Singaporean job seekers regain their swagger, push recruiters hard over pay

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Candidates searching for banking jobs in Singapore are growing in confidence, turning the screws on recruiters by making unrealistic demands about compensation and work-life balance.

The renewed swagger of candidates in the finance sector comes as a government minister has criticised job seekers across all industries in Singapore for being too willing to reject employment offers. Overly high pay expectations and a “sense of entitlement” among Singapore’s workforce threaten to erode the competitiveness of its economy, Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin wrote in an official blog last week.

“Compared with 18 months ago the outlook in the banking sector is relatively optimistic, especially in growth areas like internal audit, operational risk, anti-money laundering and compliance,” says Matthew Ng, manager, banking and financial services at recruiters Ambition in Singapore. “In this talent-short market, candidates who have experience in these functions are now typically receiving more than one job offer.”

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Recruiters in Singapore are finding it increasingly difficult to convince candidates to change companies. “Candidates are more aware of their worth in the job market, particularly those with niche skills and longer tenures,” says Ben Batten, country general manager of recruitment firm Volt in Singapore. “They are doing more due diligence before making a move, looking at offers in terms of compensation, career goals and lifestyle, and they are prepared to hold out for employers who offer all of these things.”

Angela Kuek, director of search firm The Meyer Consulting Group, agrees that job seekers in Singapore have become more demanding in the past few months. “More and more are asking for better work-life balance and higher premiums to move. The reasons are mixed: they might come from affluent families, they might derive a sense of purpose from work, or place increasing emphasis on overall health and happiness.”

The pushiest job seekers in the Singapore banking sector are largely found at the junior to mid end, thanks to the shortage of analyst and associate-level talent that we identified earlier this year. “Three to eight years of career experience is the sweet spot right now – candidates who can do the work and yet are not too expensive,” says Kuek. “They are also concerned about the branding of the bank, health and medical benefits, and promotion timelines.”

The recent surge in candidate confidence in Singapore may bring long-term downsides, however. Recruiters are (predictably enough) not happy about the rising number of job offers that are collapsing because candidates are accepting counter offers from their current employers.

“The way some candidates behave in terms of counter offers is horrifying. The financial services world is very small and even smaller in Singapore – who knows when that hiring manager you just rejected will end up being your boss anyway or will be in a position to help you in the future,” says Richard Aldridge, a director at recruiters Black Swan Group in Singapore.

“While it’s fine for candidates to be confident, they have to realise that a career could span 30 to 40 years and you should never burn a bridge. Honesty and integrity in a recruitment process can really aid you in the long term.”