As we’ve reported in recent weeks, it’s not the best time to be looking for a banking job in Hong Kong or Singapore. Global banks have pared back their Asian hiring over and above their usual fourth-quarter reductions.
If you need a new role over the coming weeks and months, your interview preparation must be even more thorough than normal, warn finance recruiters in Asia.
Here’s what they say you should be doing to make interviewers want to hire you despite the tough job market.
1. Add something extra
“Showing that you add value outside of your day job has become an important way to gain an edge over other candidates in this market,” says Richard Fennelly, a lead consultant at G.R.A.C.E. Recruitment in Hong Kong. “For example, recently we placed a senior director into a bank in Hong Kong. There were several other candidates, but she stood out not only because of her technical background but because she volunteered to help build the firm’s women’s network across APAC.”
2. Present alternatives
Just because the job market is difficult doesn’t mean you need to tow the corporate line at interviews – in fact, the reverse sometimes works. “Don’t be afraid to challenge the interviewer – in the right way,” says Fennelly. “An interviewer recently ran a business scenario and a potential solution past one of our candidates. But instead of just agreeing, the candidate explained a viable alternative. The hiring manager ended up agreeing and was impressed with the candidate for questioning his thinking.”
3. Really research the interviewer
“Do some research on the hiring manager beyond just LinkedIn,” says Ben Batten, country general manager of recruitment firm Volt in Singapore. “Use this information in a constructive way to demonstrate interest – perhaps you share similar hobbies, went to the same school or did the same major. Breaking the ice with some personal conversation can make you more memorable. A candidate of mine recently highlighted the interviewers’ post-grad studies, and then found out their shared similar career objectives.”
4. Talk about projects
There’s plenty of project work happening at banks in Singapore and Hong Kong as they offshore jobs, restructure teams and generally strive to cut costs. “Managers are paying particular interest to whether candidates can provide examples of where they have led or contributed to an improvement project in their current or previous roles,” says Lynne Roeder, managing director of recruiters Hays in Singapore.
5. Know the products
Candidates can stand out from their rivals if they show a better understanding than their rivals about the products of the bank they are interviewing at, says Roeder. “Understand the bank’s platform first as this then allows you to develop your knowledge around the specifics of the products the bank trades with.”
6. Go for a more ‘hands-on’ role
As banks in Asia cut managerial jobs, some senior candidates are applying for roles lower down the pecking order. “But if you’ve been laid off and are looking for a more hands-on role, you’ll need to convince the bank that you actually want to be more hands-on and are very flexible about your salary,” says Vince Natteri, director of search firm Pinpoint Asia in Hong Kong. “You’ll have to answer questions about your motivations.”
7. Be very good at explaining your reasons for moving
Even if you’re not out of work, banks will grill you about your motivations for moving. “Banks are good at identifying people who are purely looking for a pay rise and will leave as soon as the job market recovers,” says Aaron Bolton, a manager at recruiters Black Swan Group in Singapore. “In this employer-driven job market in Asia, banks don’t need to pay above the odds or expose themselves to someone who could be a ‘flight risk’ – they would rather take time to find someone who is motivated by the role itself.”
8. Back up your strengths
Everyone explains their strengths at job interviews, but to stand out you must back these up with achievements, especially ones that relate to saving or making money for the bank. “If you mention how good you are at ‘process improvement’, for example, then talk about how you reduced the number of hours or people needed to get a job done,” says Komal Mehta, a partner at recruitment agency KS International in Singapore.
9. Or try this...
“I had one candidate who was initially dropped from the interview process, but sought out the bank on his own later and presented alternative ideas on client acquisition”, says Angela Kuek, director of search firm Meyer Consulting Group in Singapore. “The bank liked the idea and liked that he was enterprising – he was offered a job.”
Image credit: ofilolo, Getty