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Ten interview questions you’ll be asked by Singapore banks

Job interview Singapore bank

So, tell us about team dynamics

While many global banks are culling jobs in Singapore, the city state’s three home-grown firms remain in hiring mode.

In the year to 31 March, for example, headcounts at DBS and OCBC rose by 622 and 373 respectively.

Unsurprisingly, banking professionals who’ve been cut by international banks are now increasingly applying to local ones.

If you’re among this group of candidates, here are some of the generalist questions you should prepare for when you interview with DBS, OCBC or UOB.

1. Why do you want to work here instead of an international bank?

Expect to get this question almost before you’ve taken a seat. Try to focus on the specific, positive pull factors of DBS, OCBC or UOB. “When moving from an international bank to a Singaporean bank, show you understand how local banks differentiate themselves in your job function,” says Singapore-based recruiter Stella Tang. “This question is an opportunity to show you’ve done your research as each bank will have a reputation for doing something well.”

2. But why would you want to give up having a wider international exposure?

You’re not off the hook yet – prepare for this question as a follow-up to the above. Evelyn Lee, manager, financial services, at recruiters Robert Walters in Singapore suggests this answer: “After working in a global bank for a number of years, my experience covers the breadth of international banking. However, I’d now like to focus my skills on a more targeted market – Singapore. This will allow me to gain more in-depth exposure and better use my strengths to more directly contribute to the bank.”

3. Do you want to join us just because you think we offer better job security?

Avoid any hint that you want to move to a Singaporean bank because they tend not to make many mass layoffs. “Interviewers will be trying to ascertain if you’re looking to join them due to a perceived safety net. While it’s true that local firms are unlikely to dramatically scale down their business locally, your compensation and job security will still be tied to your individual performance,” says Gary Lai, managing director, Southeast Asia, at recruiters Charterhouse Partnership.

4. How would you cope with more accountability to locally-based senior management?

At an international firm in Singapore, the global head of your department will be in a different country and there may be multiple management layers between you and them. Interviewers will want to know how you’d cope with the smaller hierarchy you’d encounter at a Singaporean bank, says Lai. The key to your response is to show how you’ve successfully adapted to managerial changes in the past, he adds.

5. Where do you see yourself in five years?

“When you’re moving from an international bank to a local one, this question can be tricky,” says Tang. “What the interviewer is really asking is whether you intend to stick around, or are you just waiting for a better opportunity with an international bank to come along. You should highlight your ambition to build a future within one organisation and your desire for continuity and stability in your career.”

6. Why have you changed jobs so often within the past few years?

Local banks value long tenures and don’t like the tendency of some young banking professionals in Singapore to ‘job hop’ between different global firms. “If you’ve had three or four jobs in a short period of time, you can definitely expect this question,” warns Tang. “You can’t lie, so try to turn it into a positive by indicating how each job was a positive step in the direction you wanted your career to move. It’s easier to accept that your frequent changes were part of a career strategy to achieve a goal and weren’t just jumps for a bit of extra pay.”

7. Team dynamics is important to our corporate culture. How well do you assimilate into teams?

While you could be thrown a teamworking question at a global firm, Singaporean banks – largely because of their comparatively low staff turnover – are particularly keen on them. Begin your reply with an example of how you contributed to a team objective in a recent job, says Lee from Robert Walters. If you’ve researched the bank’s approach to teamworking, then add a few comments about it and why you’d fit right in.

8. Tell me about the most important requests for proposal that you’ve opened in Singapore during the last quarter.

Singaporean banks obviously have huge books of local clients and for front-office roles they will test your own local networks with questions similar to this one, says Farida Charania, Asia Pacific CEO of search firm Nastrac Group. “Always show your knowledge of local businesses and their requirements as well as any relationships you’ve got with corporate decision makers.”

9. What exposure to Asian regulators or exchanges have you had?

“This question is being asked a lot, especially to candidates moving from a global bank to a Singaporean one,” says Lynne Roeder, managing director of recruiters Hays in Singapore. “Due to headcount being tight in the banking sector, hiring managers don’t have time to train new employees in the basic functions of the role. You need to tell the interviewer about the extent of your exposure to the various exchanges and local regulations.”

10 What languages do you speak?

As Singaporean banks expand across Asia, language skills are becoming more important, and even some onshore roles may demand fluency in Malay, Mandarin or Tamil. If you speak a language in addition to English you increasingly have an edge.

Image credit: vitchanan, iStock, Thinkstock

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