Singapore's three local banks – DBS, OCBC and UOB – are not adding headcount as much as they were in 2016. But they still dominate recruitment in the Republic (DBS alone has 400 Singapore-based vacancies right now).
Recruiters in Singapore have also seen an increase in candidates from global banks wanting to join the local players in the wake of foreign firms like Deutsche cutting jobs in Singapore over the past year.
If you are 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 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 Matthieu Imbert-Bouchard, managing director of recruiters Robert Half in Singapore. “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 of financial services at recruiters Robert Walters, 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 find out 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 busineses, 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 most international firms in Singapore, the global head of your department will be in another country and there may be multiple management layers between you and them. Interviewers will want to know how you will cope with the smaller hierarchy you will encounter at a Singaporean bank, says Lai. The key to your response is to show how you have 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 Imbert-Bouchard from Robert Half. “What the interviewer is really asking is whether you intend to stick around, or are 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 Imbert-Bouchard. “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. If you speak a language in addition to English you increasingly have an edge.
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