Why 20-something bankers in Singapore and Hong Kong don’t get hired

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Junior Asian financial professionals are in demand. Banks in Hong Kong are beefing up their analyst ranks with Mandarin speakers, while banks in Singapore are focused on hiring young local talent.

But being among a sought-after group is no guarantee of actually getting a job. Recruiters in Asia tell us that some 20-something candidates are complacent and are messing up in interviews as a result. If you’re going for a junior banking job in Singapore or Hong Kong, here’s how to turn off recruiters and hiring managers when you meet them face to face.

Being very vague

Young candidates often assume that the expansion of Asia’s banking sector is enough to drive their own career – it’s not. “I see many of them who have no concrete career vision,” says Eunice Ng, director of search firm Avanza Consulting in Hong Kong. “This means at interviews they can’t answer important questions about their specific expectations – what they are looking for in their next job.”

Avoiding achievements

Just as listing achievements is a vital task when drafting a CV, you should be ready to answer questions about achievements at job interviews. “But young people in Hong Kong often aren’t prepared to talk about their accomplishments – they give generic answers, which is very disappointed to employers,” bemoans Ng.

Only sweating the technical stuff

“Although junior finance candidates in Singapore typically come to interviews well-prepared for the technical aspects of the role, most are unable to answer simple personality questions, such as about their strengths and weaknesses,” says Orelia Chan, manager of financial services and compliance at recruitment agency Robert Walters in Singapore.

Revealing the wrong kind of weaknesses

While you’ll need to explain your weakness, don’t choose potentially career-shattering ones. “Young candidates in Singapore often mention two major weaknesses that are immediately red-flagged by employers: being forgetful and lacking the confidence to deal with stakeholders within their banks,” says Chan.

Not justifying your job hopping

“It’s fairly common in Asia to see young finance professionals leaving positions after a year, or even less,” says Duncan McKenzie, a senior consultant at recruiters Astbury Marsden in Singapore. “Banks seem to have lost patience with this and are pushing back on any candidates who have lots of unjustifiable short-term roles on their CVs.”

Repeating your reasons

“In terms of explaining job hopping, be very careful,” warns Richard Aldridge, a director at recruiters Black Swan Group in Singapore. “You can only use excuses like ‘the job wasn’t what I expected’, ‘the culture wasn’t right’, or ‘my manager changed’ so often. After two or three moves it becomes very clear that you aren’t making the best decisions for your career, so how are you going to make good decisions for the bank you want to join?”

Mentioning money

Money: it’s the worst of all reasons for changing jobs – recruiters and line managers alike simply don’t want to hear about it. And yet, says Chan from Robert Walters, it’s the number-one moving motivation mentioned by 20-something finance professionals at job interviews in Singapore.

Staying stuck to your smartphone

Getting your smartphone out won’t make the interviewer think how impressively connected to the markets you are – it will only serve to annoy them. “A common rookie mistake is not turning off your phone – worse still, leaving it on the table in front of the interviewer,” says McKenzie from Astbury Marsden. “I’ve heard many horror stories of candidates in Singapore answering phone calls during interviews, while the constant buzzing of text alerts is extremely distracting.”

Saying the recruiter rang you

When asked by interviewers at banks why they want the job, too many young finance professionals in Asia respond by saying “I was headhunted” or “the recruiter called me”. “This isn’t a proper reason and it also implies you were happy but someone else came along with a better offer – so where is the loyalty and guarantee you won’t do it again?” says Aldridge from Black Swan.

Mouthing off your manager

“Another key thing that junior candidates often trip up on is being negative about their current job and boss,” says Aldridge. “Be positive and focus instead on what you learnt from any challenging situations, explaining how that ties in with the role you are interviewing for.”

Being disorganised

“I once had a junior candidate who forgot their Hong Kong ID card so they couldn’t sign into the building to attend an early morning interview,” says James Carss, Hong Kong director of recruiters HFG. “The line manger was very unforgiving and not impressed when the security guards called him to let the candidate in. First impressions definitely count.”

Going overboard about benefits

“Many young people in Hong Kong place too much emphasis during interviews on the personal upsides to securing the role – not just the salary but other benefits and factors like training and development,” says Carss. “Always remember that more candidates are in play at a junior level – so you need to sell yourself and not expect to be sold to.”

Blaming the family

“In Hong Kong, more and more young people are now simply citing ‘family reasons’ for leaving jobs,” says Carss. “While frequently this is indeed the case, you need to explain your situation in more detail without getting too personal. You can’t use family reasons for leaving every role and expect it to be unquestioned.”

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