Ask an Employer: How to Land a Job in High-Stakes Finance

How do employers view the value of higher education? In this series, we ask leaders and hiring managers from a wide variety of industries about what qualities and experience—educational or otherwise—they look for when hiring new employees. In this installment, we interviewed Seth Derdzinski, Director of Credit Strategies and Analytics for Bank of America.

Seth QA

Name: Seth Derdzinski
Company: Bank of America
Title: Director of Credit Strategy and Analytics
Years on the job: 11 years
Number of employees managed: 17
Education: B.A. in Economics, Wittenberg University; M.B.A. in Finance,  Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University Chicago; J.D., The John Marshall Law School

As Director of Credit Strategies and Analytics for Bank of America, Seth Derdzinski understands and handles high-stakes pressure daily. Working for one of the biggest financial corporations in the country, his position requires him to deliver credit solutions for high net-worth clients.

“Our team is responsible for the strategic and analytical support to deliver products to our clients. We employ a fact-based, data-driven process that allows us to not only make objective strategic decisions, but also prioritize our strategic initiatives focusing on those with highest and best returns,” Derdzinski said.

With so much on the line for Derdzinski  and his team, hiring the right kind of employee is crucial. Derdzinski  told us a little bit about what he values when hiring someone new.

Q: What are your goals or biggest priorities when hiring new employees?
A: They need to demonstrate competence, work ethic, and a can-do attitude. Direct experience is a benefit as well, but the first three trump the experience side, because learning on the job is crucial and requires the candidate to possess the first three attributes.

Q: Why do you believe that to be the case? Where does education fall in the hiring process?
A: With most positions, learning on the job is a critical component. It’s good to have people who come in with fresh ideas. They need to have the ability to think and to solve problems — traits that are much more well developed with education. Successfully completing a degree program is also an indication that one possesses the characteristics I mentioned earlier, and in addition, a willingness  and tenacity to complete what they started.

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Q: What challenges have you encountered during the hiring process?
A: When you look at the job role, you need to figure out what is truly required and what is just nice to have, particularly around specific skill sets. There’s a hidden quality there that’s sometimes hard to articulate with a job description. Sometimes, you end up with candidates who might have the skills, but are unable to meet the demands of the job in other ways. Our interview process has a lot of levels to it, and I think sometimes we filter out candidates too early in the process.  That said, it is crucial that the hiring manager recognizes this potential issue and ensures the job description and requirements strike the right balance.

Q: Describe any emerging trends you have observed in your field.
A: There’s been a significant increase in risk assessment and risk management, driven in part by increased regulation.  Effective management of credit risk is, and always has been, a must in our business.  That said, the focus on operational risk has increased significantly since the economic downturn due to additional legislation and supervision. It is definitely a plus for candidates to have expertise in this area.

Q: When reviewing resumes and cover letters specific to your business, how important is education?
A: A college education is typically a minimum requirement — so-called table stakes if you will.  An advanced degree does not guarantee a candidate a position, but it may give them an edge and open a door that otherwise would be closed. Education is really about opening the door to opportunities that may not have otherwise been available.  The key is to remember that education only offers more opportunities… it is up to the individual to do what’s necessary to seal the deal.

Q: Could you expand a little more on how having an advanced degree can help a candidate get in the door?
A:  I can think of two ways: first, it differentiates a candidate from other job seekers, and second, it allows candidates to be considered for higher-level positions that experience alone would not necessarily fully support.

Q: What makes a resume rise to the top of the pile for you?
A: A good resume will often align with the job requirements. What are the salient points that align you to the job? That’s what I’m looking for. It tells me that you’re paying attention and have properly evaluated the job description.

Q: What makes a resume sink to the bottom of the pile?
A: Obvious typos. Every role requires you to have attention to detail. If you can’t do that, then how are you going to perform the duties of the job? If you are not going to spend the time to ensure your resume is typo free, I’m not going to waste my time talking to you about the position.

Q: How has education impacted your own career?
A: Education does not give you the right to a position, but it opens doors for potential success.  Personally, I believe education has played a significant role in opening up opportunities, such as my current role, and I have been fortunate enough to seize them.

What tips would you give for someone considering going back to school?
A: You get out of it what you put in. If you work hard, utilize your education, and show commitment, it is going to open doors that might not have been open. But I can’t stress enough that it is not a free pass. It’s up to you to get the job.

Q: How valuable is a master’s degree in this line of work?
A:  It doesn’t hurt. Is it an absolute necessity? No. It’s not going to win the game for you, but it can help differentiate you from other candidates. It also gives you additional knowledge that you can draw on a day-to-day basis.

Q: Can you elaborate on how a master’s can help you in the knowledge department on a day-to-day basis?
A:   While having rote knowledge of theory provides some benefit — the real benefit is applying theory and methodology to your specific circumstance.  An example could be as simple as constructing an effective model to measure something — in most cases, you have imperfect information, so how do you deal with that situation?  Having a good understanding of both statistical and financial concepts would enable you to potentially overcome the issue. At the same time it allows you to recognize the deficiency and weakness with the approach. That’s a key concept from a risk management perspective.

Q: What is the best career advice you have ever received and who was it from?
A: Show up. Always do your best. You don’t have to take on every task, but the ones you do take on, do them to the best of your ability. Don’t cry over spilt milk. You do those three things, and with a little luck sprinkled in, you’re going to end up with a pretty successful career.

That was from my dad.

Q: What other advice do you have for someone interested in pursuing a career in this field?
A: Great question.  The financial industry is extremely diverse and there are so many different entry points.  My advice to someone interested in pursuing a career in this field is to clearly articulate key attributes that are important to you, and focus your career on the area that delivers on these attributes.

Want to learn more about how you can advance your education in business and finance? Check out Colorado State University’s online business programs and courses.

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