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What it takes to get an investment banking job in Hong Kong

Bankers chat in Hong Kong

Competition for graduate investment banking jobs is getting more intense than ever. Once seen as something of a soft touch for graduates who couldn’t get hired in London or New York, banking jobs in Hong Kong are now coveted by top students – increasingly from Mainland China.

Most banks now require their analysts to speak Mandarin, meaning barriers to entry are near unscalable for Westerners and even local Hong Kongers. But what else do you need to get in? We spoke to a number of recent analyst recruits to get the low down.

  1. No internship – don’t even think about applying

Internships are investment banks’ main recruitment tool the world over, and are now a prerequisite for any budding banker in Hong Kong. One young analyst at an American bulge bracket bank said quite categorically that a summer internship on CV is almost a must-have now. Most recruitment managers in banks would not shortlist someone who has no internship experience.

"If you haven't done any internships, it shows you are not interested in banking, so why would a bank show interest in you?" she said speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The best route to a full-time job is to complete a summer internship at the institution you want to work at, but the analysts we spoke to suggest that any sort of experience is valued as long as it’s relevant. This means internships at a bank, private equity firm or a fund manager all count – banks want to see an interest and commitment to financial services.

One internship is often not enough these days. As we’ve pointed to previously, the sort of students getting hired now have multiple internships under their belt and start gaining experience from the moment they start university. Does this impress recruiters in Hong Kong?

"Not really," claims another analyst, "I think the time horizon for a specific intern experience and things you really did matter a lot more." A successful internship should last for no less than three months (ideally six months), he says, because "you will not be given any meaningful jobs to do if you are not working that long".

"It's all about quality, not quantity," agrees another analyst, who came to this conclusion after completing three internships herself.

  1. The importance of target universities

In Hong Kong, it’s largely about which university ‘brand’ you attended. This means top Western universities the majority of the time. Michael Tanenbaum, who used to work for JP Morgan in Hong Kong, told Mergers and Inquisitions: "Most front office jobs were similar: it was mostly people originally from China or HK who had attended the top schools in the US, UK, or Australia.”

And if you stuck closer to home to study? One analyst who is working in Hong Kong now told us on the condition of anonymity that major banks there put so much weight on the university brand that they almost only consider students from four Mainland universities: Peking University, Tsinghua University, Fudan University and Shanghai Jiaotong University.

If you haven’t attended a target university, all is not necessarily lost. Tanembaum didn’t go to a top university, but said he had to network extremely hard in order to get on investment banks’ radar. In other words, it’s an uphill struggle but not impossible.

  1. The interview process

One area where getting a banking job in Hong Kong appears simpler than other parts of the world is the interview process. In the US you’re invited to a ‘super-day’ where you can expect to go through anywhere up to ten interviews a day. In the UK, you’re expected to go through at least four-rounds of interviews and an assessment centre. In Hong Komg, it’s closer to two rounds, the first of which is on the telephone, according to the analysts we spoke to.

"It was two associates for the first rounds," one analyst recalls, "the second round was on-site, and the interviewers are two EDs and one VP."

If you want to know what sort of technical, fit and competency interview questions you’ll face, we have a great list here together with suggested answers. "Be prepared for unexpected questions," advises one analyst. She was asked "what's the meaning of life?" in the interview. And another analyst was even told to tell a joke. Luckily he was prepared so passed it unscathed.

AUTHORThomas Zhang

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