Five tricky job interview questions if you’re fleeing a bank that’s on the rocks

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When Standard Chartered was making cuts to its consumer banking business in Shanghai last year, employees of the division flocked to job interviews at other banks before they’d even heard whether they were getting axed.

But their search for a new role wasn’t straight forward. One anonymous Stan Chart staffer in the city was asked by a wary interviewer: “I’ve now met close to 20 bankers from your firm. Why should I bother hiring you from all of those people?”

If you’re currently working within a troubled division – RBS, for example, is to sell or shut its corporate bank in Singapore – and are looking for an escape route, expect a similarly tough line of questioning. “Coming from RBS won’t in itself stop you getting interviews – you’re not damaged goods – but you do need to think about how you’re going to answer performance-related questions,” says a recruiter in Singapore who asked not to be named.

Here are some job interview questions to expect and some potential ways to answer them.

1) Are you interviewing with us because your current job is likely to be made redundant?

If you are, say so straight away rather than tell the interviewer that your role is in the balance. “But only speak about the facts of the business that caused the layoff and don’t fall into the common trap of having an emotional, personal opinion about it,” says Jason Tan, a partner at search firm Being & Associates. “For example, ‘the SME business at my firm has been split into two units and my role is likely to be made redundant’ – don’t get bitter.”

2) Why should we hire you and not someone from a bank with a better recent track record?

You can’t just say ‘I’m a high performer but the bank isn’t – look at my CV’. “You must provide examples of recent relevant achievements to show what those good results on your resume actually entail in detail,” advises Craig Brewer, director at recruitment firm FiveTen Group in Singapore. “Choose examples that illustrate your ability to perform, even in difficult circumstances – for example, covering the work of a colleague who resigned or maintaining low staff turnover in your team even though overall morale in the bank has been poor.”

3) Performance within your own team has dipped – why is this?

It’s important not to single out particular people for criticism, says Paul Heng, founder of NeXT Corporate Coaching Services in Singapore.  “Instead talk honestly about the high-level issues that affected the overall performance of your team,” says Brewer. “Then turn the conversation round to give examples of what you have done and are doing to address below-par performance. Explain the expected outcomes and why you chose to make these changes. Banks are looking for people who can generate revenue in the long term and tackle problems under all kinds of circumstances.”

4) What has your recent experience at X bank taught you?

Don’t get too technical – don’t talk revenue figures or product development – when you answer this question. Show that you’ve learnt more from your experiences at an embattled bank than you would have at a stable one  –  you now better understand the factors that will shape your sector in the future. “Highlight how strategic thinking is a valued trait in finance. Banks need people like you who are watching the horizon and can see what is coming,” says Tony Latimer, training director at the Asia Pacific Corporate Coach Institute in Singapore. “Then redirect by asking them how their senior management reacts to input from far-sighted employees who offer suggestions that go against the current practices.”

5) Why aren’t you staying put to help your team turn things around?

If you expect to survive upcoming redundancies, a new employer will be curious as to why you’re not sticking around. This type of question provides an opportunity to highlight a few “pull factors” – positive reasons for joining the new bank, says Heng. Just don’t get drawn into a debate around whether you’re a loyal employee, warns Latimer. “Loyalty is a two-way street. When a bank is retrenching around you, they’re not displaying loyalty. Everyone from the CEO down has a customer-supplier relationship with their organisation – both parties must deliver to the other to keep the relationship going.”

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