How to land a new banking job in Asia even if you’ve just received a terrible bonus

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If the reason you’re looking for a new banking job right now is the small size of your bonus, tread carefully in case your motivations scupper your candidacy.

Recruiters in Singapore and Hong Kong are currently experiencing an above-average seasonal surge in bonus-motivated job applications – driven by a perception among candidates that generally low bonus payouts in Asia can be offset by changing companies and clinching large salary rises.

“This year I’m coming across more candidates who want to leave because of bad bonuses – it’s a big motivating factor and also stems from them feeling unappreciated,” says Vince Natteri, director of recruitment at search firm Pinpoint Asia in Hong Kong.

Recruiters and hiring managers are, of course, especially fond of candidates who cite “adding value” and “career development” as motivations for moving jobs. But [efc_twitter text="it is still possible to change firms if you’re annoyed with your bonus and want more money"]. Here’s how.

Do say the b word

If your job seeking is mainly motivated by being paid a poor bonus, it’s best to be honest about your desire to increase your compensation in your next role. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting more money and there’s nothing wrong with asking for it,” says Kyle Blockley, managing partner of recruiters KS Consulting in Singapore. “I detest it when a candidate tells me ‘I want a new challenge’ when they really want more money – just be honest.”

But add other reasons

When recruiters or hiring managers ask you about your reasons for leaving, don’t just dwell on your bad bonus. “For example, talk about seeking recognition for performance on the job, and what you can do for the new employer,” says Bien Law, a senior consultant at recruiters Marks Sattin Banking in Singapore.

Explain your bad bonus…

You will be grilled about why your bonus was poor and your answer will need to be detailed. “Always qualify your reply – were you working for a sinking ship where no one got a bonus? Did the team have budget cuts? Position your situation correctly and accurately,” says Natteri from Pinpoint. “In front office banking, moving because you were paid a poor bonus due to platform weakness is quite common in Asia these days,” adds Adam Jeffes, manager of investment banking, finance and operations at recruiters Morgan McKinley in Hong Kong.

…unless it was for poor performance

If you can’t blame your bad bonus on your team or company performance, you are advised to reconsider whether you should even be changing jobs. “If your bonus is significantly under market, alarm bells will ring at the new employer if your current bank has a reputation for rewarding professionals they don’t want to see leave,” says Jeffes.

Don’t make your rise unrealistic

While pay rises for moving banks in Hong Kong and Singapore may be higher than in other financial centres, candidates still tend to go overboard in their salary request. “Demanding a rise shouldn’t affect your application as long as your expectations are still within the market benchmark, which your recruiter should advise you about,” says Gary Lai, managing director, Southeast Asia, at recruiters Charterhouse Partnership in Singapore. “But most banks would hesitate to provide increments of over 20% -- these usually need approval for very senior management.”

It’s easier if you have a long tenure

If you’ve been with your current bank for several years, a new employer is less likely to think you’re making a knee-jerk move after receiving a small bonus. “But if your motivation is purely money and you haven’t been in your current role for long, it becomes difficult to justify you as a candidate,” says Ben Batten, country general manager of recruitment firm Volt in Singapore. “Banks will feel you’re being greedy and that you’re not committed,” adds Blockley from KS Consulting.

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