What banks in Asia really want to know when they interview you

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Application deadlines for 2015 full-time graduate jobs at large banks in Asia have all but closed – with rare exceptions such as Credit Suisse’s private bank in Hong Kong and Singapore. Banks are now either in graduate-assessment season or edging close to it.

If you’re about to enter into an assessment process, you will no doubt be trying to second guess exactly what you’ll be asked during face-to-face interviews. But before you research questions specific to the bank or job function, you are advised to consider, in broad terms, the types of interview questions that are generally in favour with banks in Asia right now. Here are some that you need to know about, according to graduate recruiters and career coaches in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Expect generalist questions that get your talking...

Graduates in Asia are nothing if not well prepared to tackle a check-list of specific interview questions. “Employers here often complain that students are coached to answer what they want to hear, so interviews can be a source of great frustration,” says Henry Chamberlain, a former head of selection at Standard Chartered who’s now a Hong Kong-based careers consultant. “But because they now know more about Gen-Y behaviour, most employers in Hong Kong know to be more interactive in their interviews – asking graduates broad questions about their ideal organisation, their expectations and so on. They want to know if the graduate will stay with them and how well they will fit into their organisational culture.”

...and some of these will be competency-based

It’s almost impossible to escape a graduate interview without being asked a handful of competency-based question. These often begin with “tell me about a time when” and require you to provide specific examples of behaviours related to the job, explains Chamberlain. Common questions are: Tell me about a time when you had to achieve a difficult objective / when you found it hard to collaborate with others / when you showed leadership. “HR at banks in Asia loves these kind of questions. The key when answering is to be specific and detailed when drawing out an example from your past,” says Alex Wong, a former banker and Bain consultant who now works as a graduate careers coach in Hong Kong. “You are trying to tell a convincing story and build up a genuine picture of yourself.”

Get creative with you goal-setting

Graduates in Asia tend to come well prepared to explain how they intend to climb the corporate ladder or how they have already aced all their academic objectives. But unless explicitly stated in the question, you don’t need to confine your answer to the office or classroom when asked a question about your goals. “We want people who are passionate and who are skilled outside the realm of academic work – this translates to the workplace and produces creativity in everything you do,” says Calvin Tay, graduate recruitment lead for APAC at Citi. “Asking about goals is always a clear indicator to see how passionate people are for the targets they set for themselves. You would normally follow up with questions on how they ensured they achieved this and what the outcome was. Being candid in your answer is the most important thing, not whether you have achieved those goals.”

Show you can cope when your values are challenged

Forging a successful banking career in a multi-national business hub like Singapore or Hong Kong partly depends on your ability to interact well with people from diverse backgrounds or with different values from your own – be they clients or colleagues. Debbie Chan, vice president of campus strategy and graduate recruitment at DBS in Singapore, likes to ask the following question: “Tell us about a time when your principles or values were challenged. How did you handle it?” She explains why: “We want to understand how you handle differences in values people have, so we can assess your integrity and hear the manner in which you articulate it.”

Create a clear angle on your internship

You will (obviously) be asked about your most recent internship. Aside from merely describing your team and your tasks – the trick to convincing interviewers that your internship was a stunning success is also to have a clear “angle” than sums up your achievements, says career coach Wong. “Before the interview, think about what the unique selling point of your internship is. It could be the result, the process, the competency you showed. Interviewers want to know that you really understand your professional experience at the bank.”

Yes, your questions do count

Posing your own questions to the recruiter or manager isn’t just a post-interview pleasantry – you will actually be assessed on what you ask. “Turning the tables on the candidate is the most interesting aspect for me,” says Sze Ming Ho, APAC graduate recruitment manager at Deutsche Bank. “I’m always keen to see what questions the candidate has. It shows me that they’re interested and are prepared to engage us in conversation to answer what’s important to them. An interview is a two-way process – it’s about us being the right match for the candidates as well as them for us.”

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