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"I stayed loyal to my US bank as it downsized in Asia – now I can’t find a new job"

Over the past couple of years several foreign banks have stripped down or sold off under-performing units in Singapore and Hong Kong. It’s been pretty brutal – many people, including me, have lost their jobs.

I while ago I found out that my bank, a US firm, was getting rid of some of its businesses in Asia. There was a lot of disappointment and shock in the office, especially because our hubs in Hong Kong and Singapore were badly affected. We had expected that our more minor markets would be the ones taking the hit.

For me, however, the cut-back actually opened up a new job – I was offered a role helping the bank to wind down some of its units. It was a great opportunity to learn new skills and I was happy to take it. The job was high-tempo, target-driven and pressurised as we sought to find the best deals for the bank. The role also gave me some ‘closure’ on my career with the firm and it got rid of a lot of the anguish I’d initially felt about the downsizing.

For 18 months or so I focused on getting the job done so I could leave the bank in the best possible circumstances – circumstances I thought would also count in my favour with potential future employers. I was exiting honourably. By the time the role came to an end earlier this year I felt like I had learnt a lot – and I had high hopes for finding a new position. Moreover, I wasn’t a job hopper.

I’d been with my bank since 2004 and clocked up experience across several functions in Singapore, Hong Kong and the US. I’d also worked in a business strategy role for a time and my final job there was similarly strategic. But while in the recent past banks were clamouring for global, multi-functional profiles, I soon found that this year they’re not. I’d entered the job market at precisely the wrong time.

It’s an employer-led job market in Hong Kong and banks are demanding more specific profiles – they prefer them over ‘flexible’ candidates who could potentially adapt to a variety of roles. Some banks don’t want people with just great communication skills, business acumen and the potential to thrive in the job after a settling-in period.

If they have a product vacancy, for example, they are prepared to wait to find someone with a track record in the exact same product. This is conservative thinking in my opinion. The long-term objectives of actually achieving something beautiful in the role are at risk of being outweighed by the short-term need to hire a specialist with the technical skills to do the job from day one – even if that specialist may be an ordinary candidate.

I am getting interviews at banks, but the managers are telling me, “You have some relevant experience, but you need X and Y skills as well.” Annoyingly, interviewers are also telling me about their “strong preference for internal candidates”. Why invite me for an interview in the first place then?

Agency recruiters have been a (very) mixed bag. Some actually meet you in person, while others accept your CV and never contact you again. So where to now as someone who stayed loyal to a bank that downsized in Hong Kong? I’m now focusing on opportunities in risk management (a function that’s in demand) and exploring insurance and fintech (growth sectors) rather than just banking.

The main question I’m asking myself is do I still have the luxury of working in a stimulating environment, or should I focus on just making a reasonable amount of money? For now the answer is yes....but that may change if my job search carries on too much longer.

Jane Wong (we have used a pseudonym to protect her identity) worked for a US bank for 12 years and is currently job hunting in Hong Kong.

Image credit: Ridofranz, Getty

AUTHORJane Wong Insider Comment

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