Warning: You must now be a top-10% performer to get a banking job in Hong Kong or Singapore

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Looking for a new job in the Asian banking sector? Here's a dispiriting reality check - recruiters only want to hear from over-achievers.

The traditional post-Chinese New Year hiring frenzy hasn't taken off in 2015. Whereas last year banks were willing to consider candidates in the top-40% performance bracket for front office roles, in 2015 it's limited to the top 10%, says Angela Kuek, director of search firm The Meyer Consulting Group. Unless you’re an overachiever at your current bank – you’re significantly beating your revenue targets in a front-office role, for example – recruiters are increasingly advising you to stay put.

Banks are equally demanding in the back and middle office, says Bien Law, a senior consultant at recruiters Marks Sattin Banking in Singapore. “This year hiring managers at banks in Asia are looking just at the top 10% as their starting point. In contrast to last year, I have seen a number of them leave roles open for several months because they’ve not been satisfied with the candidates.”

Law adds: “The job market in Asia has continued to tighten, with fewer positions available, particularly for business-as-usual roles like financial control. People who don’t have a career history that illustrates high performance, or people who are job hoppers, are now struggling to even get an interview.”

Banks in Asia are focused on hiring finance professionals with a “demonstrable track record of performance at their current employers,” says Daniel Warwick, managing director, Singapore, at Eames Consulting Group. Compared with last year, they have less tolerance for candidates who just “tick boxes” and meet the minimum standards on job descriptions.

Recruiters in Asia tell us that they are rejecting more applications than they were 12 months ago. “It’s definitely tougher – our shortlist processes are more stringent,” says Kuek. “More and more people just aren’t getting past our shortlisting stage as the hiring managers we work with are being far choosier about the quality of people they consider,” adds Law from Marks Sattin.

“We now have to be more selective in qualifying our candidates – not just in their achievements and work experience, but more importantly their interpersonal skills and ability to work with stakeholders,” says Evelyn Lee, manager, financial services, at recruiters Robert Walters in Singapore.

If you’re thinking of setting up a meeting with a recruiter to discuss your general prospects in the job market in Singapore or Hong Kong, get set for some straight talking. “When speaking to candidates with average employment profiles, our advice in this market is typically for them to remain in their current role and to build up their performance instead,” says Lee.

“There are certainly many instances where I suggest people should stay where they are – and if one of their primary motivators for a move is money, they should almost certainly stay put,” says Law. “But that's not usually what they want to hear and I know that in many cases they then go and seek the opinion of another recruitment consultant.”

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