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Bankers in Asia are now failing to get pay rises. This is why

pay rise

If you were searching for a banking job in Asia in the first quarter, with any luck you will now be reaching the salary negotiation stage.

But beware – recruiters we’ve spoken with in Singapore and Hong Kong say many banking professionals are being too aggressive with their pay demands. In reality, the job market isn’t buoyant enough for most candidates to have the upper hand.

Here’s how you should negotiate better pay in the current market – and avoid the mistakes that other candidates in Asia are making.

Don’t apply for too many jobs at once

While negotiating with two potential employers might allow you to apply some upward pay pressure, trying your luck with several banks is bound to backfire. “But it happens in Asia – some candidates, especially those in technology, might have 10 or more processes active at the same time,” says Nick Wells, a director at search firm Webber Chase in Singapore. “When banks and headhunters discover this, they don’t increase your pay, they just walk away.”

Don’t rush

It’s tempting to state a line-in-the-stand salary from the outset of the recruitment process. This is a common tactic right now in Asian banking, but it mainly leads to candidates being immediately rejected for being too costly. “So don’t reveal your salary requirements too early on – you may lose your leverage in the negotiating process,” says Maniyadeth Narayanan, a career coach at consultancy Lee Hecht Harrison in Singapore.

Don’t worry about benefits

When the negotiations do start, don’t get side tracked by the non-cash benefits on offer. “Negotiate salary first so if you don’t get the increase you want, you can then try to get some other benefits like a joining bonus, a pay review in six months, or a performance incentive,” says Maniyadeth.

Apply this rough rule

“If moving, you should expect a salary rise of about two to four times your last merit increase at your current bank,” says Elaine Ng, a business leader at consultancy Mercer in Hong Kong. “So if your merit increase is 8%, expect 16% to 32% to move. This amount, however, depends on whether you’re moving to a same-level job or to a higher one.”

Ask about the team structure

“Find out more about the team structure and support surrounding the new position,” says Ng.  “If it’s weak, it shows they need a strong candidate and you have more potential to negotiate your pay upwards.”

Go gentle on counter offers

If your current bank makes a counter offer you should show it to the new firm. But demanding even better compensation than that contained in the counter will likely lead to the new bank ending negotiations because you’re too expensive. You’re better off trying to get the bank to match the counter, or come close to its terms. “When showing them the counter, reaffirm your genuine interest in the position and re-emphasise your experience and track record,” says Maniyadeth.

Get proof of any upcoming increments

Don’t mention an expected upcoming pay rise at your current bank as a new reference point to push for an increment at another employer, says Howe Yuin Teo, head of financial services at recruiters PeopleSearch in Singapore. “Most of the time this fails unless there’s concrete proof that your appraisal is already done and there’s a letter showing the pay rise.”

Don’t forget the facts and figures

Don’t just negotiate based on what your current firm and the potential employer are offering – both may be poor paymasters compared to the rest of the industry. “Research broad current salary, bonus and benefits trends,” says Dean Stallard, regional director of recruiters Hays in Hong Kong. “Look at salary guides to ensure your expectations are realistic so that you’re prepared with a reasonable case when you go into compensation negotiations.”

Add your skills into the equation

Language plays an important part in pay negotiations. Whenever you mention a desired salary make sure you sandwich this request with plenty of information reminding the bank about the skills you are bringing. “Candidates should prepare a list of their achievements to justify the salary increase they’d like,” says John Mullally, director of financial services at recruiters Robert Walters in Hong Kong.

Don’t job hop

If you have a chequered history of moving jobs after short stints this will greatly reduce your bargaining power – you may get a smaller than average increment to offset the risk that you won’t stay around for long. “Job hopping also damages your skill sets and your long-term employability,” says Wells from Webber Chase.


Image credit: graytln, Getty

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