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Editor’s Take: banks’ quest for perfection is leaving candidates frustrated

The job market is picking up, but candidates today still don’t have it all their own way. The expected first-half hiring mini-boom comes with a serious sting in its tail.

Banks remain risk adverse, frustratingly unwilling to take a punt on people who ace their interviews, but whose skills or job histories are a bit off kilter.

Issues that employers might have turned a blind eye to back in ’06 or ’07 (e.g. a few months out of the market; a career refocus; not quite enough experience; some casual job hopping) are now emerging as application killers.

Firms are no longer so keen on the “compromise candidate”, the person who ticks two-thirds of the boxes, but can’t hit the ground running. For most roles, your CV and the job spec should almost be one in the same.

Across most parts of financial services, the bar to entry has got a lot higher: private banks want more AUM; investment banks seek more sector-coverage experience; commercial banks demand bigger client networks etc etc. In the words of one recruiter: “Plain vanilla hiring is out. Everyone wants specialists.”

Cost cutting explains much of this conservatism, even in rebounding Asia. While headcount budgets have indeed been freed up for the new year, this isn’t giving banks much latitude to get adventurous with the type of professionals they bring on board.

These days, the vacancies you apply for will be genuine (i.e. fully approved by the bank, not speculative), but if you need two months to get up to speed and rival candidates don’t, you might be seen as an unnecessary cost. So no job offer.

For the long-term unemployed (remember, most banks made their big layoffs way back in Q1 ’09), severe selection policies are especially alarming. Your career clock is ticking louder than ever as you enter another year sans job, but (did someone say “vicious cycle”?) being out of work makes you seem like a less-than-perfect candidate to fussy employers.

It’s also challenging to change job functions in a market that demands exact experience. Huge leaps (e.g. operations to trading floor) have of course always been tricky, but 2010 might not be a great year even to tweak your career into a different product or coverage area.

Yes, banks do have more vacancies than last year, but they still need a lot of convincing that you are indeed the perfect candidate for them.

Do you agree (or not) with the above? Let us know your comments in the box below.

Are you a candidate and are keen to share your frustrations with other eFinancialCareers readers? How about writing an anonymous article about your job search?
Email: apac.editor@efinancialcareers.com

Comments (10)

  1. Don’t worry, the banks will come around….there are no perfect candidates.

    Beghers Kantby Reply
  2. Are banks and recruiting managers perfect?

  3. I believe that your observations are spot-on. Doing a career refocussing at this point in time has been exceedingly difficult.

    However, it will perhaps be refreshing to hear a follow up article to this – that would suggest what can be done at this point in time for the people who are in this situation (e.g training, MBA etc??). Since, but by sheer will-power alone will not be getting anyone anywhere.

  4. well the situation is slightly better but not really well.

    How bad is the situation, it depends on your location really. I am from Singapore, most firm tend to hire experienced personnel and is very selective for fresh graduates.

    I once work in a bank paying me $6.5 SIn per hour, but then I quit because there is nothing much for me to do. It has almost been one year and i haven land a job, and interview oppurnities are rare. Every interviewer ask me why have I not look for a job, or why have I been jobless for a year. I tried to explain the bad economy but nothing seems to work.

    All I want is a entry level job in a bank. I have recently pass the FRM full exam , the CFA lvl 2 exam and CAIA lvl 1 exam. I am a degree grad, but still I cant even get a polytechnic job. I begun to wonder why do I work so hard to improve my knowledge when no one even give a damm about it. I should have just stop after my O level and work as a bank teller, even those earn more than what I am getting now.

  5. Very True – the banks in Singapore are unwilling to accept the fact that we are now, once again very short on experienced candidates in one of the fastest growing banking markets in the world.

  6. Banks are too choosy. They cannot see that there are good candidates out there. Just because the person has been retrenched does not mean they are no good.

  7. The banking industry is like a ‘members only’ club. Forget about banking if you are from another industry! Some of the people who have created a mess goes onto another bank, because some of that people who had created a mess in the other bank have also moved on to another bank, and…so on… the musical chairs go on. It’s a closed cycle. I’ve always wondered how some of these people who have created mess can demand for higher pay and are be deemed as experts with relevant experience, and more qualified than those outside the bankers club, who have fresher ideas and experience that can be definitely applied to the banking industry.
    And this thing about Big pay and bonuses for execs by Bailed-out Financial institutions, (while other mid and lower levels have lost/are losing their jobs in the same company) is this meant to say that these guys would not work as efficiently if they do not get such fat pacakge? Retrench detrimental staff by all means, but companies and long term successes are built by the good people at All levels that work in them, and not just CEOs and ‘Wine and Dine’ club Execs.

  8. @ Yaomin : I was in a similar situation as you. A 2:1, CFA Level 2 etc, but still that was not enough. I felt the same – For what did I work so hard for? Anyway, I was lucky to find a job at a boutique management consultancy/audit firm 6 mths ago. Am planning for my “homecoming”, hopefully in 1-1.5 years time (“homecoming” because I have had 2 summer internships at 2 American IBanks, and the banking industry was where I’ve always wanted to be in). Now is simply not the right time for us, especially freshies. How are freshies going to get the relevant experience if everyone wants experienced peeps??

  9. I am experienced in credit for more than 15 years as I worked in a bank. And I have an experience of 20 years in auditing the banks also. The market has not picked up and I do not get any call from the bankers.

  10. I heard it is employers market now, and they want both good and cheap candidates.

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