The banking job market in Singapore and Hong Kong isn’t exactly booming at the moment. Banks are typically able to hire candidates who are a clear match for the job.
But not always. Agency recruiters in Asia say ‘wild card’ candidates – people they initially have doubts about – are still occasionally getting hired.
Here are some stories of job seekers who’ve recently overcome a poor start to clinch a role in Asian finance.
1. Almost too arrogant
Hannah Tran, an associate director at LMA Recruitment in Singapore, almost didn’t put a candidate forward for a job because he came across as “arrogant” during their initial meeting. “I hesitate when candidates oversell themselves. This person went on and on about his accomplishments and it raised a red flag. But his profile was impressive and he’d reached VP at a young age, so I did some reference checks with previous managers and it all checked out. With lots of interview preparation he eventually got the job. Promoting yourself is more than acceptable in an interview, just don’t cross the fine line between confidence and arrogance.”
2. Explaining a bad bonus
“I had a candidate who I had some reservations about as they’d just received a zero bonus and a low performance rating,” says Aaron Bolton, a manager at recruiters Black Swan Group in Singapore. “But they spoke honestly about their rating and why they felt it was unjust, so I put them forward for a job. Their openness about managing this potentially difficult situation also impressed the bank and it actually helped them secure the role.”
3. CV first aid
“Another candidate impressed on the phone, but when their CV was sent through it was very poorly written,” says Bolton. “There was a lot of thick text about responsibilities, but it was unclear what they related to and there weren’t even any dates. It took a few days to completely revamp their CV and build out their achievements for each role. But once the resume was in order the bank requested an interview immediately and they got hired. Had the CV not been rewritten they probably wouldn’t even have been considered.”
4. Breaking into banking
Investment banks typically only hire technology candidates from their rivals, says Vince Natteri, a director at search firm Pinpoint Asia in Hong Kong. “I recently had a non-banking candidate who lacked domain knowledge and whose communication skills only seemed so-so. I asked him to go home and learn about different financial products before our next meeting. When we met he sounded like he knew way more than me about those products. We then worked on his interviewing skills and he actually beat several banking candidates to secure the job – such was his determination to break into the sector.”
5. Give me 35% more!
Ben Batten, Singapore managing director at recruiters Volt, was initially hesitant to recommend a “cocky” candidate who was demanding a 35% pay rise over his current role and a higher seniority rank. “This exceeded both the job and salary scope, but after some back and forth we settled and he took the job. He impressed at interview, which he took very seriously – he saved his difficult behaviour for me, the recruitment consultant.”
6. Deleted experience
Be wary of deleting large chunks from your CV, says James Stokes, an executive at search firm Anton Murray Consulting. “One candidate had just two years’ experience in funds distribution listed on his resume, which made him too inexperienced for most of our roles. But chatting to him it was clarified that he’d actually worked for 10 years in investment banking equities sales and funds business development, but was advised by another recruiter to only include recent jobs on his CV. I realised he’d be bang on for a VP funds sales role, which he secured.”
7. Clients to the rescue
“Sometimes the ‘weakest’ candidate technically on your shortlist actually gets recruited by the bank,” says Angela Kuek, director of search firm Meyer Consulting Group in Singapore. “Having clients in common with the hiring manager is often the reason. For example, you might have worked on the same client deal but didn’t know each other at that time, or you have a common network socially – golf, running or cycling, for example – with a client. The hiring manager then gets positive feedback from the client and you get hired.”