social or work life (eg have you been in charge of a group project at school, or captained a sports team?). Read our article on how to answer competency-based interview questions to get an idea of how to use good examples in your explanations.
Organisational skills and time management
Finance apprentices need to be able to juggle a demanding workload because they work and study at the same time for the duration of the programme. Although you will typically be allocated study blocks, you’ll still have to make sure you organise and manage your time well so assignments and courses are completed on time. Prove to recruiters that you have these skills with examples from school or college, or your extracurricular activities.
Even at this stage of your career, most finance recruiters will expect you to have general commercial awareness. Commercial awareness (also known as business acumen) could be summed up as an understanding of the wider environment that businesses operate in. There are a lot of things you can do if you want to improve in this area, such as visit companies’ websites, read national newspapers and the business press, and view/listen to business-related programmes on TV and radio.