It’s arguably never been a better time to work at vice president (VP) level at a bank in Asia.
As banks in Hong Kong and Singapore trim more senior staff, VPs are taking on more interesting work and sometimes running larger teams.
But landing a promotion to VP is still tough – banks are full of people who’ve been marooned at associate rank for more than three years.
We spoke to several current and former bankers in Asia about how they achieved a rapid rise to the middle-ranks of their firms.
1. Understand what your manager really wants
“You need to work hard to get a VP promotion – I see colleagues who’ve been stuck at associate level for a long time,” says a VP who works in credit structuring at an international bank in Singapore. To get an edge over other associates, make sure your work is more in sync with your line manager’s objectives, he adds. Have a more “open dialogue” with your manager than your colleagues do, so you can better prioritise your work around their needs.
2. Impress your boss’ boss
Doing the above is important, but it isn’t enough. “Your boss makes the recommendation for your VP promotion, but at most large banks the decision is made by a panel, led by your manager’s manager,” says an executive director at a global bank in Singapore. “Make sure you get some exposure to them so you’re not an unknown quantity when they come to decide. Volunteer for projects that they’re involved in and that are integral to the bank’s management strategy.”
3. Schmooze other teams
“The promotion panel will have people from other teams on it and you don’t want one of them to say you’re not VP material,” says the Singapore ED. “So volunteer for lots of cross-departmental projects and maintain good relationships with people across the bank. I’m always taking colleagues out for coffee – it sounds simple, but it really pays off.”
4. Come up with solutions to get a VP job
“One of the reasons I got promoted quite quickly is that I made it my mantra to always come to my boss with solutions, not just tell him the problems,” says a corporate banking VP in Singapore. “Even if they weren’t always the best solutions, it still meant I stood out from my peers and it showed thought leadership, which is a vital skill in a VP role.”
5. Prove that you’re management material
As an associate seeking a promotion you must do more than just manage a few analysts or look after a couple of interns – you must show that you have a passion for management. “Demonstrate that you actually enjoy helping your colleagues,” says the corporate banking VP. “For example, set up knowledge sharing sessions in your team if you have skills that could benefit other people.”
6. Uncover your missing skills
You may be lingering too long as an associate because you’re missing some of the hard and soft skills needed to succeed as a VP. Find out what these are so you can get the training or work experience you need. “If you think you’re not being recognised, typically it’s because of a lack of skill set that need to be addressed before the promotion panel will make you a VP,” says Lyn Sia Rosmarin, a former Nomura VP and Merrill Lynch director who now runs swimwear firm K.BLU in Singapore.
7. Make mistakes
Associates who achieve quick promotions are those who go beyond their day jobs by frequently suggesting new ideas and sometimes suffering setbacks as a result. “You need to show lots of initiative and never be afraid to make mistakes because they can become valuable lessons,” says Robyn Liang, a former Goldman Sachs executive director, now co-founder of children’s clothing company Le Petit Society.
8. Discuss a long-term career plan for getting a VP job
Too many associates limit career discussions with their managers to their quarterly and yearly goals. “I’ve seen people stuck for seven years before getting to VP level,” says a VP in institutional sales at an investment bank in Hong Kong. “They need to let their managers know their real ambitions and that they want to take on more responsibilities. They need to be more open.”
9. Highlight your client connections
The Hong Kong banker achieved her promotion to VP by changing banks and says she couldn’t have done it without emphasising her “solid client relations” and the breadth of her client coverage. “I also had to demonstrate skills like leadership, and show the AUM and revenue I could make for the new bank.”