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Clever things to say and dramatic things to do at Asian banking job interviews

Don't talk about your CV

It’s post-bonus season in Asia – bankers are looking for new jobs, bankers are getting interviews, and both bankers and hiring managers are trying to out-do each other at said interviews.

Recruiters in Hong Kong and Singapore say job interviews are becoming touchier affairs – hiring is picking up but banks remain stubbornly fussy about who their hire. Candidates, meanwhile, recall the recent wave of banking redundancies and are keen to use interviews to ensure they are making a secure move.

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If you have an interview at a bank in Asia, here’s what to watch out for and here’s how to respond.

React to your resume being ripped up

“I used to tear up candidates’ CVs and ask them to tell me what's not on their CV,” says Jens Soderlund, managing partner at Hong Kong search firm Sirius Partners and a former JPMorgan Chase banker. “I’ve had so many different reactions – it tells me on the spot all about their personality and background. If they repeat anything on the CV I would point that out and perhaps give them one more chance. One time when I tore up a CV the candidate got so angry, I could even see it in her face. I gave her the thumbs down but the rest of the panel liked her and she got hired. But guess what? She didn't survive her probation period.”

What are your three biggest weaknesses?

One weakness isn’t enough. “When I was asked that for the first time in a banking interview, I had already prepared three personal weaknesses and three professional ones,” says Soderlund. “Guess what? I got the job and was informed later by one of the hiring managers that I was the only one who could answer that. Here in Asia so many candidates have no clue what their weaknesses are. But if you know your weaknesses, that's also a strength.”

How did you achieve success in your current job?

Whatever you do, don’t make it sound like success came easy (even if it did) – nobody likes a banker with a sense of entitlement. “I especially like to hear what barriers and challenges you had to overcome to achieve what you did. You need to demonstrate how you went that extra mile,” says Kris Sasitharan, the APAC regional lead of front-office talent acquisition at Deutsche Bank.

What does success look like in this role?

Once you’ve answered the above, hit them with this follow-up question, which shows your mind is set on success. “It gives an indication that the person is thinking about what it takes to be successful and is establishing a level of accountability about success,” says Sasitharan.

Can you estimate the annual gross profit of a Hong Kong family coffin making business?

A candidate for a strategy role at an investment bank in Hong Kong was asked this question recently, says Kate Harper, director of Hong Kong financial services at recruitment firm Connected Group. This macabre twist to the standard must-think-laterally interview question puts you under more pressure – most people would rather work out how many tennis balls there are in a city than ponder its annual mortality rate. Still, the same rules apply: the interviewer is more interested in how your answer, not what the final figure is, so be sure to demonstrate a logical thought process.

How would you change our team/division?

It’s no good just researching the company as a whole before your interview. Most line managers work in silos and only care about what you can bring to their part of the business  – so prepare suggestions in advance based on the team you want to join. Your ideas must also be practical and specific, says Eunice Ng, director of talent acquisition at headhunters Avanza Consulting in Hong Kong. So don’t say you’d like to improve the way team communicates with clients, provide some specific examples and explain why they would work well in practice.

What are the projects and objectives for this role in the first six months?

This is a great catch-all question for a candidate to ask a hiring manager. Adding a specific timeframe makes it harder for them to waffle on about corporate-level strategy – you want them to nail down specific challenges, skills and objectives for the job and the team. “Once you’ve heard their response, elaborate with work-based accomplishments to demonstrate how your skills and market knowledge fit these objectives,” says James Carss, Asia managing director at search firm Dryden Human Capital in Hong Kong. “Once you get a conversation going about objectives, you can start to create positive chemistry and find out how you can help solve their problems.”

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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