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Eight awesome answers to the most critical interview question in Asian banking

Difficult question

If you’re looking to relocate to (or within) Asia for a new banking role, be well prepared for the seemingly innocuous but crucial job-interview question that could make or break your candidacy: “Why do you want to move to [name of city]?”.

Being able to ace the technical questions isn’t enough if you’re shifting from Shanghai to Singapore, or from Houston to Hong Kong. Facing cost pressures from head office and tightened work-visa rules locally, banks in Asia are trying extra hard to weed out any foreign candidates who are merely seeking a short-term stint overseas.

“They want to hire someone with commitment, who has the potential for longevity in the role,” says Sarah Curtis, country manager for Hong Kong at recruitment firm iKas International.

To determine whether you are committed or indifferent, banks are now probing particularly aggressively into why you want to move countries in the first place. Recruiters in Asia tell us how the best banking candidates have explained their motivations.

1) Show what you already know about Asia

As a general rule, try to pepper your answer with insightful comments about the Asian market in your field. Demonstrating “solid knowledge” of the opportunities and challenges you will face on the job will help convince hiring managers that they won’t need to spend excessive time getting you up to speed, says Ben Tang, client solutions manager, banking and financial services, at recruiters Randstad in Hong Kong.

2) Shout about your most sought-after skills

“Overseas candidates need to justify why the company should hire them over a local,” says Tang. “The main reason is because they possess a new or in-demand skill that isn’t so available locally.” So be sure to say that your move will give your potential employer a new range of expertise, but beware of sounding boastful.

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3) Get spousal approval

Career reason should always trump personal ones in your reply, but be sure to emphasise (even if not directly asked) that your family isn’t an impediment. “It’s imperative that you give the hiring manager a clear impression that you and your spouse are both committed to the move for the long term, no matter what,” says Chris Mead, regional director of Hays in Singapore. “Stress that the move has already been discussed between you in detail.”

4) Be open to other locations

The job you’re interviewing for may be in Singapore, but saying you’re considering other Asian locations could create future opportunities if the bank doesn’t hire you immediately. “Have a thoughtful response about your priorities in terms of location, but also show you’re flexible,” says Alex Berghofen, managing partner of search firm Helex Asia. Hong Kong and Singapore have an obvious appeal as developed, low-tax, bilingual markets, but candidates (especially those without children) should also look at Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok, he adds.

5) Give regional reasons

Even if the role is based in Singapore or Hong Kong, its geographical scope may be wider – after all, these two multi-cultural cities also serve as financial hubs for their entire regions. “Asia represents the opportunity to work regionally, not just locally,” says Curtis, from iKas. “Candidates who demonstrate a desire to work across geographies and cultures and learn about emerging markets are usually viewed favourably.”

6) Calculate the costs

As we noted earlier this week, candidates sometimes drop out of the hiring process because they are shocked by the cost of living in Singapore and Hong Kong. Interviewers will expect you to say that you’ve already done your research. “This also allows you to correlate costs to the salaries you will need to earn,”  says Batten from Volt.

7) Pinpoint the pitfalls

Being aware of all the potential challenges of moving, not just the costs, shows hiring managers just how committed you are. “Point out areas where you know other expats have struggled to adapt, examples may include include language barriers, food or weather,” says Mead from Hays.

8) Highlight your history

Don’t base your entire response on them, but if you have any, it’s helpful to mention personal Asian “data points” when an interviewer asks about your move motivations, says Berghofen from Helex. Perhaps, for example, you were an exchange student in Thailand, did a work secondment to Singapore, studied Mandarin at university, or currently have close family living in Asia. “Having gone to kindergarten in Hong Kong is better than nothing, but less relevant than, say, recent work experience in Indonesia.”

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