Hong Kong and Singapore are popular places to build careers. When my company surveyed financial professionals there, about 80 per cent recommended their cities as places to live. Plenty of people from outside Asia want to break into these markets, too. Recruitment agencies, employers and job boards like mine all report a continued flow of CVs from the West into Asia.
But as an international candidate with no Asian experience, how do you turn an application into a job? Talent localisation and comparatively low recruitment levels make this a tough task. Yet there are steps you can take to give yourself an edge over others hoping to make the same move.
1) Look internally first
To reduce costs and retain staff who are being made redundant elsewhere, banks are prioritising internal transfers into Singapore and Hong Kong. Current employees know how the business works and are less likely to fail in their new job. Many firms are encouraging staff to tell their managers about their movement aspirations. When opportunities arise, HR can easily identify the internally-mobile talent pool.
2) Only apply if you’ve got a great track record
It’s challenging for average performers to even get an interview in Asia. Employers are emphasising local recruitment and in Singapore the government is tightening entry levels. To be hired, you need transferable skills in a sought-after job function (think operational risk or java developers) and an excellent, stable CV.
3) Avoid recruiter overkill
Engage a maximum of about three recruiters. Any more and you risk different consultants spamming your CV for the same vacancy – something banks hate. Consider niche agencies alongside larger firms.
4) Choose your recruiters carefully
Recruiters based in Asia, who frequently meet your target employers, are better than ones overseas. But some consultants in Singapore and Hong Kong are recently- arrived foreigners – you should only contact those with solid Asian experience, so check their biographies first. The ideal person has worked in banking and/or recruited in your function for several years. Question their knowledge of your role to see if they really understand it.
5) Network with peers, not just recruiters
Follow up personal or professional connections in Asia; they may put you onto people who are looking to hire. Recruiters and HR professionals don’t control all the openings, especially opportunistic hires of top performers. Existing expats can also provide objective advice about the job market and relocating.
Spend a week or two in Asia meeting recruiters and (if possible) employers; it shows you are serious about shifting and helps build your network. Arrange your agenda before you leave and state that you can fly yourself out for interviews and for a job. Hopefully the bank will cover your relocation, but the offer may set you apart from
7) Show commitment
As an overseas candidate, you are a potential flight risk, so during meetings and interviews you must convey your intention to move for the long term. For example, if you specialise in a particular product, demonstrate how your skills can be transferred effectively into Asia.
8) Be realistic about remuneration
If your expectations are too high, banks have even more reason to hire a local. Employers almost certainly won’t pay for your apartment, car, or school fees. Expat packages are all but dead – don’t push for one unless you’re a senior rainmaker.
9) Calculate the costs and see if the move is family friendly
A trip to Singapore or Hong Kong isn’t just about jobs; find out what it’s like to live there. Many expat roles end prematurely because the location was more expensive than expected or because the family didn’t enjoy their new life.
10) Consider a compromise role
You may have to take an initial step back to go forward in the future. A transfer to Asia no longer triggers an instant move up the ladder, so be open to roles that are slightly less appealing than your current one.
Moving to Singapore and Hong Kong is more difficult than it was five years ago, but with planning, perseverance and the right skills, international candidates still have a chance to establish strong careers in Asia.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Asian Banking & Finance. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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George McFerran is the Managing Director at eFinancialCareers Asia-Pacific.