Critical career mistakes that could crush your chances of promotion in Asian banking

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The post-bonus hiring season is drawing to a close in Asia Pacific and if you’re looking to give your career a boost, you may be better off seeking an internal promotion rather than a new job.

If you’re eager to step up the ladder, employing certain tactics may help put you on the managerial radar over the coming months – before the promotion process starts up in late 2014 and early next year.

Here, according to banking careers experts, is how to behave (and how not to behave) in order to snare a promotion in the APAC finance sector.

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Don’t shy away from self promotion

“In the Asian cultural context some people find that pushing our personal agenda goes against the grain so we miss out on promotion compared to others,” says Jeremy Stunt, a former banker who is now an executive coach at CFT Asia in Hong Kong. “Some people are just not sufficiently visible. In a fast-paced, multi-dimensional business, you cannot expect people two levels up from to notice you automatically. If senior management don’t really know who you are or how good you are, you won’t be front of mind at promotion time.”

Be opinionated

Employees who contribute well-formed opinions at meetings and on online company forums tend to get noticed by management. Hone your opinions by subscribing to relevant industry newsletters, reading blogs and attending as many company training courses as you can muster, says Toby Aikins, director of Small World, a careers consultancy. “You should aim for a spread of information or training, encompassing regulatory and policy developments as well as vocational techniques and skills specific to your specialisation.”

Ditch your sense of entitlement

Few things will hamper your chances of promotion more than an inflated sense of immediate entitlement. “If you expect a promotion based on outdated performance standards, you’re sure to be disappointed. In today’s financial services sector you need to demonstrate exceptional value, take accountability for your performance, including any mistakes, and be prepared to wait for a promotion,” says Aikins.

Improve your time keeping

Bosses in Asia tend to favour staff who stay late in the office and are habitually punctual to meetings. “We’ve all worked with people who perform well and have an enviable repertoire of skills, but are constantly late for meetings and for work and are often absent from the office at key times,” says James Carss, managing director Asia at Dryden Human Capital in Hong Kong. “Their habits and attitude will often hold them back from promotions and greater recognition, particularly in roles where they need to lead from the front and set a good example.”

Have international experience

Banks in Singapore and Hong Kong want to employ more local staff. As we’ve previously reported, locals who’ve worked or studied overseas are particularly sought after. “Within the finance sector having experience outside of Asia can be a distinct advantage,” says Carss. “Large organisations with overseas head offices often need employees who can act as a bridge between the two. Lacking this exposure can help hold people back for promotion, particularly if part of the decision process is made overseas. I have known of cases where promotions have been made less on merit and more on who senior management feel comfortable with.”

Don’t be too eager to please management

As we’ve recently noted, causing your manager to lose “face” is sure to damage your chances of promotion in Asia. But brown-nosing can also back-fire. People are often overlooked for promotion by being too eager to please their bosses, says Henry Chamberlain, a Hong Kong-based management consultant and former head of selection at Standard Chartered. “A colleague once took on high-profile, but unpopular jobs that senior managers wanted to be done. He thought this would mean that someone would look out for him at promotion time, but the tasks he chose failed to develop his own skills. The rules for success seldom favour people who are too submissive and don’t demonstrate their own strengths.”

Don’t be too nice to colleagues

“Someone I know recently discovered that, despite his superior intelligence and excellent interpersonal skills, he was not ready for promotion,” says Chamberlain. “He had focused too much on being overly nice to colleagues. What the organisation was looking for was a strong leader, not a nice guy without drive. Your strengths can become weaknesses when you over-play them. Ultimately the organisation would have promoted a person with assertiveness, even if he had ruffled a few feathers.”

Take on managerial tasks...

Beavering away, however successfully, at solo assignments isn’t a ticket to promotion because it stifles your ability to develop the managerial skills you’ll need for your next step up. “Make sure that you develop yourself in the direction that you want to move. Sometimes that means being selfish and searching out those assignments that will best allow you to show off your management skills,” says Chamberlain.

...and devote time to them

“I frequently interview leaders across Asia and consistently find that successful ones spend 20% to 30% of their time on managing and developing people. If you’re not in that ballpark, you may need to think about putting in more time and effort,” says Chamberlain.

Don’t rely on one relationship  

Aligning yourself with a manager whose star is on the rise will only give your career a short-term boost, says Aikins from Small World.  “If you expect your political affiliation, at the expense of other efforts, to secure your career path, you could quickly find yourself on the wrong side of a regime change. These happen swiftly and irreversibly in financial services and you may be left exposed if your senior sponsor is vulnerable. A better strategy is to toe a more neutral political line and rely on the quality of your work.”

Network beyond your own team

“You also need to be good at developing relationships and building coalitions so you can influence beyond your immediate team,” says Stunt from CFT Asia. “It can be hard to let go of tangible near-term deliverables to focus on these softer skills, especially if our education and work experience has always been about mastering the technicalities. But all the research shows that successful leaders have strong social skills. This is particularly important for engaging with clients and stakeholders across the diverse cultures of Asia. If you can’t address this, you won’t move up in your organisation.”

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