Eight interview questions that could crush your banking career in Asia

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Internal transfers aside, it isn't easy to land a banking job in Singapore or Hong Kong if you're not already based there. Asian client networks are increasingly important to careers in both cities, while the demand for Mandarin skills continues to rise in Hong Kong, and the Singapore government is still encouraging banks to hire more locals.

But recruiters in Asia say that's not putting off budding expats from applying for roles in Asia, and some of these applicants are getting job interviews.

If you're an overseas candidate about to interview for an Asian banking job, here are some of the relocation-related questions you can expect. And here's how to answers them.

1. Why do you want to come to Singapore/Hong Kong?

Sinan Atahan, an executive director at headhunters The Laurus Group in Hong Kong, says there are four common responses to this question: 1) international exposure; 2) strength of the Asian market; 3) friends who love living there; and 4) regional travel and holidays. But what interviewers are really asking is: why should I hire you in Asia? Your response should let them know what you will bring to their bank. For example, you could say you will give them new clients from your home country, or that your compliance skills will help them comply with new international regulations.

2. How long will you stay in the country?

Interviewers in Asia aren’t afraid to ask upfront questions, and this one is among their favourites. “It has to be three years, at the very least,” Sophia Leung, the head of IT risk and security management at J.P. Morgan in Hong Kong, told us previously. “You spend the first year learning and the second year producing and delivering, so by year three you should be very productive to the bank.”

3. Where do you see yourself in five years time?

If interviewers don’t ask question two above, they are still likely to ask this one. Your answer should show your commitment not just to the company, but to the country, too. As well as career reasons, tell the interview why, for example, Singapore is a good place to live, says Finian Toh, an associate director at Kerry Consulting in Singapore. “The best responses usually talk about how Singapore is a safe and family-friendly country and how it would be good to raise a family here because of the excellent infrastructure, amenities and education system."

4. What are the main culture differences you might face when working in Asia and how will you adapt your working style?

The goal here is to prove that you’ve done your homework, so provide examples from any previous visits to Asia and from talking to people based there, says Mark Enticott, founding partner at search firm Bowen Partners in Hong Kong. Rolling off generic facts from internet research won’t impress interviewers. Once you’ve spoken about Asia, move on to mention how culturally adaptable you are. Overseas experience anywhere in the world is worth shouting about, says Enticott. “A history of working, living or studying in other countries helps demonstrate that you can adapt to different cultures."

5. What are you communication skills like?

Don’t reel off the same spiel as you would in London or New York – this is a trick question to further test your adaptability to Asia. Your answer shouldn’t be about giving good PowerPoint presentations, it should focus on cross-cultural communication. “Prepare case studies that demonstrate your ability to lead a multiracial team or show how you’ve managed projects that crossed national boundaries,” says Matthieu Imbert-Bouchard, managing director of recruiters Robert Half in Singapore.

6. What is your salary expectation?

Cost-conscious banks love using this question to weed out people who are just moving for the money. Your answer should be based not on your overseas salary but on local rates. “Your willingness to adjust your expectations will be of great help,” says Toh. If possible, ask counterparts in Asia what they’re earning and consult salary surveys to get a more objective idea. “However, it’s not necessary to only benchmark against years of experience. If you point out any unique skills that aren’t so available in Asia, you’re well positioned to command better compensation.”

7. What will your spouse or partner do in Asia?

Don’t like personal questions during job interviews? Don’t apply for a role in Asia. Banks want to ensure that expats aren’t forced home because their family can’t cope in the new country, says Neil Dyball, regional general manager for Singapore and Hong Kong at recruiters Allegis Group. In particular, make sure your partner doesn’t mind a potential period of unemployment while they look for a job.

8. Do you have any questions about the cost of living?

Another reason expats leave Singapore and Hong Kong is because they didn’t budget for the high cost of living. That’s why employers like asking overseas candidates about accommodation and other costs. The best response, says Dyball, is to say you’ve already spoken to friends or family about the practicalities of living in Asia. But it’s also good to ask the interviewer a follow-up question that shows you are already well informed but want additional information. Asking about rental prices in a particular suburb of Hong Kong or Singapore is a good example.

Image credit: SorinVidis, Getty

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