Nine tough interview questions that senior bankers in Asia love to ask

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You’ve made it through to the final interview rounds at a financial institution in Asia. Now you’re facing a high-level grilling by the head of HR, the boss of the department – or even the local chief executive.

What should you expect? We asked senior leaders at several firms in Singapore and Hong Kong to tell us their favourite job interview questions.

1. How do you define and achieve success?

“I like to understand your motivations for success and your journey towards a successful outcome,” says Han Kwee Juan, chief executive officer of Citibank Singapore. “This allows me to know the core of the person and their values – and therefore their fit with Citi’s values and culture.”

2. If you were a department head, what would you change?

Ewan Clarkson, a partner at PwC Hong Kong and China, says he enjoys asking interview questions that encourage candidates to express their opinions. “Many young people in Asia feel they don’t know enough to express a point of view, but we’re keen to provide them this kind of platform, which can give them the conviction to express their thoughts and ideas.”

3. Tell me about a challenge you’ve been through

“This is less about the challenge itself, but more about how you reacted to it and coped with it,” says Pascal Lambert, Societe Generale’s head of Southeast Asia and group country head for Singapore. “I’d like to understand your thought process and how you get through difficulties.”

4. How would your team mates describe you?

If you’ve spent your interview preparation time focusing solely on your achievements and fit for the new firm, this question could come as a curve ball.  “I ask it to help test your self-awareness,” says Bin Wolfe, Asia Pacific managing partner for talent at EY. “And I follow up with ‘how would you like your team mates to perceive you?”

5. How do you deal with failure?

“I want to know about the experiences that a person has had, what have they learnt, and what kind of attitude they have around success and failure,” says Sophia Leung, chief information officer for Asia Pacific at J.P. Morgan.

6. Talk to me about your best boss and why you liked them

“When answering this you reveal more about yourself than about your boss,” says a former Standard Chartered MD, who asked not to be named. “If you said your best manager gave you plenty of freedom and praise, I’d know that you’re someone who likes to be recognised and rewarded. If you said your boss was heavily involved in your work and would always lend you a hand, I’d know you like to be micro managed.”

7. What are you passionate about?

“Too many young people say what they think they want us to hear, rather than being authentic,” says Christophe Aba, regional head of investments for Southeast Asia at J.P. Morgan. “If it’s an open-ended question, I don’t need to agree with your answer or share your point of view – I want to understand what you think and why you think that way. Don’t take the consensus approach.”

8. The question you can’t prepare for

“I like to ask a few questions that you can’t prepare for as I want to see how you think on your feet, which is a very important quality,” says Matthew Corbin, a former Barclays director, now head of business development at Trident Trust Company. “I like to see that you take a bit of time to think of an answer rather than just say something totally off the cuff.”

9. The ‘impossible’ question

“Sometimes I ask a near-impossible question and I like it when people say ‘sorry, I don’t know the answer to that’. Having a staff full of yes-men and women is a weakness in my eyes, so saying ‘no’ in an interview can actually be a sign of strength and character,” says Corbin.

Image credit: lzf, Getty

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