You’ve applied for a banking job via a recruitment agency in Singapore or Hong Kong and your CV and covering letter are spot-on. All that now stands between you and meeting the hiring manager at the bank is an initial interview with the recruiter, a mere box-ticking exercise – you think.
Your situation is not as straightforward as it may seem, however. Global banks in Asia have been cutting costs in 2016, and are putting more pressure on recruiters to only find them exceptional candidates.
If you don’t come across well when you meet a recruiter, they won’t hesitate to reject you. Here’s what to avoid.
Starting out with disrespect
Show respect to the recruiter when you first meet – even if they’re less experienced than you (this isn’t uncommon in Asia), even if they’ve never worked in banking, and even if you’re not a big fan of recruitment agencies generally. Dress and behave as though you’re at a job interview with a senior banker. If you make a bad first impression on a recruiter, they will assume the manager at the bank will think the same and won’t waste time recommending you, says James Incles, Singapore country director at recruiters iKas Group. “Do you make good eye contact? Are you wearing smart attire? Decisions are often made when you walk through the door.”
Mid-interview phone use
Switch off your device! Recruiters in Singapore and Hong Kong complain that too many candidates are checking their smart phones in the midst of job discussions. This doesn’t show that you’re a connected, sought-after finance professional; it suggests you’re not interested in the new job. Evelyn Lee, manager of financial services at recruiters Robert Walters in Singapore, has even seen candidates answering phone calls during interviews.
Giving short, dismissive answers
Candidates in Asia often assume that their (excellent) qualifications and (achievements-focused) CV should speak for itself. “Because of this, people with strong resumes sometimes fail to articulate anything relevant during an interview,” says a Hong Kong banking recruiter. “It’s exacerbated when they answer with one-word or vague responses, saying ‘that’s on my CV’. But banks won’t hire you because of something amazing on your CV – you have to nail the interviews and if you can’t do a good interview with me, I would question your ability to perform well in front of the bank.”
Leaving your research too late
It’s a big problem: candidates who think they can do their research into the job only when they clinch an interview with the bank. “You’ll be expected to have done your homework and be able to talk about the employer with the recruiter. If not, it doesn’t really signal that you want the job,” says Lynne Roeder, managing director of recruiters Hays in Singapore.
Covering up your mistakes
Too many candidates in Hong Kong and Singapore think career mistakes should be covered up to save face (or reputaion) rather than properly explained. “They sometimes rush through talking about their CVs like a runaway train,” says Adam Jeffes, associate director of financial services at recruiters Morgan McKinley in Hong Kong. “At every point you want to hide something, instead ask yourself if you can rationalise why you made the mistake. Whether it’s a low GPA or joining a firm because of a manager who left shortly after, use it as part of the story you tell the recruiter – will help engender trust.”
Don’t expect a recruiter interview to be a light-weight chat; except to get grilled on the same subjects that you would at a bank. And when you’re asked tricky questions, don’t lose your cool because you’re ‘only talking to a recruiter’. Vince Natteri, director of recruiters Pinpoint Asia in Hong Kong, explains: “I once had a candidate with a top-notch CV who seemed perfect for the bank. But when we probed into her background, her answers weren’t consistent and she became defensive and aggressive. This attitude meant we didn’t refer her to the bank.”
Hiding your real reason for leaving
“If we sense you’re not being truthful about your reasons for leaving a company, alarm bells will ring,” says Jeffes from Morgan McKinley. “This can have implications later on, particularly at the reference stage, and can jeopardise the whole hire.”
Telling irrelevant tales
Recruiters also find it irritating when candidates use a meeting to show off about their general career achievements without explaining why they are suitable for the advertised vacancy. “Answer questions directly and always relate your career experiences to the job description,” advises Roeder from Hays.
If you’re sick of your current bank or colleagues, it’s tempting to use a recruiter as a sounding-board for your grievances. “Criticising other people is never a good idea in an interview with a recruiter. Focus on the positive when talking about your experiences,” says Roeder.
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