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Nine ways to answer the worst job interview question in Asian banking

Job interview questions

It’s a generic and predictable job interview question, but finance professionals in Hong Kong and Singapore are too often stumped by it: “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?”

The main difficulty, say recruiters, is that candidates in Asia often have a history of frequently changing employers. Answering a question about their long-term career ambitions doesn’t come naturally.

If you have a banking job interview in Singapore or Hong Kong, here’s how to answer the “where do you see yourself” question.

1. Show your steps

Don’t just outline where you’ll be in five years, explain how you intend to get there. “Before any interview, have a clearly identified answer, including the timeline, stepping stones and goals along the way that need to be achieved to complete your mission,” advises Nick Wells, a director at headhunters Webber Chase in Singapore.

2. Be ambitious

This interview question is aimed at sizing up how ambitious you are and whether your aspirations match those of the bank, says a recruiter at a global bank in Singapore. “Ambitious people will typically have an answer that includes a professional development plan – this also lets the interviewer know that you have taken the interview seriously and you’re a go-getter.”

3. Don’t play up to the interviewer

There’s no need to directly say that you want to be at X bank in X number of years, says Wells. “If you make your answer too obvious, it will actually send a warning to the bank. They may think you’re making an arbitrary commitment just to please them and will stop thinking about the merits of your candidacy.”

4. Paint a picture instead

It’s better to be descriptive in your reply and mention examples that will benefit the bank. Wells uses the following example: “I want to be leading a team for you as a manager, having completed my part-time MBA.” The MBA will “help develop more creative solutions for the bank” and gives the impression that your manager can delegate more responsibilities to you as you expand your skills.

5. Research the employer in terms of this question

Keep the “where do you see yourself” question in mind when researching the bank and interviewer  –  it will add credibility if you can link the bank’s goals to your own. “You should look at a bank and be able to see yourself there in five years,” says Kyle Blockley, managing partner at recruiters KS International.

6. Career development is also key

While much of your answer will be about how you will be adding value to the bank, it’s also advisable to stress that you want to work somewhere that will enhance your own career. Michael Smith, managing director at recruiters Randstad in Singapore, suggests starting this part of your reply in the following manner: “I’m interested in being part of a growing company that provides training and structured career development opportunities.”

7. It’s ok to ask questions back

“The five-year question shouldn’t be a one-way conversation. Once you’ve answered, ask the interviewer how people typically progress their careers within the bank,” says the recruiter from the global bank. “Do they have a culture of moving people across divisions into new functions? What kind of performance is required for a AVP to VP promotion?”

8. Know your own history

If you have a track record of job hopping, interviewers are bound to interrupt your answer to question why you haven’t shown commitment to past employers. “It’s harder to gain trust from a hiring manager when you have moved on quickly from your last few roles, so you need to have solid reasons for leaving, not flaky ones like ‘I wanted a new challenge’ –  that’s the worst excuse ever,” says Blockley from KS.

9. It’s different if you’re headhunted

“If you’ve been headhunted for a role because you’re a superstar, your answer will be likely be linked to your current employer, rather than the one you’re interviewing with,” says the in-house recruiter. “Your answer should let them know what they will have to match or beat if they want you. For example, if you’re due to be promoted at the end of the year, let them know because this will be directly linked to your five-year plan.”

Image credit: iPandastudio, Getty

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