Q4 hiring trends you need to know about in Singapore and Hong Kong

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It’s the start of the fourth quarter and recruitment has temporarily ground to a halt in Asia’s financial hubs.

The continuing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that caused banks to postpone interviews earlier this week were followed by public holidays on Wednesday and Thursday. And there’s a long weekend coming up in Singapore, too.

But when the holidays are over, what might the rest of Q4 – traditionally a slow period for recruitment – have in store if you’re a job seeker? Here are some of the key tends affecting hiring in Singapore and Hong Kong.

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Redundancy discussions are already taking place

If you suspect that your (under) performance this year leaves you vulnerable to redundancy, start researching other opportunities and speaking to recruiters now. Don’t wait until later in the quarter – your line manager isn’t. “Banks in Asia this year are already beginning to have internal conversations to see who is going to be made redundant before bonus time,” says Rahul Sen, a director at search firm Sheffield Haworth in Singapore.

Asian banks are more likely to hire you

Bulge bracket banks typically reduce their recruitment towards the end of the year as they gear up for the busier post-bonus period beginning in Q1. Recent announcements of large-scale hiring have largely come from regional players in Singapore. Maybank is bulking up in private banking, while Mizuho is hiring in the middle-office and in treasury, project finance, structured finance, syndication and advisory. DBS and UOB continue to recruit in transaction banking.

...unless you’re a student

It’s the global banks that are currently inundated with graduate and internship applications. The closing dates for most 2015 full-time and summer analyst programmes in Asia are concentrated in October and November, as our deadline guide explains.

...or you know China

Mainland market knowledge and networks will still help you get an investment banking job in Hong Kong, even towards year-end. “There is currently extreme competition in the China IBD space,” says Hubert Tam, managing partner at Hong Kong headhunters Sirius Partners. “Because more Chinese-owned investment banks have been expanding in recent years, the bulge bracket firms are having to fight hard to recruit senior bankers who can provide access to quality deals."

Sign-ons are still happening

While banks in Asia have been keeping a tight rein on recruitment costs this year, this isn’t leading them to ban sign-on bonuses, the payments made to compensate candidates hired late in the year for accrued bonuses. If you sense a vacancy requires filling urgently, employers shouldn’t raise any eyebrows if you try to negotiate a sign-on, says Adrian Choo, a partner at Boyden Global Executive Search in Singapore.

RM recruitment is rumbling on

The seemingly insatiable demand for relationship managers in both Singapore and Hong Kong (we’ve discussed this here, here and here) will not diminish over the next three months. “In the front-office, they will be the most sought-after people across private banking and corporate banking,” says Eunice Ng, general manager at Hong Kong search firm Avanza Consulting.

Recruiters remain elusive

In the quietest of all quarters for their businesses, you’d think agency recruiters would be gagging to meet you – not so. As we noted earlier this week, banks in Singapore and Hong Kong are putting more pressure on recruiters to streamline the hiring process and only forward them exceptional candidates. So if your skills aren’t an exact fit for the vacancy, chances are that recruiters won’t want to see you – but there are exceptions...

You can escape the Big Four

Some career changes are still possible. In particular, recruiters are interested in Big Four accountants who want to move to the banking sector to plug talent gaps in functions like internal audit and regulatory accounting. As bonuses are comparatively low at the accounting firms, banks don’t mind poaching from them in Q4.