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Beware SG and HK banking recruiters who ask you out for coffee

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In tightly-knit financial centres like Hong Kong and Singapore it’s common enough for recruiters to meet candidates for causal chats over coffee, even if they can’t offer any suitable vacancies right away.

But beware – even though you’re not interviewing for a specific job, you should still prepare well for these cafe meetings.

Recruiters will be assessing whether they should put you on their books and prioritise you when their banking clients next come knocking. Here’s how to pitch yourself as a candidate.

Don’t start by talking shop

Avoid immediately launching into a diatribe about your career, says Karen Yap, a director at Profile Search & Selection in Singapore. Try instead to establish a personal rapport by chatting about a common interest. “I remember one senior person who began talking to me about running – he had checked out LinkedIn and knew I was a prolific runner. The way he then sold himself was seamless,” adds Vince Natteri, a director at search firm Pinpoint Asia in Hong Kong.

Follow the 60/40 rule

“My advice is to talk shop 60% and talk about anything else 40% of the time. This gives you depth to your personality,” says Yap. “It also puts less pressure on the session, allows the recruiter to really get to know you, and allows you to differentiate yourself from other candidates.”

Take an interest in them

“Remember to ask about the recruiter’s own career and background – most of us will be pleasantly surprised when you actually take an interest in us,” says Angela Kuek, director of search firm Meyer Consulting Group in Singapore.

Don’t dress down

It may not be a formal job interview, but dress as though it is. “If you turn up not well presented – not wearing a suit, for example – this shows you aren’t committed to furthering your career and aren’t serious about a job move,” says Kyle Blockley, managing partner of recruitment firm KS International.

Don’t just rattle off your resume

“Don’t memorise and ramble on about your whole resume – provide about three or four key examples of work successes in your career,” advises Blockley. “When you elaborate too excessively about all the work you’ve done, the overload of information gets lost in translation.”

And don’t expect recruiters to reel off jobs

Many candidates expect recruiters to reveal a multitude of previously unlisted vacancies when they meet them, says Yap from Profile. This is very unlikely to happen.

Phrase your questions politely

Recruiters don’t like candidates whose sole ambition is: get me a job, now! It’s best to ask the following type of questions, which align your goals with longer-term trends in the job market, says Yap. “Given how my sector has been changing recently, where do you see the hiring trends moving forwards? Based on the type of skills I have, which job segment do you see me best fitting in?”

Holding back will harm you

“We will ask questions about your current job that may not be your CV – who you report to, how many people in your team etc,” says Blockley. “If certain facts are confidential information that’s fine, but generally I’m looking for people to give me information without having to probe. I expect candidates to have exceptional communication skills if they’re going to top-tier banks and I’m also checking how sociable you are and whether you would fit into the culture of the firm.”

Know why you want to move

Make sure you can articulate your motivations for changing jobs. “The whole idea of the meeting is really to get an understanding of why you want to move,” says Steve Hutchinson, director at recruiters The Andersen Partnership in Singapore. “I need to understand the bigger picture – what makes you happy to go to work and what has changed to make you come and see me.”

Stop and shut up

Avoid dominating the whole discussion in your eagerness to pitch yourself. “The meeting is a time to listen as well as a time to talk – this is very important to remember,” says Hutchinson.

Share market knowledge

It’s something that all recruiters love – candidates who are willing to share (non-confidential) insights about the comings-and-goings of the market (and job market) in their sector. Don’t wait to be asked.

Follow-up, but don’t be too formal

Send the recruiter a text or email after the session to thank them for their time, but keep the language more casual than you would after a formal interview, says Kuek from Meyer Consulting.


Image credit: Eva-Katalin, Getty

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