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The remarkable rise of the ‘introductory’ job interview in Asia. And how to prepare for one

A senior manager at a rival bank would like to ‘interview’ you, but it’s not part of a formal hiring process, no HR people are coming along, and they want to meet at a cafe. In fact, there’s no actual vacancy on offer right now.

Should you be suspicious? Probably not. Headhunters in Asia say they’re seeing a marked rise in so-called ‘introductory interviews’ in which bankers invite fellow bankers to meet well in advance of any official recruitment kicking off. Singapore and Hong Kong are hotbeds for this style of interview because of their comparatively small and interconnected banking sectors.

But don’t be fooled by the informal setting – these get-togethers could be the first step to landing a job, so it pays to treat them seriously. Here’s what to expect and how to behave.

You need to be at least an SVP

“Introductory interviews are mostly for senior candidates – SVPs/directors and above. They’re a less formal platform for bankers, usually in the same field, to assess one another and to build contacts,” says Angela Kuek, director of search firm Meyer Consulting Group in Singapore.

You could be replacing someone who’s getting canned

“I now organise introductory interviews frequently for my clients,” says a Hong Kong-based headhunter. In some cases the bank will ask the recruiter to arrange the meeting – for example in “sensitive” situations where managers are scoping out potential replacements for staff they plan to cull, he adds.

There might not be an immediate opening on offer

“Instead the manager will often be considering strong potential candidates to build a ‘bench’ of talent for upcoming roles,” says the Hong Kong recruiter.

You’ll be sitting in a cafe for up to 90 minutes

Introductory interviews are almost always off-site, usually at a cafe, says Chai Leng Lim, director of banking and financial services at recruiters Randstad in Singapore. If you’re going to one, set aside at least an hour – 90 mins to be safe.

It’s mainly about 'fit'

“Managers use introductory interviews to get to know the potential candidate and ascertain their cultural fit with the bank,” says Lim. “They also give managers the opportunity to assess the kind of jobs that would best fit the potential candidate.”

Focus your questions on the business

If there’s no immediate vacancy, don’t bombard the manager with too many questions about their hiring plans – you’ll sound desperate. “The meeting could be very exploratory or even confidential, so focus some of your questions around the business plans moving forward, not the current job situation,” says the Hong Kong recruiter.

And on team dynamics

Also express an interest in the manager’s own job and their team, says Lim. “Seize the opportunity to find out more about the manager’s portfolio and the workplace culture within the team to get an overview of the people you might be working for and with.”

Let them set the tone

“It’s sometimes a tricky meeting as it’s not precisely a formal interview but it’s not casual either,” says the Hong Kong recruiter. “Observe and match the tone of the interviewer to a certain degree. Be prepared to talk about what you want to do in your career and the type of bank you'd like to work for. In some ways it’s not unlike meeting a recruiter.”

Do prepare

The questions asked may not be particularly probing, but you must still prepare well for an introductory interview. “Make no mistake, you’ll be evaluated for the role or potential future role, so it’s important to build rapport and pitch yourself well during the coffee,” says Kuek from Meyer Consulting.

Don’t be negative

The biggest mistake people make at these meetings is being too negative about their current bank. “Just because you’re in a cafe you can’t be too casual and chatty – so no complaints about your bosses or how messed up your bank is,” says Kuek.

Image credit: encrier, Getty

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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