It’s not quite 2008, but as concerns grow about potential job cuts in London, recruiters in Asia are fielding more enquiries from Western bankers looking to relocate.
Recruiters and banks in Singapore and Hong Kong can, however, afford to be fussy about who they hire – banking jobs for those without Asian experience are few and far between.
If you’re about to speak to a recruiter in Asia, or if you’re lucky enough to get an interview with a bank there, expect to be grilled about your long-term commitment to the region. These are the questions you will have to answer.
Why do you want to move to Asia?
“Show that you’ve been thinking about the move for a while and it’s not an impulse decision,” says Henry Chamberlain, a Hong Kong industrial psychologist and former head of selection at Standard Chartered. If you have several motivations for moving, be prepared for the interviewer to ask you to rank them in order of importance. “Banks also like to hear candidates who proactively share their long-term careers plans in Asia as part of their answer.”
What’s the biggest obstacle to you securing a job in Asia?
“Often overseas candidates aren’t aware of the main stumbling blocks to moving,” says Richie Holliday, Asia Pacific COO at recruiters Morgan McKinley. “This question creates a conversation about perceived versus actual hurdles. Many people just cite a lack of language skills, when in reality the main challenge is something subtler, like the cultural challenges of managing people from an entirely different background. Your answer needs to show that you have a genuine understanding of the problems you’ll face.”
How will you overcome this obstacle?
“In your answer I'm looking for self-awareness, a balanced perspective, and examples of how you’ve learnt from lessons in the past,” says Chamberlain. “If you’re a rather direct person, you might find it hard to interact with people in Asia. But if you can show that you’ve learnt to respect people while not giving up on your objectives, I may be convinced of your ability to adapt to Asia.”
How does your family feel about moving to Asia?
“Banks don’t want a candidate who’s looking for a short-term move to Asia, and the happiness of their family is a huge factor in determining whether they’ll stay longer term,” says Conor Cole, associate director at recruitment agency Arion House in Hong Kong. “In your answer you need to demonstrate that you’ve thought about schooling, which can be notoriously difficult to organise, and housing, which can be smaller and more expensive in Asia.”
How much interaction have you had with your counterparts in Asia?
If you’ve worked closely with Asia-based colleagues in your team, be sure to explain all the details. “Banks want to see that you know the nuances of what performing your role in Asia would actually entail,” says Cole.
Did you experience any cultural differences when dealing with colleagues in Asia?
Once you’ve got through the above question, you should expect this as a follow-up, says Bart Raca, associate director at LMA Recruitment in Singapore. Don’t be afraid to talk about a “conflict” you’ve had with an Asia-based colleague, as long as you can explain how it was resolved and what you learnt about workplace culture in Asia as a result.
Have you tried for an internal transfer?
“This question gives an indication of how serious candidates are about moving to Asia, as sometimes they could be talking to recruiters just to get a general feel of the job market,” says John Mullally, director of financial services at recruiters Robert Walters in Hong Kong. “If you’re serious about moving, you would have already asked about opportunities at your current bank.”
What would you do if you moved to Asia and then lost your job?
“This question looks beyond your immediate concern, ‘I need another job’, to the reality of what moving to Asia might mean for you personally,” says Ben Batten, Singapore managing director at recruiters Volt. “I want to know what your fall-back position is – what support networks do you have in place to help with your transition.”
What professional or client connections do you have with Asia?
“Your chances of getting a job are instantly higher if you have, for example, dealt with Asian clients before,” says Han Lee, director of search firm Lico Resources in Singapore. “When answering this question the next step is to outline the benefits you’ve obtained from that experience – that could be your unique selling point at the interview.”
What personal connections do you have with Asia?
Banks want to hear “tangible evidence” evidence that you’re not moving to Asia merely to escape job losses in Western markets, says Amanda Teng, an associate consultant at recruitment firm Astbury Marsden in Singapore. If you’ve spent a substantial period of time in the region visiting family or friends, you should tell the interviewer, she adds. “Even a gap year in Hong Kong or having a Chinese spouse could make a difference,” adds Lee.
What do you know about the local culture in Hong Kong or Singapore?
“You need to show that you have researched this and that you will easily fit in,” says Chamberlain. “You can also share relevant past experiences showing your adaptability, flexibility, and tolerance –even if the examples aren’t in Asia. Behaviour-based interviews assume that past behaviour predicts future behaviour, so as long as the behaviour is transferable to the new situation, it would be relevant.”