If you haven’t clocked up any Asian experience and are desperate to get some, a job interview with a bank in the region is bound to be stressful. With opportunities for foreigners dwindling, recruiters say competition for vacancies is stronger than ever and overseas interviewees often buckle under the pressure.
Here are some common mistakes made during banking interviews in Hong Kong and Singapore.
“Interviewing in Asia can be thrilling and terrifying, so it’s easy to lose sight of the most important aspect: being yourself,” said Hans-Karl Meyer, Asia-Pacific human resources leader at Ernst & Young in Hong Kong. “With the amount of competition these days, candidates often over prepare, over deliver and over convey,” he added. No matter how technically brilliant your answers may be, you won’t get the job if you sound like you feel under pressure. It’s risky and expensive to relocate someone to Asia, so employers must assess whether you are a good long-term fit for their company culture. “Being yourself in the interview makes it easier for your real personality to shine through and makes that assessment of 'fit' easier for the company."
Having a touch of arrogance may be beneficial in London or Wall Street, but in Asia it tends to leave interviewers cold. Budding expats too often base their replies around "why you would be lucky to have me", said Singapore-based Mark Sparrow, Asia Pacific managing director of consultancy NP Group. “A way to avoid this banana skin is to thoroughly research the firm’s annual report – see what they are trying to achieve strategically,” he added. “You can avoid coming across as boastful if you make the interviewer see the value you bring to the organisation.”
“Overseas candidates should be humble about their work experience,” said Gerard Milligan, strategic account director at recruitment firm Randstad in Singapore. “While you should demonstrate how your previous experience complements the role, it’s also important to show you're willing to build local relationships.” For example, demonstrate a commitment to joining local industry associations and make an effort to understand the cultural differences that are important to business success in Asia, Milligan added.
Don’t go overboard in showing your commitment to Asia. “Sometimes candidates, desperately wanting to impress interviewers, resort to talking in Singlish,” said Paul Heng, owner of NeXT Career Consulting Group in Singapore. But trying to speak this local slang – which mixes languages including English, Chinese dialects and Malay – is bound to backfire. “Many interviewers, me for one, take it as mockery, so speak ‘normally’ – don’t try to be someone you're not,” Heng added.
Many Western interviewees claim to know how “the Chinese” think, behave and work, but they don’t distinguish between mainland Chinese citizens and ethnic Chinese in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and other Asian countries, Heng said. And reading about China doesn't mean you should claim to be an expert, he added. Heng recommends being honest: "Yes, I have read up, spoken to friends and colleagues, and understand a bit about China. But while I don’t have any real understanding of what it takes to be successful in doing business there, I am a quick learner."
Experience in New York and London will seldom in itself dazzle interviewers into giving you a job in Asia these days, according to Nick Lambe, managing director of recruiters Morgan McKinley in Hong Kong. “It’s vital that you research the key differentiators compared with Europe or the US. Find out the type of clients that are prevalent in the local and regional market and explain how you will engage with them.”
Asia’s rapid economic growth can lure foreign candidates into assuming that jobs in Asia are all about cashing in on complex financial products. “But managing your own expectations is the key to interviewing for a role in Asia,” said Sammie Sam, associate director, financial services and legal, at recruitment firm Robert Walters in Kuala Lumpur. “Malaysia is still a developing financial market – structured deals are less complex and there are fewer financial products (like second- and third-generation derivatives), and different regulations (like restrictions on short-selling),” he said.