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10 big obstacles to getting a Hong Kong banking job in Q4

Banks hiring in Hong Kong

Big barriers in Q4

The fourth quarter starts tomorrow, and if you want a new banking job in Hong Kong over the next three months you will be up against a tough labour market.

But what specific challenges will you face when you’re looking for work? Here’s what to expect so you can start your job search well prepared.

1. More cuts will follow in the fourth quarter

You will face plenty of competition in your search for work. Goldman Sachs and Bank of America both culled investment banking jobs at the back end of the third quarter – and more lay-offs are expected over the next three months. “Not only are global banks continuing to cut back unprofitable businesses in Asia, in Q4 there’s also increased pressure to clear the desks so they can make a fresh assessment of their headcount needs for 2017,” says John Mullally, director of financial services at recruitment agency Robert Walters in Hong Kong.

2. The labour market is particularly bad for senior staff  

“Many of those who’ve been affected by recent job cuts had very stable careers with a bank and had reached a very senior level,” says Gin Sun, associate director, financial services, at recruiters Michael Page in Hong Kong. “It will be difficult for them to find another position of similar seniority in another international bank due to ongoing hiring freezes and cost cutting exercises.”

3. And it’s not a good time to be a job hopper

“With limited headcount for hiring, banks are now avoiding candidates who have moved jobs several times. In the past, if they had relevant experience, they could still get offers,” says Maggie Li, associate director of banking and financial services at recruitment company Randstad in Hong Kong. “If you’ve moved a lot, you need to make sure your resume isn’t too generic, and instead focus on showcasing key projects you’ve worked on and achievements that are in line with the new role.”

4. You must find out why there’s really a vacancy

In the current market, you need to know exactly why a vacancy has cropped up and you need to grill the bank about the longer-term security of the job. You may want the position, but you don’t want to leave yourself vulnerable to being ‘last in, first out’. “Given all the current noise about redundancies in the front office in Hong Kong, it pays to do your due diligence around the team you’ll be joining and its performance,” says Adam Jeffes, associate director of financial services at recruiters Morgan McKinley in Hong Kong.

5. Sticking to your goals will be difficult

With fewer jobs to choose from in Q4, candidates should be wary of just applying for any well-paid role that arises in their field. “It’s challenging in this market, but try not to abandon the real reasons you were looking for a new role in the first place, such as better work-life balance or finding a bank with a better culture,” says Chris Jackson, a director at Pure Search in Hong Kong.

6. Expect a long hiring process

Even if you do land an interview in Q4 this year, expect the recruitment timetable to be more drawn-out than usual. As banks face weaker economic conditions and tighter internal controls, more managers are getting involved in hiring decisions. “So get sight of and look to influence the length of the recruitment process,” says Jeffes.

7. Going to interviews could be tricky

“Because of recent redundancies, many teams across banks are understaffed and this leads to people working longer hours to cope with the workload,” says Nick Lambe, group managing director at recruiters Links International in Hong Kong. “This can cause problems for candidates when interviewing as they will struggle to get away from the office without it being too obvious that they’re looking for a new role.”

8. Don’t push hard on pay

“In the current market, candidates should have managed salary expectations,” says Jack Leung, senior banking and financial services manager at recruiters Hays in Hong Kong. “Banks will focus on a candidate’s expected salary and evaluate them against the competition in terms of who can add the most value to the organisation at the lowest rate. They will also take into account the willingness of candidates to progress within the bank rather than secure immediate financial gains.”

9. Never ask for a guarantee

If you do get a job in Q4, you can forget about negotiating a guaranteed bonus to compensate you for the bonus accrued at your current firm. “Banks will be firing in Q4. And any bank that’s hiring will not be guaranteeing bonuses,” says Damian Babis, managing director of recruiters Capital People in Hong Kong.

10. Even compliance candidates aren’t in command

This time last year banks in Hong Kong were prepared to lure new compliance candidates with pay rises in excess of 30%. “But now, given the general focus on costs, banks are reluctant to sanction large increases. Pay premiums in compliance have dropped to about 15%,” says Jeffes from Morgan McKinley. “In Q4 candidates will have to balance a short-term rise in remuneration with their longer-term career prospects.”

Image credit: Alleksander, Getty

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