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Career CPR: I’m a Chinese returnee with an MBA, but after five months searching for a front-office job I’m not getting anywhere

In the latest installment of our Career CPR series, we hear from a Chinese returnee who’s finding it very tricky to nab a front-office job in China. Read his dilemma and offer your advice in the comments box below.

The dilemma:

Although you regularly hear about the talent shortage in China’s financial sector, the surprising reality is that Chinese returnees like me find it hard to get a job. I graduated with a MBA from a UK business school earlier this year and have been looking for a front-office role in an investment bank since May.

My previous work experience was in South America, focusing on the pharmaceutical industry. I worked for seven years in the finance departments of MNCs, taking on increasing responsibilities and gaining strong skills in treasury, financial modelling and management accounting.

Because I wanted to expand my horizons further, I decided to pursue my MBA studies. During my 18 months of studies, I interned as a management trainee in two multinational banks, one in China and the other in the UK. I also studied in China, passed my CFA and met many industry insiders. Through my own networking efforts, I managed to land two interviews, but to date I have yet to get a job. Can you guide me in the right direction?

Our expert’s take:

Emma Charnock, regional director of Hays in Hong Kong and China provides some advice.

– The candidate’s CV looks fine. The key problem is banking is an exclusive industry and is highly regulated. It’s not very often that we see candidates who are able to jump into banking from a different industry background. Ideally, most candidates would have started their banking career as soon as they completed their university education, or at least within three to five years after graduation.

– Investment banks normally consider candidates from other investment banks first, then secondly, candidates with front-line experience in commercial banking. This usually gives them a large candidate pool, making it hard for industry outsiders to get a look in.

– If the candidate is really interested in investment banking, he should consider roles within i-banks where he already has experience. For instance, within planning and treasury or finance.

– The candidate could also widen his search beyond Shanghai to Beijing and Hong Kong.

– Broadly speaking, we have seen some candidates in similar positions. A lot of people believe that a financial qualification will be enough to get themselves into banking, but this is not the case. You will need both experience within the banking industry and additional qualifications such as an MBA to help you make the transition. Most trainee positions are normally only open for young graduates and most banks will not open their senior positions for people who may have financial qualifications, but lack relevant experience.

Need some career CPR yourself? Email us explaining your dilemma and outlining your work experience at apac.editor@efinancialcareers.com. We’ll publish the most interesting problems (anonymously), our experts will answer your queries and netizens will give you their take.

Comments (8)

  1. Using an MBA to switch to ibanking front office is a strategy used more in the UK and US. Post GFC, this strategy has had reduced success (all those laid-off bankers flooded the market when they graduated).

    Unless you graduated from a top business school (the only one in the UK that counts is LBS) then you’ll find it hard. You could try HK as there’s a need for mandarin speaking returnees or you could try the ever increasing number of China PE funds focused on pharmaceuticals/healthcare.

  2. That’s quite depressing. “If the candidate is really interested in investment banking, he should consider roles within i-banks where he already has experience.” That’s basically saying go back to your old job.

  3. The market sux at the moment. It is not you, it’s the market condition that is kicking everyone’s butt.
    My suggestion is taking your time building your academics and keep learning, try again when things turn around after EU sort themselves out and Obama get something constructive, and hopefully effective!

  4. The i-banking market has never hired on the basis of true ability. They prefer people who have already been “tamed” straight out of college and are cheap to hire. They don’t want free-thinkers either!

    I suggest you start your own business or look at sales-driven commercial roles. I-banking isn’t all that anymore. The noose is tightening on the industry and it will soon be a liability to have an i-bank on your CV. I’m wondering myself how I can hide the words “Goldman Sachs” on mine.

  5. A matter of relationship, connection or network. If you can bring business to the bank, you are most welcome. You can easily get a VP title job. Or if you are lucky, you may get a CS / Relationship Manager job if you looks smart but has no wealthy family background or connection. MBA don’t mean anything in this part of the world. That’s why a PHD graduate from HKCU turned herself into a beauty cosmetic artist. She said it is her interst, she can find herself as a cosmetic lady, what do you think??

  6. what make you think a Chinese returnee is a talent? In fact you don’t have the required experience, so you are not a talent at all. I suggest you to start work at back office first.

  7. I guess its your age and the lacking of IB experience.
    Usually, MBA grad seeks associate position already e.g. in IBD, and you are expected to lead 1 or 2 analyst, and expected to know how to do DD, modeling, pitch book, otherwise even analysts will find hard working with you, let alone the VP and D level ppl…

    PE and smaller brokers should be a better start for you, where you might get paid a lot less than your previous job.
    top US MBA students without previous IB experience find it extremely hard to get a return offer after internship, so you should be easy on yourself, and they are under 30 years-old… all finished or partially finished CFA / CPA

    good luck hope the job market will get better

  8. i don’t understand why so many people, chinese in particular, are so keen on getting intoan ibank. yes it pays good, but this is conditioned on very very hard work and luck. i don’t see why someone who hasn’t even worked in this sector would say he wants to get in so badly. i reckon it’s all down to fame, ego and face. the industry will not be the same it used to be, and job seekers should broaden their horizons. there are so many “good” jobs around. ibanking is not everything.

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