How To Get Hired At Avaloq
Avaloq is a technology-driven financial services provider, which designs and implements a comprehensive core banking suite used worldwide by some of the biggest names in banking. They opened the Edinburgh office in 2011 and have made rapid progress towards establishing it as an equal to the Zurich development HQ.
Chris Zwicker, MD of Avaloq and Talent Acquisition Specialist Linzi Morrison recently met with their Eden Scott Account Manager Niall Bree to chat about what Avaloq offers new graduates, those with experience under their belts and what they can do to get hired at Avaloq.
What qualities do you look for in an ideal candidate?
Chris: There are 3 Main qualities, the first being social skills, we like people to be easy to interact with and for them to be friendly and open. Not afraid to ask questions of their peers or to answer questions themselves once they become more knowledgeable. This is extremely important to us as we want people who want to collaborate with others.
Secondly, enthusiasm and motivation for what we do. IT is at the core of what we do, we want people to get behind our product and be motivated building something that improves the world of banking and finance. You don’t need to know about finance but having an interest in creating or making something better is what we look for.
Lastly a broad set of understanding when it comes to technical abilities. We want people who understand computer science and who are not just an expert in Java. Understanding patterns in different software languages and not just focusing in on one. The key thing is we are looking for software engineers, not programmers.
What type of questions do you typically ask in interviews?
Chris: So that depends on the stages, our first online test that we do with all candidates filters out the people who don’t have a basic understanding of computer science and maths. We want to filter out simply programmers. We want to find out if people understand what’s important when writing code, for example making it maintainable and understandable.
Programming parts of the process enable the candidate to showcase their skills on solving a provided problem.
2nd session: coding and understanding of code.
3rd: interview: Can they present something so other people understand it? Do they know who their audience is? Can they interactively solve a problem? Then they talk to me which is the hardest part (kidding!) but we do want to find out more about their social skills. I meet every candidate when they come for an interview and take the time to talk to them as getting the right fit for Avaloq is of the utmost importance to us.
What should candidates be asking during the interview?
Chris: Whatever they want to know! It’s important for us that they are the right person but we also want to be the right company for them, so asking anything that will help them make that decision. Do they thrive on social things? Ask us about our staff parties. Do they thrive on new challenges being set every day? Ask us about our training and development strategies.
Linzi: It’s good to see something that is important to the candidate and not just a set question they have scripted before the interview. For example we had a couple of candidates in for interview a few days ago and one was really interested in the culture of the company, the social side of the business and how people interacted with each other in the office. Whilst the other interviewee asked whether or not the technology set was broad, if he would be exposed to large projects or not as he enjoyed facing a challenge. So these were unique questions to these candidates but it was refreshing not to answer generic interview questions.
Chris: You do notice if they are pre-scripted questions and what we are looking for is during the interview for people to engage and question us on the areas they see as most important to them. It shows their commitment to staying for a longer period of time which is what we want to see. Ideally we want people to stay for a minimum of 3 years as this is when they really provide more value to us as they become leaders within the organisation and begin to pass on their collective knowledge to others.
What are some of the biggest mistakes people make in interviews?
Linzi: Not being prepared and not taking the effort to understand the job and company. Not educating themselves about the process and coming in blind. I want to see people who are prepared and know what they want from the process.
Chris: There is a contrast here for me. For example a candidate could answer a question clearly and concisely but just stop without attempting to carry on the conversation. On the other hand I could ask a candidate to give me an overview about the most important points of their CV and they babble on for 30 minutes! Neither of these options are good. Just interacting normally and being able to hold a steady conversation is what I’m looking for.
Linzi: I think people being concise but also giving the right amount of detail when asked a question.
Chris: Also people tend to leave gaps in their CV, perhaps they had travelled or held an irrelevant job. This doesn’t matter to us, having long gaps looks weird!
Why should a graduate consider Avaloq?
Linzi: From my discussions with many graduates, they want to see support and structured training, mentoring and coaching and access to a training budget. When it comes to Avaloq, in my opinion, no one can really compare in that aspect. They offer that on-going training process, everyone is constantly learning and are extremely supportive which helps.
Chris: We were nominated for Best Education Provider/Training Programme at the last Scotland IS awards which I feel shows our commitment to providing training to graduates. We don’t limit people by placing them into Java only or ruby only groups, we teach them about many different software languages as these skills are transferable between them all. From one technology to the other and one framework to another encourages people not just to stick to things they know but to try and apply that knowledge into other areas. Also we have two people who specifically are there to make sure that knowledge is shared across the teams.
You don’t just apply computer science to the product but also to banking, you will learn a lot about banking and finance whilst working for Avaloq. When I was around 2 years into the role here, a bank wanted to hire me for a trading desk as I knew a lot more than people working there in my area. This was interesting to me as I don’t know many other companies where you learn so much about the businesses you are working with. It makes for a lot of learning for areas, not just software, which for a graduate is great.
Why should an experienced hire consider Avaloq?
Linzi: I think a lot of the same rules apply for experienced hires as it does for graduates. People come to feel pigeon-holed within their roles and here at Avaloq we want people to be free to explore other areas as well.
Chris: I think an attractor for someone with experience is that you get to teach others as well, people will come to you for your wisdom basically! If you enjoy teaching, coaching or mentoring then this is a great place if you have the experience as everyone will want access to your knowledge and your way of doing things
Linzi: Also, experienced people feel that they are being channelled into management as well and a lot of technical people resist that. We give people the opportunity to either go down a management route or become a more experienced subject matter expert, for example a senior product owner. There are so many different technical routes you can go down, we don’t restrict people to a certain path.
Chris: We don’t really have a hierarchy within Avaloq as such, we have team leads and an MD but that is basically it, so it’s more of a meritocracy, you have to earn your appreciation and respect. Just because someone has a different title doesn’t mean they will be treated differently to others. This applies to everyone, not only here in Edinburgh but also in Zurich or anywhere in the company. We have had people come in and think because they have a certain title that everyone must respect them and must answer to them, that is not the case here, you have to earn the respect.
Can you give an example of graduates who have progressed within the company?
Chris: We have mainly software engineers and analysts based in Edinburgh but we have many different areas within the business spread out across the world. So you can move to other roles. For example someone who started here in Edinburgh as a graduate moved to Australia where he has taken another position within the group, so there are many options for people if they wanted to move abroad or change role. We still have a start-up feel to the business in Edinburgh, even though we have around 80 members of staff in total. Even if we grow further that wouldn’t go over 200 people in our current offices. We always try to retain that start-up culture, as you can see they are open plan and everyone collaborates with one another throughout the day.
You also have opportunities within management or to be product manager which are formal roles, we don’t have many of those here, there are people who are now scrum master or product owner for a sub team. So there will be an increase in responsibility with those roles but also the opportunity to decide if things should change. A good example of this is that we just had a new product approved that was spirited from within the Edinburgh office, this now has budget so that we can put that idea into practise, you really can innovate from anywhere within the company.
We are trying to be really rigid with our recruitment process and we want people that will come in and challenge each other but also not be afraid to challenge us also. You will be working with intelligent people