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Candidates in Hong Kong, Singapore face tougher screening interviews during pandemic

If you’re about to have a first-round screening interview with an agency recruiter in Singapore or Hong Kong, you face an uphill battle – and it’s not just because the interview will be via video.

The job market is slowing down this quarter and banks are asking recruiters to do extra due diligence on candidates during the Covid-19 pandemic. When you interview with a recruiter for the first time you therefore need to make an extra effort to impress. Here's how to avoid being tripped up on that initial video call.

Lift your language

“I find quite often that in Hong Kong people who don’t speak English as a first language really struggle to write a compelling resume, but when I first meet them in person the quality of their spoken English and personality often make up for the fact that they can't sell themselves on paper,” says Sarah Sellers, Asia managing director at iKas International.

Don’t curb your enthusiasm  

It pays to be positive about your ambitions, including plans for further study. Recruiters like referring people who they think can add value to their client’s business over the long term. “We recently received a CV which was of borderline quality, but we were blown away when we met the candidate. When discussing their background and aspirations, they seemed very motivated and willing to study to learn more,” says Vince Natteri, director of Pinpoint Asia in Hong Kong.

Pepper recruiters with questions

It may be an initial meeting, but that doesn't mean the conversation should be a casual one. The best candidates come prepared with a list of insightful questions about the job – just as they would when meeting a hiring manager at a bank. “This also lets you keep up a high level of engagement,” says Evelyn Lee, a director at LMA Recruitment in Singapore.

Shout about what you can contribute to their client

It’s tempting to view an agency recruiter as your confidant, but always keep in mind that they are working for the bank, not for you. They want you to frame your success stories in terms of how you benefited your employer. “When speaking about past job responsibilities, always highlight the key points in which you contributed to the organisation,” says Lee.

Show off your soft skills

Recruiters say finance professionals in Asia often talk for too long about their technical skills. The best candidates will also focus on demonstrating their cultural fit for the company. “If you've researched the organisation and can demonstrate how your softer skills will ensure you're the right match for the company’s values and the team, you're more likely to be shortlisted,” says Grant Torrens, regional director of recruiters Hays in Singapore.

Answer the question before it’s asked

Recruiters don’t like having to prise out information or run through a check-list of questions. If there are key requirements in the job description, work these into the conversation before you’re hit with a direct question about them. “For example, if you have to fit into a strong team-working culture, talking about working well with others and previous team achievements is likely to make the right impression,” says Torrens.

Mention your mistakes

“They key to a successful interview is to engage with the recruiter by not only highlighting your greatest achievements, but also explaining the mistakes you've made along the way and how you’ve learnt from them,” says a Singapore-based recruiter.

Be open about money

Recruiters love it when you tell them your base pay and previous bonus down to the last dollar. “While this is never an easy topic to discuss with a stranger, recruiters need to be very measured about the information they give to clients about current and expected compensation. It is highly frustrating to interview a candidate who point blank refuses to give this information away,” says Sellers from iKas.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Email: or Telegram: @simonmortlock. You can also follow me on LinkedIn.

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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