Recruitment in Hong Kong banking has been subdued since mid-2011, and there are now candidates who have been jobless for two years, or close to it. Many of them are senior professionals – MDs, directors and senior VPs with long years of service – who were retrenched due to cost-cutting at banks in Asia.
But many banks are still cutting costs and are hiring only cautiously, which makes it challenging for the long-term unemployed to find jobs at a level they're used to.
Once people hit two years out of the workforce, many banks hesitate to hire them because they could be deemed out of touch with clients, markets and regulations. They might also question why a rival bank hasn't already snapped them up and might ask whether they can still handle workplace pressures after so long a break. But all is not lost if you're among the long-term jobless in Hong Kong:
Don't send your CV to every potential employer in your sector – you are likely to lose track, especially if you've been looking for a long time, while recruiters won’t be able to represent you again to these companies for at least 6 to 12 months. Always tell recruiters of your recent job-search history in order to avoid duplicate applications.
Being flexible in your job search doesn’t mean applying for roles that you’re too experienced for. Despite an abundance of senior professionals on the market in Hong Kong, employers still prefer to hire candidates at the same level as the vacancy. They typically fear that senior people will leave once the markets picks up.
If you studied during your enforced break, shout about it on your CV and in interviews. It's quite common, for example, that people studying for the CFA use their time between jobs to complete the next level of the qualification.
There’s more to keeping up to date with the market than just reading the financial press. Talking to people still working in financial services is key to understanding new changes to market practice and regulations, so stay close to ex-bosses and colleagues. If you belong to any professional associations, make sure to attend seminars and events.
Don't just speak to recruiters about specific vacancies, ask them about trends in the job market. And it's good to send them your updated CV if you make any changes to it (eg adding a new qualification) to remind them about your profile. Informal coffee meetings with recruiters are common in Hong Kong, especially if you have not been in touch with them for a while – just don't push it too frequently.
Consider taking a job that pays less than your previous one, especially if it lets you earn new skills or move into a new field. This is no longer uncommon: I've recently seen people take 20% to 30% salary cuts recently.
Contracting is getting more common these days in Hong Kong. Due to the headcount pressures, many banks are willing to use agency contractors, some of whom secure long, fixed-term contracts (of 12 to 18 months) or have contracts on a rolling basis. Candidates, especially those out of work, are becoming more receptive to accepting contract offers, but can still be reluctant to take on short-term contracts where there's only a slim chance of permanent role upon completion.
If you've been rejected too many times when applying to job advertisements, getting a referral via your personal network may be your best bet. I increasing see people getting jobs this way these days as in cost-conscious times, hiring managers find it cheaper and less risky.
Amy Ho is the director of financial services recruitment at recruitment firm Ambition in Hong Kong.