Ten questions Singapore banks will (almost) always ask you at job interviews

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Ten questions Singapore banks will always ask you at job interviews

DBS, OCBC and UOB continue to dominate the job market – at least in numbers terms – in Singapore. In 2018, combined headcount at the three banks shot up by 4,231. Right now, DBS alone has 623 Singapore-based openings.

Meanwhile, recruiters in Singapore have also seen an increase in candidates from global banks wanting to join the local players in the wake of foreign firms such as Deutsche Bank cutting jobs. If you’re among the people planning to move to DBS, OCBC or UOB for the first time, here are some of the broad questions you should prepare for (regardless of your job function), and some expert tips on how to structure your answers.

What job interview questions will Singapore banks ask you?

Why work here instead of an international bank?

Expect to get this question almost before you’ve taken a seat. Try to focus on the specific, positive pull factors of DBS, OCBC or UOB. “When moving from an international bank to a Singaporean bank, show you understand how the local banks differentiate themselves in your job function,” says Matthieu Imbert-Bouchard, managing director of recruiters Robert Half in Singapore. “This question is an opportunity to show you’ve done your research as each bank will have a reputation for doing something well.”

But why would you want to give up having a wider international exposure?

You’re not off the hook yet – prepare for this question as a follow-up to the above. Evelyn Lee, a director at LMA Recruitment, suggests this answer: “After working in a global bank for a number of years, my experience covers the breadth of international banking. However, I’d now like to focus my skills on a more targeted market – Singapore. This will allow me to gain more in-depth exposure and better use my strengths to more directly contribute to the bank.”

Tell me about a time you had to lead, drive and deliver a project

Unlike foreign banks, where tasks are more “defined and pigeonholed”, local firms often expect one person to work across a project and execute it end-to-end, says Angela Kuek, director of search firm Meyer Consulting Group. “Interviewers will be looking for versatility, a willingness to be hands-on, and a can-do spirit – so they’ll ask situational questions like this,” she says. “Another example would be ‘give me an example when you had to go beyond your role and responsibilities in order to achieve a desired outcome’.”

How would you manage someone who’s been with our bank for a long time?

Local banks have a higher number of long-term employees than foreign banks do, so if you’re going for a managerial role, you may well face this question, says Kuek. “You should show how you’ve handled resistance to change and also how you’ve led change, especially when managing experienced staff,” she adds. “If you’re able to share one or two specific success stories, that will put you at an advantage.”

Tell me more about the digital projects that you have been involved with

About a quarter of all vacancies across DBS, OCBC and UOB are for technology and digital roles, according to our analysis of their careers websites. But you’ll probably be asked a ‘digital’ question no matter what position you’re applying for. “Given the huge push in digital banking in Singapore, there’s a lot of projects that employees have to take up alongside their BAU work,” says Lucas Yeo, a director at search firm Tangspac. “With this question, hiring managers want to assess your tenacity and versatility to ensure you could cope with these additional projects,” he adds. “You should give examples of where you’ve contributed to a digital project, even if it’s as simple as being involved in system testing.”

Do you want to join us just because you think we offer better job security?

Avoid any hint that you want to move to a Singaporean bank because they tend not to make mass layoffs. “Interviewers will try to find out if you’re looking to join them due to a perceived safety net. While it’s true that local firms are unlikely to dramatically scale down, your compensation and job security will still be tied to your individual performance,” says Gary Lai, managing director at recruiters Charterhouse Partnership.

How would you cope with more accountability to locally-based senior management?

At most international firms in Singapore, the global head of your department will be in another country and there may be multiple management layers between you and them. Interviewers will want to know how you will cope with the smaller hierarchy you will encounter at a Singaporean bank, says Lai. The key to your response is to show how you have successfully adapted to managerial changes in the past, he adds.

Team dynamics is important to our corporate culture. How well do you assimilate into teams?

While you could be thrown a teamworking question at a global firm, Singaporean banks – largely because of their comparatively low staff turnover – are particularly keen on them. Begin your reply with an example of how you contributed to a team objective in a recent job, says Lee from LMA. If you’ve researched the bank’s approach to teamworking, then add a few comments about it and why you’d fit right in.

Why have you changed jobs so often within the past few years?

Local banks value long tenures and don’t like the tendency of some young banking professionals in Singapore to ‘job hop’ between different global firms. “If you’ve had three or four jobs in a short period of time, you can definitely expect this question,” warns Imbert-Bouchard from Robert Half. “Try to turn it into a positive by indicating how each job was a positive step as part of a career strategy, and you weren’t just jumping for extra pay.”

Where do you see yourself in five years?

“When you’re moving from an international bank to a local one, this question can be tricky,” says Imbert-Bouchard. “What the interviewer is really asking is whether you intend to stick around, or are just waiting for a better opportunity with an international bank to come along in the near future. You should highlight your ambition to build a future within one bank and your desire for continuity in your career.”

Image credit: yongyuan, Getty

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