The academic year is drawing to a close and some of your classmates will soon be starting as analysts at Goldman Sachs, Citi, UBS and other global banks in Hong Kong and Singapore.
You, unfortunately, didn’t make the graduate cut at the bulge bracket – so you’re going to an Asian bank instead.
In a couple of years, however, you still plan to join an international firm.
Pipe dream or possibility? Bankers and recruiters in Asia say it can be done, if you follow this advice:
1. Don’t give up
“I interviewed with a US bank after I graduated, I got to the final three candidates, and just missed out,” says a junior banker who worked for a Singaporean bank for three years before moving to a US firm in 2015. “But importantly, unlike many people in my position, I didn’t let that narrow failure deter me – I kept on trying.”
2. Keep in touch
When junior vacancies are advertised at global banks in Singapore and Hong Kong, hundreds of candidates apply – and most already have experience at foreign firms. You’re much more likely to be hired through word of mouth than a direct application.
“Have some target global banks and network with people there, whether they’re juniors, seniors or friends,” says the Singapore banker. “I kept in touch with the MDs at the American bank who interviewed me – and liked me – in the penultimate round. And when I heard on the grapevine that someone was leaving their team, I was interviewed again and this time I got the job.”
3. Don’t worry about dropping a rank
Singaporean banks have even more ranks in their hierarchy than their Western counterparts do, so you may be promoted quickly at a local firm and have to take a step down a level if you join a foreign one. “If you’re an associate at a Singapore bank, don’t be put off applying to senior analyst roles at US or European banks – you’ll still be paid more,” says the Singapore banker.
4. Demonstrate your wide exposure at job interviews...
When you interview with an international bank, be sure to emphasize the unique aspects of your stint at the Asian firm. “For example, local banks can offer juniors exposure to a wider line of businesses or asset classes than you’d get at a global firm,” says a young VP at a European bank in Singapore, who spent the first three years of his career at an Asian bank.
5. ...and your passion
“It was only through working at a local bank and getting wide exposure to different areas that I became passionate about fixed-income fund investing,” says the VP. “I then had the opportunity to learn about structured products and a whole range of mutual funds, which helped me make my move to a global bank. “
6. Show off your soft skills
Even if your technical skills aren’t as strong as rival candidates who trained at international banks, remember that interviewees are just as interested in whether you’ll be a good ‘cultural fit’. “When I’m part of interview panels now, knowledge and drive are a given,” says the Singapore VP. “We assess candidates most favourably if we think they’ll fit well into the team, regardless of whether they’re from foreign or local banks.”
7. Work on cross-border projects...
As Asian banks work on more regional and international deals, more of their juniors are getting cross-border exposure. “To stand out from your peers in terms of achievements, strive to take part in international projects,” says Maggie Li, associate director of banking and financial services at recruiters Randstad in Hong Kong. “Doing this is the best way to set up a jump to a global bank.”
8. ...and on big Chinese deals
China dominates Asian investment banking revenues right now, and global banks are particularly enamoured with candidates who can help them win Chinese deals in the face of intense competition from mainland firms. “Strong candidates can make the jump from Chinese to global banks, especially if they have fluent Mandarin and experience of working on large mainland transactions,” says Nick Lambe, managing director of recruiters Links International in Hong Kong.
9. Do an MBA and apply to a management associate programme
Most global banks in Singapore and Hong Kong run management associate programmes that target bankers who’ve just completed an MBA. This is no easy option, however – places are limited and only top students get jobs. “The MBA route in is competitive,” says Adam Jeffes, associate director of financial services at recruiters Morgan McKinley in Hong Kong.
10. Try contracting
If you’re after an operations, middle-office or project management role at a global bank in Hong Kong or Singapore, accepting a contact job may get your foot through the door. “Although many candidates in Asia are sceptical about contract roles as they don’t offer long-term job security, they can often be transformed into permanent positions,” says Li from Randstad. “And if not, the experience will boost your resume as you hunt for a job at a different global bank.”
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