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Nine reasons why aspiring expats don’t get banking jobs in Asia

Expats Asia

It’s that time of year when finance recruiters in Singapore and Hong Kong find themselves deluged with CVs from overseas-based bankers who’ve recently received their bonuses.

Many of these aspiring expats won’t even get to speak to recruiters – banks are hiring locally at most levels – but those that do will be asked a simple question upfront: “why do you want to move to Asia?”.

If you answer this incorrectly, your chances of landing an Asian banking job may soon be scuppered. Here are some common mistakes to avoid when explaining your motivations for moving.

1. The family follower

Getting your partner to fully support your relocation is essential. But if you’re shifting simply to follow them out to Asia, don’t mention this as a motivation. “Following a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife is not seen as a good answer because it implies that you’re not motivated by your own career ambitions,” says Ben Batten, country general manager at recruiters Volt in Singapore.

2. The stone stepper

Avoid applying for a role as a short-term stepping stone into the region – and if you do, don’t admit your ambitions to your recruiter. “Candidates often tell me they are looking to get any banking job – just to make the move to Asia – but they then plan to look for a better opportunity once here,” says Batten. “This really does little for their career prospects.”

3. The escapee

Whatever you do in an interview, try to accentuate positive reasons for moving. Telling interviewers how much you hate your homeland or how bad the economy is there won’t impress them. “Hiring managers want to hear pull factors, not push factors,” says Lynne Roeder, managing director of recruiters Hays in Singapore. “Focus on why you’d love your future situation and keep these answers business related.”

4. The boom rider

Your list of positive pull factors should also be specific to your particular banking job function – don’t fall into the common trap of talking about how Asia is “booming”, says Alex Berghofen, managing partner of search firm Helex Asia. “It’s too generic an answer.”

5. The globetrotter 

Too many candidates are also telling recruiters in Asia that they want generic “international experience”, says Berghofen. Saying that “either Dubai or Hong Kong will do” will doom your candidacy – banks want you to show commitment to the country and to the Asian region.

6. The best Westerner

Banks in Asia are still looking to plug talent shortages with Western talent, particularly for roles like compliance and cyber security. But don’t hype up the skills you’ve gained in New York or London too much – banks want experience, not arrogance. “Some people think that their great career in Europe or the US automatically makes them a hot candidate in Asia,” says Berghofen.

7. The ladder climber

“Using Asia as a platform to hoof yourself up the career ladder is usually interpreted as you thinking –wrongly – that it’s easier to get a promotion in Asia than in your home country,” says Sarah Sellers, Hong Kong country director at recruitment firm iKas International. “Or it shows that you are likely to trample over the local population to get there – neither of which go down particularly well.”

8. The trier 

Never say that you want to “try Asia for a couple of years,” says Kathy Togni, principal of search firm Togni & Zhao in Hong Kong. Short-term generic aspirations (also avoid “enjoying travelling” or “doing something new”) mark you out as a risky recruit who won’t last long in Asia.

9. The tax avoider

Low tax rates in Singapore and Hong Kong are an attractive hook for banks to snare foreign candidates. But you are still advised not to talk about tax when asked why you want to move. Not only will you be seen as too money-motivated, you also risk sounding stupid – the tax benefits are so “obvious” that nobody need mention them, says Roeder from Hays.


Image credit: swissmediavision, Getty

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