What you need to know before you apply to a Singapore bank

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What you need to know before you apply to a Singapore bank

Singapore’s three local banks – DBS, OCBC and UOB – are not hiring as aggressively as last year. DBS said in late April that it will recruit “judiciously” over the coming months, and its two rivals are likely to take a similar approach.

But even during the Covid-19 pandemic, DBS, OCBC and UOB still dominate the local job market in banking. While HSBC and Standard Chartered have imposed hiring freezes, the domestic banks all currently have more than 200 Singapore-based roles on their careers sites.

If you're now at a global bank but are applying to a local firm, what do you need to know to improve your chances of getting a job? Here are some expert tips.

Don’t assume you know their strategy

Given the extensive – and largely positive – media coverage these banks receive in Singapore, some candidates come into interviews wrongly assuming they already know enough about their strengths and weaknesses. “Do more homework. The local banks are dominant and highly visible here, but how much do you know about their strategies and nuanced differences?” says a former banker who now works as a headhunter. “Also consider the potential pain points the hiring manager is facing, and ways you can help address them.”

Be mobile

DBS, OCBC and UOB are rapidly expanding their reach across Asia. “They’re identifying people who will eventually be mobile within the region,” says Gary Lai, managing director at recruiters Charterhouse Partnership. “During interviews you should say that you’re mobile should the bank require you to be posted overseas. However, don’t come across that you’re looking for an immediate posting if the job you’re interviewing for is currently based in Singapore.”

Go direct if you’re junior

Singapore banks use agency recruiters at a junior level even less than global banks do, so if you’re an analyst or associate, you should apply directly to the bank or get referred. “These days each local bank has a sizeable team focused purely on hiring, particularly for AVP positions and below,” says Lim Chai Leng, senior director of banking at recruiters Randstad in Singapore.

Don’t be a job hopper

If you’ve done too many short stints at global banks of late, you may want to wait a while before you apply to a local firm. “One of the most important traits that Singapore banks are looking for is your perceived longevity as a potential employee – so they value a stable career record,” says Angela Kuek, director of search firm Meyer Consulting Group in Singapore.

Don’t be a superstar

During a job interview with a Singapore bank, mark yourself out as a team player. “By contrast to some global banks, they usually shy away from ‘superstars’ with big egos, preferring to hire steady, mature but above-average performers who won’t upset team dynamics,” says Kuek.

Expect fewer (video) interview rounds at DBS, OCBC and UOB

Singapore banks typically conduct about two fewer interview rounds than international firms, so expect about three rounds in total, says Lim from Randstad. “The whole recruitment process is generally faster than at global banks because the interviewers and decision makers are mostly all working in Singapore, so it’s easier to set up interviews.”

Ask cultural questions

Leaving an international bank for a Singapore one may not be as daunting as joining a mainland Chinese firm or moving to the buy-side, but don’t underestimate the differences in company culture. Be sure to ask contacts within the bank about what the managerial and working environment is really like. “For example, their culture is generally more consensus-driven and decisions will be carefully made and may take longer,” says Kuek. “Singapore banks are generally more bureaucratic in hierarchy and rank.”

Don’t push your base pay

If you’re looking to join a local bank to land a large salary increment, you’re out of luck. “Singapore banks generally have their own salary benchmarks at various levels so, there’s often not much room to negotiate over your base salary,” explains Lim.

But do ask about average bonuses

“While you shouldn’t expect a big base salary, Singapore banks do offer more consistent bonuses,” says Matthieu Imbert-Bouchard, managing director of recruiters Robert Half in Singapore. “It’s not uncommon to find out what the average bonus pay-out is before you join, especially for non-sales roles, to have a better overview of the compensation element of the job offer.”

Dress conservatively while on video interviews

“Presentation and punctuality are key in Asian banks, which can be conservative and traditional in their culture,” says Christina Ng, managing director at LMA Recruitment in Singapore. “It’s viewed as a sign of respect to heads of departments when you dress appropriately and arrive on time to interviews.”

Image credit: unsplash

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