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Great CV but no interview: why banking recruiters in SG and HK are rejecting you

You’ve applied for a banking job via a recruitment agency in Singapore or Hong Kong and your CV and cover letter are spot-on. All that now stands between you and interviewing with the bank is an initial meeting with the recruiter, a mere box-ticking exercise – you think.

Your situation is not as straightforward as it may seem, however. Global banks in Asia are putting more pressure on recruiters to only find them exceptional candidates. If you don’t come across well when you first meet a recruiter, they won’t hesitate to reject you. Here's what to avoid doing.

Starting out with disrespect

Show respect to the recruiter when you first meet – even if they’re less experienced than you (this isn’t uncommon in Asia) and even if they’ve never worked in banking. Dress and behave as though you’re at a job interview with a senior banker. If you make a bad first impression, the recruiter will assume the manager at the bank will think the same and they won’t waste time recommending you, says a Singapore recruiter. “Do you make good eye contact? Are you wearing smart attire? Decisions are often made when you walk through the door.”

Mid-interview phone use

Switch off your device! Recruiters in Singapore and Hong Kong complain that too many candidates are checking their smart phones in the midst of job discussions. This doesn’t show that you’re a connected, sought-after finance professional; it suggests you’re not interested in the new job. Evelyn Lee, a director at LMA Recruitment in Singapore, has even seen candidates answering phone calls during interviews.


“Sometimes candidates go on and on about their experience without realising that the recruiter already has their CV and knows what they do,” says the Singapore recruiter. “It’s better to engage in a dialogue rather than rattling off a monologue. The consultant can’t help you by just listening to your experience – they need to know how its relevant to the job.”

Leaving your research too late

It’s a big problem: candidates who think they can do their research into the job only when they clinch an interview with the bank. “You’ll be expected to have done your homework and be able to talk about the employer with the recruiter. If not, it doesn’t really signal that you want the job,” says Grant Torrens, regional director of recruiters Hays in Singapore.

Covering up your mistakes

Too many candidates in Hong Kong and Singapore think career mistakes should be covered up to save face rather than properly explained. “They sometimes rush through talking about their CVs like a runaway train,” says Sandeep Mohanan, a manager at Michael Page in Hong Kong. “Whether it's a low GPA or joining a firm because of a manager who left shortly after, use it as part of the story you tell the recruiter – will help engender trust.”

Getting aggressive

Don’t expect a recruiter interview to be a light-weight chat; except to get grilled on the same subjects that you would at a bank. And when you're asked tricky questions, don’t lose your cool because you're 'only talking to a recruiter'.  Vince Natteri, director of recruiters Pinpoint Asia in Hong Kong, explains: “I once had a candidate with a top-notch CV who seemed perfect for the bank. But when we probed into her background, her answers weren’t consistent and she became defensive and aggressive. Her attitude meant we didn’t refer her.”

Hiding your reason for leaving

“If we sense you’re not being truthful about your reasons for leaving a company, alarm bells will ring,” says Mohanan. “This can have implications later on, particularly at the reference stage, and can jeopardise the whole hire.”


If you're sick of your current bank or colleagues, it’s tempting to use a recruiter as a sounding-board for your grievances. “Criticising other people is never a good idea in an interview with a recruiter. Focus on the positive when talking about your experiences,” says Torrens from Hays.

Photo by Thomas Stephan 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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