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Bankers in Singapore and Hong Kong struggle to explain exactly why they were axed

After a sprinkling of redundancies at global banks in Asia in recent months some finance professionals are struggling to find their way back into the sector during the current downbeat job market. While many banks have promised not to make large-scale layoffs during the pandemic in 2020, this stalemate my end next year.

If you’re among those who've lost their jobs in Singapore and Hong Kong (or fear that you might be axed in the near future), you face an inevitable question at your next interview: why you? Why did you get cut and not someone else in your team? Unfortunately, many candidates are falling at this hurdle, say recruiters. There’s still stigma in Asia about being an unemployed candidate, so you must prepare your answer carefully. Here’s how to cope when you’re being grilled about your layoff.

Don’t tell a long story

Explaining your redundancy is an exception to the general rule that interview answers should give detailed examples that ‘tell a story’. Keep your responses succinct. “Don’t make it long winded – this might engender further and unnecessary questions on the same subject,” says Maniyadeth Narayanan, an executive coach at PERSOLKELLY Consulting in Singapore.

Don’t personalise your answer

Don’t make yourself the centre of your redundancy – talk about ‘the job’ and ‘the bank’ instead. “Avoid personalising your answer as this creates self-blame,” says Daniel Koh, a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre in Singapore. “Remember, the redundancy was about your job and not you.”

Keep it matter of fact

Strip back your answer to the bare non-emotive facts, says Angela Kuek, director of search firm Meyer Consulting Group in Singapore. She gives the following example: “The bank has decided to pare down the commodity portfolio because of X and unfortunately 80% of the team was impacted.”

Avoid simply saying ‘restructuring’ or ‘downsizing’

While some candidates get bogged down telling long stories, others go too far the other way and try to fob off interviewers with short generic replies like ‘the bank was downsizing’. “If it was due to restructuring, be more specific,” says Grant Torrens, regional director of recruiters Hays in Singapore. “Briefly explain the business reasons and focus on specific tangible ones such as a mismatch of salary expectations.”

Avoid reasons that ring alarm bells

“Some poor responses include accepting the redundancy because of a high severance package, stating low team morale as a driving factor, or saying that a move out of the bank was already in your plans,” says Torrens.

Move on to your own achievements

After explaining the actual redundancy in terms of the bank’s or team’s performance, move swiftly on to highlighting some of your achievements in the role. “Being confident in your achievements gained at your previous employer at the interview will establish you as a strong cultural fit for their organisation, with a robust and driven character who is able to absorb and promote change,” says a Hong Kong-based recruiter.

Keep calm and confident

Interviewers know that ‘why were you let go?’ is a difficult question and they’re as much trying to test your reactions under pressure as they are looking for a perfect response. “They want to see if you can keep confident, so instead of being defensive, try to calmly answer the question,” says psychologist Koh. Coming across as confident will also signal to interviewers that you’re bouncing back quickly from the redundancy.

Don’t criticise

“Avoid badmouthing your previous bank for making you redundant,” says recruiter Orelia Chan. “Some candidates get too emotional by elaborating on their ex-employers’ restructuring activities – this can turn the interview into a venting session.”

Point out advantages

Being laid off does give you a few advantages in the job market. “At the senior level some unemployed candidates are more flexible with salary and use this to their advantage by marketing themselves as offering value for money,” says an in-house recruiter at a bank in Singapore. “We know banks who have interviewed and hired such candidates on that basis.”

Photo by Elmarie van Rooyen 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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