During my long career in banking – both in Europe and here in Asia – I’ve been on both sides of the ‘recruitment divide’, having been a hiring manager and a new recruit (temp, perm, you name it – done it all).
But now I’m more on the ‘hiring side’ as a founding partner and CEO of Hong Kong-based fintech company FinFabrik. I will try to give you a view – in general terms – about the type of banking-sector candidates that start-ups such as mine like to hire, and the type of interview questions we like to ask.
Doing your homework before joining a fintech is critical simply because in a small company we’re always looking for someone who’s a great culture fit. But we can’t go through hundreds of applications to find the perfect person like a big bank can with the help of a headhunter.
So one of the first questions we’ll ask is “why us?” (out of all the fintech firms currently sprouting up in Hong Kong). While you need to know everything about us that’s in the public domain, we don’t expect your answer to be all platitudes.
Knowing who the founders are, when we started, and whether we’ve had any funding rounds will help you form an idea about our maturity. But understanding our brand, products offering and how/why they match your aspirations is actually more important.
You also need to know our competition (or lack of) and what makes us attractive, other than having an open vacancy and a decent salary plus stock options. If money is your main motivator, then don’t even bother applying because we can’t compete with the banks and your equity might take a long time to realise its value.
Understanding how big and developed we are will also tell you how much multi-tasking (or multi-fire-extinguishing!) there will be in the job. In other words, how adaptable you will need to be and how much of a set work pattern you will need to follow (or not).
At a small fintech firm we don’t have time to play divas. Learning and adapting as we go, and helping each other is paramount to our success. So at a job interview you need to convince us that you can perform under pressure, meet tight deadlines, and move from one thing to another.
Another one of our initial questions will be: “Could you please introduce yourself?”
To me, this is more about hearing how you construct your story – how you weave different jobs and periods of your life together into a coherent narrative. To tell you bluntly, I don’t care much about what jobs you did, how long you lasted or even how senior you were. I look at your skills, attributes, and resilience.
Undeniably, your work experience helped shaped you. But I’m more interested in the lessons learnt from this experience, and how you articulated your points. No one is a finished article and fintech is a rapidly changing industry, so your willingness to learn new skills must also come across during the interview.
Don’t pretend to know more than what you do. If you try to fake it, I might ask you a question about a type of asset class, market, regulation, client, business, or technology and I will find out very quickly about the depth of your knowledge.
I also like to ask interviewees: “What’s so special about you and how are you going to help us?”
Your ‘personal brand’ is your most important characteristic and differentiator. A fintech start-up has a lot of moving parts and each one has to make the whole better. During my career (and now more so than ever), I look for people who are better than me (which is not too difficult on many levels!). Selfishly, I know I will learn from them and they will push me to be on my toes all the time.
A word of caution: we are a team of knowledgeable, fun and passionate professionals, but we have no room for large egos, so you’d better not have one.
Finally for me, the most important question is: “do you have a passion?”.
The passion you mention isn’t important, but it tells me that you have something defining you that will help you during tough times. My passion is martial arts. That might give you some clues about how I think, if we meet face-to-face in Hong Kong for an interview in the future.
Alex Medana is a former Deutsche Bank head of client service for APAC who is now CEO of FinFabrik, a Hong Kong-based capital markets and wealth management fintech firm.