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Long-term jobless bankers in Asia struggle to return to finance sector

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After a spate of redundancies at global banks in Asia last year – from MDs at Goldman Sachs to technologists at Barclays – many finance professionals are still struggling to find a route back into the sector.

Banking recruiters in Singapore and Hong Kong say they now have more unemployed candidates on their books than they did 12 months ago. And the number of ‘long-term’ jobless – who’ve been out of work for six months or more – is growing.

If you’re among this group, here’s some expert advice for returning to the workforce in Asia.

Accept your situation

“I’ve seen job seekers who just haven’t fully come to terms with their unemployment, so their searches have been futile as a result,” says Angela Kuek, director of search firm Meyer Consulting Group in Singapore. “For example, they desperately want to get back into the same role and they don’t widen their search.”

Avoid being negative

Spending time addressing your emotional state will pay dividends down the line. “It helps you avoid the common mistake of bringing negativism into job searching and interviewing,” explains Kuek. “Experienced hirers can smell discouragement and lack of energy a mile away. So maintain an upbeat disposition and don’t bad mouth your old employer, no matter how traumatic your exit was.”

Network without losing face

“There are ways to advertise that you’re searching for work without too much ‘loss of face’ – the number-one obstacle preventing people in Singapore from networking after a redundancy,” says Kuek. She provides the following example: “I have recently left the bank and am actively exploring opportunities in these fields [insert a maximum of three]. If you know of someone who might have suitable roles, it would be great if you could link me up.” If the person expresses an interest to take your case forward, you can then send them your CV, but keep it casual at first, says Kuek.

Research career changes

Don’t just rush to look at vacancies in the same field – treat your retrenchment as an opportunity to take stock of your career and consider alternative next steps, says Henry Chamberlain, a Hong Kong management consultant and former head of selection at Standard Chartered.

Consider the middle office

If you’re looking for career change into a more stable part of the banking sector, it may be possible to move into a middle-office role in Singapore or Hong Kong. “We’re seeing a few compliance, risk and audit functions looking for ex-front office staff who have had an element of controls in their roles,” says Aaron Bolton, a manager at recruitment company Black Swan Group in Singapore. “If you want to move functions, highlight where you’ve mitigated risk, developed control frameworks or engaged with compliance or audit.”

Develop a communications strategy

Plan your job search as though it were a marketing campaign, says Maniyadeth Narayanan, a career coach at consultancy Lee Hecht Harrison in Singapore. “Develop an effective communications strategy based on your interests, skills and competencies, and then identify the target market. Think of yourself as a ‘new product’ in the market place and prepare for a product launch.  Some key considerations are: What qualities and competencies make you a top candidate in your search? And what benefits can you deliver to a new bank?”

Prepare your exit statement

Whether you’re interviewing or just networking, you are bound to be asked about your layoff. So have a consistent explanation you can reel off to anyone. “The market is aware of the cuts happening, so if you’re not truthful about why you were chosen to be cut your credibility will take a huge hit,” says Kuek. “Your reply can be as direct as: ‘the bank decided to do away with this business, so my entire team was made redundant’.”

Get a leaving letter

Ideally your exit statement should be supported by a letter of recommendation from your previous boss. “Get a good referral if you can – in a redundancy it’s important to have someone who can vouch for your previous performance,” says Vince Natteri, a director at search firm Pinpoint Asia in Hong Kong.

Don’t push too hard on pay

“Don’t be aggressive with your salary expectations,” says Natteri. “Unemployed candidates should be prepared to take a lateral move on salary or even a pay cut to get their career back on track. Demanding a large increase is a real turn off for a hiring manager – they won’t pay a premium for someone who’s been made redundant.”

Don’t take on other big tasks

Once you’ve got over the initial shock of losing your job it’s tempting to use your free time to take on another big project. Don’t, warns Daniel Koh, a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre in Singapore. “It’s difficult enough to deal with one transition, so avoid making others like moving house. Put all your attention into looking after yourself and finding a new job.”

Do practice your interview skills

You’re out of work, so you now actually have time to practice your job interview techniques. “This is especially important if you haven’t applied for jobs for a few years,” says Hong Kong management coach Chamberlain. “Also do online practice tests if you expect to apply for roles requiring psychometric testing.”


Image credit: opolja, Getty

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