The head of HR at a top Wall Street bank shares the secrets to getting ahead in finance

Liz Lieberman is a human resources veteran on Wall Street.

Before joining RBC Capital Markets as managing director and Head of US Human Resources, Lieberman was the Global Head of HR at the Royal Bank of Scotland. She also held top HR roles at Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and Deutsche Bank, according to her Linkedin page. She’s been with RBC Capital Markets since October 2016.

The firm finished 2016 ranked 10 for investment banking fees in the US, according to Dealogic, increasing its market share. According to data firm Coalition, it ranked ninth for total investment banking revenues, including banking and sales and trading, in the Americas in the first half of 2016.

Lieberman’s extensive experience in seeking out top talent in the world of finance means she knows what it takes to land a spot at a Wall Street firm. Business Insider asked her to share some insights.

She told BI about the qualities she looks for in new hires, the skills she thinks are in high demand, and the interview question that job hunters need to nail.

Frank Chaparro: What qualities do you look for in new hires?

Liz Lieberman: I’m drawn to people who show a natural proclivity towards learning and individuals who aren’t afraid to have an opinion and challenge others. When I was starting my career, my boss told me: “Whenever someone asks you your opinion, you give it.” It taught me to trust my instincts and stand strong in my convictions and I look for those same qualities in potential hires. Also, I look for humour — I spend a large portion of my week at work and I want to have a laugh with colleagues, especially during high stress, looming deadline moments.

More generally at RBC, we look for team players who demonstrate a collaborative approach, people who say “we” not “I.” We want people who are the “right fit” and this means that they complement our culture which is purpose-driven principles-led and performance-focused. We call this our “Collective Ambition
” and we want people who show integrity, put the client first, are accountable, inclusive, and innovative and encourage diversity.
Chaparro: Has your hiring criteria changed?

Lieberman: Absolutely! When I began my career the structure was hierarchical, authoritative. The relationship between manager and his/her subordinate resembled parent and child. These days, we work as equals. We value creativity and collaboration over rules and restrictions.

I joined RBC last year and I noticed immediately how RBC has a very flat organizational structure that allows for strong ideas to move to fruition. It impacts our hiring decisions. When we select new employees we are choosing people who will fully participate in our decisions, employees who will influence and challenge us and hold the mirror up to our flaws because we want to continue improving as a firm and as a trusted adviser to our clients.

At RBC we support the millennial mindset of coming to the table with ideas and being agents of change. In fact, we launched an employee resource group called “RFuture” to connect young, dynamic thinkers with senior decision makers and implement change. We are not hierarchical and we encourage and empower people to share their opinions. It’s one of the best things about working here.

Chaparro: What’s the one most important interview question for prospective new hires?

Lieberman: What are you passionate about? That tells me a lot about a person: what their strengths are and what motivates them.

Chaparro: What skills do you expect to be in demand in the future?

Lieberman: People skills are essential: how to manage people, how to collaborate, how to inspire and influence. We call them the softer skills but they are, in fact, very important skills.

I’m hesitant to place a value on some skills over others since we need different people with different skillsets from different backgrounds. Diversity is essential! We want to be looking at problems from as many different angles as possible so we arrive at the best solution possible.

And my last thought on skills is this: nobody is good at everything and that’s why you build a team with people who have diverse skill sets.

Chaparro: Once someone has started at the firm, how do they stand out?

Lieberman: They must do their work well and they must show a willingness to leap in, roll up their sleeves, and participate. People make an impact by contributing. They bring energy and enthusiasm and ideas to meetings.

I cannot overstate the importance of finding a good cultural fit here at RBC. The best candidates, and long-term employees, understand our culture and complement it: they put the client first, they consider how the broader platform will benefit rather than just themselves or their immediate team. They look to simplify the way we work so we are agile and innovative. Working with these types invariably winds up being the most enjoyable parts of my day!

Chaparro: How do you look at candidates with STEM backgrounds vs those with Liberal Arts backgrounds?

Lieberman: What people study is important, but it’s not crucial. We look at a broad range of skills and backgrounds and if a candidate is passionate about our business and shows a willingness to learn then that can go a long way in the interview process.

For some of the technical roles it’s better to have a STEM background. However, some of our best hires have been candidates with Liberal Arts backgrounds who applied themselves and rose the ranks through sheer hard work, perseverance, and a hunger to learn and grow.

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