If you want to move to Asia for a banking job, you’d better stay with your current firm. Cost-conscious banks in Singapore and Hong Kong are increasingly reluctant to hire overseas-based candidates from competitors.
When they do relocate people from abroad, they prioritise candidates who already work for them. Here’s how to land an internal transfer into Asia.
1. Be clear about company rules
If you work for a large bank, there are restrictive guidelines governing the application process for internal transfers. Learn them before you do anything else. An HR manager at a European bank in Singapore, who asked not to be named, says her firm only transfers staff under two circumstances: When an existing role is being relocated or offshored; and when filling a permanent vacancy or fixed-term assignment. Speculative candidates need not apply.
2. Approach your manager first
When you have established some Asian expertise and contacts, kick start the transfer by speaking to your home country manager. “We encourage staff to discuss it with their line manager first, but it’s not mandatory,” says the Singapore HR manager. “The manager can’t stop them from applying unless they provide a robust business case against the move and I’ve yet to see this happen.”
3. Stay glued to your careers site
Most banks advertise jobs exclusively to employees for about two weeks. Make sure to monitor your employer’s careers website so you can apply for new vacancies during this window.
4. Stay in the same division
Be realistic about the roles you apply for – internal transfers and career changes typically don’t mix. You are far more likely to move within the same division doing a similar job, says a recruiter at a global bank in Singapore.
5. Understand Asia
You won’t snag a transfer just by being a star in your home country. You must also demonstrate that you understand business issues in Asia, says to Bin Wolfe, managing partner for talent, Asia Pacific, at EY. “Asia is rich in diversity. It’s a mix of mature markets (such as Singapore and Hong Kong), developing markets (such as mainland China), and emerging markets (such as Indonesia and Vietnam). The more you address these distinct differences, the more credible you will be.”
6. Connect with Asian colleagues
Nothing says you understand Asia like working with colleagues in the region. “People like to hire people they know. If the team in Shanghai has never heard of you, it may not be enough that you are already employed by the company; you will just be seen as another resume,” says Christine Raynaud, CEO of Morgan Philips Executive Search.
7. Take a trip
Do as many work trips to Asia as you can. Failing that, go on holiday and meet your colleagues socially. Get to know the managers in your department and the people that make hiring decisions. “Leveraging these experiences to build relationships can be really beneficial when you make an official request to transfer,” says Wolfe.
8. Keep your interview professional, not personal
If you’re lucky enough to get a first interview about an internal job in Asia, don’t harp on about your personal reasons for wanting to move or ask questions about housing, schooling and other personal matters. “The interview should not be about how much you want to learn about business in Hong Kong, or experience the growth of Indonesia, it should be about what you have to offer the company,” says Raynaud. “For example, highlight your familiarity with products and processes, and your head-office relationships.”
9. Don’t mention money
You may be a valued employee, but don’t let this make you over confident. Treat your in-house interview like you would an external one. Don’t mention salary, benefits and relocation expenses too early in the process, says Annie Yap, managing director at Singapore headhunters AYP Group. And unless you’re the CEO, don’t expect an expat package. “When it eventually comes to negotiating compensation, remember that most transferees are now negotiated on local terms.”
10. Cultural questions are critical
Don’t treat cultural awareness and adaptability as fuzzy concepts. Interviewers in Asia will grill you on them at an early stage. “Many organisations have experienced individuals who came here to work but were unable to adapt to Asian culture,” says Wolfe from EY. Demonstrate how you have adapted your working style to fit in with colleagues and clients from different cultural backgrounds.
11. Be open to other Asian locations
Being fixated on a single country in Asia may backfire as your employer wants to use your skills, not pander to your geographical tastes. “Show flexibility in terms of location. It may well be that the company can offer you a job somewhere else in Asia, but not in Singapore. But once you have Asian experience you may be able to move there later,” says the in-house recruiter at the global bank in Singapore.
12. Be open to project roles
A fixed-term role on a new project may not be the secure route into Asia that you’re after. But with permanent openings generally scarce, it may be your only option. Being based in Asia makes it easier to get other jobs there once the project ends.
13. Don’t be lazy
If interviewers in Asia get a whiff that you’re a core-hours-only candidate, you can forget about a transfer. “It’s important to demonstrate a strong work ethic, because Asian workers tend to work longer hours than their counterparts in the West,” says Wolfe.
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