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Guest Comment: The top-six questions that investment bankers are asking recruiters right now

Get set for her questions

Get set for her questions

As a recruiter, calls from candidates are coming at me one after another these days. It suddenly feels like 2009 all over again. Some investment bankers are eager to find out about current market conditions as they are seriously concerned about their job security. Others have just been made redundant and want to discuss their next step. Even overseas professionals, who may not even be aware of what is really going on in Asia, are asking about opportunities in the region.

The European debt crisis continues without a solid solution, and weak global capital markets are affecting Asia’s financial markets. Many IPOs have been postponed or cancelled. Quarterly investment banking revenue has touched its lowest point since 2010. News such as RBS closing its investment banking division and job cuts from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, UBS, Citigroup, Nomura and Daiwa, is certainly anything but encouraging.

In such an uncertain environment, here is a list of frequently asked questions from various investment banking candidates I’ve spoken to recently. I hope you find them helpful.

1) What does the market look like for investment banking?

Investment banking is going through its most challenging time since 2009. Things were still pretty decent in the first half of 2011, but the drastic change in global capital markets has severely affected investors’ sentiment and risk appetite. In turn, the weakness in capital markets has adversely affected the pipeline of various deals in capital markets. The general feeling is that things might look up in the second half of 2012. Make no mistake; there are still good quality transactions in the markets. Investors and clients alike are biding their time because nobody wants a bad deal.

2) Are investment banks hiring right now?

It depends. We are heading into bonus season. Hiring decisions will become clearer after bonuses have been paid. In general, investment banks are not recruiting right now given the current market situation. But although we hear of more firing than hiring these days, there will almost certainly be new positions opening at analyst level in the summer. According to different banks’ needs, they may also recruit associates, VPs or even MDs throughout the year. If you are looking for a role in investment banking, you’d better spread your network and try your luck. If you are already in a firm and enjoy what you are doing, good for you, keep it up and consider staying put.

3) What do investment banks look for in candidates these days?

For junior people such as analysts or associates, it is important to have strong technical skills. For example, you need to be able to explain your involvement in various sell-side or buy-side deals very clearly. You should also be familiar with valuation techniques, financial modelling, pitch books, research work and due diligence. Banks also favour candidates who have good presentation and client-facing skills.

4) I don’t speak Mandarin. Can I still find a job in investment banking in Asia?

Of course you can. Speaking Mandarin is certainly an advantage to a lot of clients in this region, especially if their target markets include China. Also, if you are based in Hong Kong and focussing on North Asian markets, then the answer would be a firm “you must speak Mandarin”. If you are in South East Asia, things will work out even if you do not know Mandarin. A lot of overseas bankers work in Singapore, where the first language is English. Again, Mandarin is an advantage, but not a must-have for every role.

5) I have no Asian deal experience. Will investment banks even consider me?

It depends. Asian experience is getting more and more important to most banks in this region. Remember, they now have a lot of choices of candidates. If they can find someone from this part of the world who has Asian deal experience and can speak both English and Mandarin, why would they hire someone who is totally alien to Asia? A link to Asia is important. If you have no deal experience here, an internal transfer might be the best way to go.

6) Is the pay at investment banks in Asia comparable to the rest of the world?

The tax environments in Hong Kong and Singapore are a lot more comfortable than those of the US and Europe. You may take a pay cut in terms of your basic salary when you move to Singapore or Hong Kong, but your cash in hand may be the same (or even more) than what you were getting before. Of course, your compensation will vary depending on many factors, such as prior experience, the job function, and your negotiation skills.

The author is an investment-banking recruiter in Singapore. The views expressed are her own, not those of eFinancialCareers. Please use the “react” box below to leave a comment about this blog.

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