Discover your dream Career
For Recruiters

11 ways to talk yourself into a much better banking job in Hong Kong

It's still the post-bonus hiring season in Hong Kong, which means banks and recruiters are overwhelmed with resumes right now. To stand out in this crowded job market, you increasingly know how to network – not just informally or online, but at conferences and company events where your contemporaries will be competing with you to work the room.

“Networking is even more important in Hong Kong than elsewhere. The job market is small with relatively low mobility, so networking is the most cost-effective way to expose your personal brand,” says career coach Vicky Lee. “Hong Kong is still subtly embedded with a Chinese mentality: relationships matter most, and employers often prioritise in-network referrals for new recruits.”

Here's some expert advice on how to succeed at networking events in Hong Kong.

1. Emerge from behind your screen

“Networking face-to-face in Hong Kong is incredibly important because, when done well, it sets you apart,” says Denis Miles-Vinall, CEO of Hong Kong career coaching firm The Buckingham Academy and a former head of North Asia resourcing at Coutts. “Many Hong Kong banking professionals are over reliant on social media and feel ‘safer’ behind a computer, but having 1,000 social connections doesn’t make you memorable. Your ability to meet people and have intelligent conversations can open more doors than sending an online invite or posting an article link.”

2. But be selective

If you do decide to increase your face-to-face networking, be selective about the events you attend, making sure they are the most relevant ones for your job function. “Over-networking” is becoming a problem for Hong Kong professionals, says Lee, because of the sheer amount of events organised each month. “Be selective and relevant when networking,” she adds. “Over-networking is like a photo being overexposed – your image will be distorted. Your reputation will be at risk.”

3. Prepare before you go networking in Hong Kong

While it’s not a job interview, a networking event is still bound to be fairly formal, so set aside time to prepare. “In Hong Kong new people you meet always ask about what you’ve done in your job, so have an elevator pitch ready,” says Henry Chamberlain, a Hong Kong management consultant and former head of selection at Standard Chartered. “Talk confidently about your achievements, interests and goals without getting too elaborate. If you’re not an extrovert, prepare interesting answers to common questions like ‘so, what do you do?’.”

4. Listen

“This is my top tip because it’s where I see the most Hong Kong professionals fail when networking,” says Miles-Vinall. “Too often they’re thinking of the next clever question to impress the person, which means they’re not listening. Each time you do this, you miss between about three and eight seconds of conversation. To overcome this, just notice when it happens – don’t judge yourself and bring your focus back to listening. It’s like learning a golf swing – at first it’s awkward, but the more you practise the better you become.”

5. Don’t rush the room, be strategic

“Hong Kong newbie networkers tend to try too hard to impress, introduce themselves too quickly and have an issue being memorable,” says Miles-Vinall. “Instead of rushing, enter the room ‘strategically’. Look for the areas where people gather – in Hong Kong usually it’s near the food – and only then approach a group of people with purpose.”

6. Don’t head straight for the MDs

If you’re planning to talk to someone a lot more senior than you, it’s usually best not to corner them directly – try to get introduced by a mutual contact at the event. “There’s more respect for seniority and title in Hong Kong than in markets like London or New York,” says John Mullally, director of financial services at recruiters Robert Walters in Hong Kong. “Be aware of hierarchy and be prepared to go through some steps to be connected to senior banking professionals.”

7. Business cards still matter in Hong Kong 

Printed business cards may be unimportant in Western markets, but in Hong Kong they remain a crucial part of networking protocol. “The Chinese handshake involves handing over your card, so have up-to-date cards with you and have enough of them,” says Chamberlain. “Make sure they look professional. I still get too many cards with hand-written phone numbers or scratched-out details.”

8. But don’t go card collecting

Younger finance professionals in Hong Kong tend to treat networking events as an excuse to collect as many business cards as possible. “Instead think quality, not quantity,” advises Miles-Vinall from The Buckingham Academy. “Set yourself a realistic target. ‘Tonight I’m going to have six meaningful conversations’ will make you more memorable than ‘tonight I’m going to give out 30 business cards’.”

9. Don’t use your phone at a Hong Kong networking event

In tech-obsessed Hong Kong, one of the biggest networking mistake finance professionals make is staying glued to their phones, says Miles-Vinall. “In many Hong Kong conference rooms people are dotted around in small clusters making conversation while others just stand on the sidelines tapping on their phones. But no one ever thinks you’re important because you’re ‘busy’ writing emails, so put your phone away and start talking to people.”

10. Take on an organising role

What will make people think you’re important? Volunteering to organise networking events – whether through your firm, almini organisations or industry bodies – will help get you noticed. “Take up a committee role in an industry chamber, for example,” says career coach Lee. “This will increase your exposure and reputation, giving you more room to demonstrate your competency to potential employers and giving you better access to key industry players at networking events.”

11. Tone down the banter

“As a lot of networking in banking in Hong Kong involves building relationship with mainland Chinese people, it’s important to learn some cultural nuisances,” says Mullally from Robert Walters. “For example, casual jokes meant as good humour or banter in Western markets might not be as well received.”

Image credit: yuoak, Getty

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

Sign up to Morning Coffee!

Coffee mug

The essential daily roundup of news and analysis read by everyone from senior bankers and traders to new recruits.

Boost your career

Find thousands of job opportunities by signing up to eFinancialCareers today.
Latest Jobs

Sign up to Morning Coffee!

Coffee mug

The essential daily roundup of news and analysis read by everyone from senior bankers and traders to new recruits.