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"Wear funky socks" and other strange ways to land a better banking job in Asia

Post-bonus hiring is about to kick off in Asia, albeit at a more sluggish rate than last year, especially in Hong Kong where banks are slowing down interview processes in response to the coronavirus. But if you're looking to get ahead Asian banking, there is another option to searching the job market: set yourself up for an internal promotion.

Here’s what to do if you want to move up the ranks in the Year of the Rat.

Be ‘visible’…

“In an Asian cultural context, some people find that pushing personal agendas goes against the grain, so they miss out on promotions,” says Jeremy Stunt, a former COO of cash equities at Standard Chartered, now a Hong Kong executive coach. “Some people are just not sufficiently visible. In a fast-paced bank, you can’t expect colleagues two levels up to notice you automatically. If senior management don’t know how good you are, you won’t be front of mind at promotion time.”

By creating your ‘brand’

“It's very easy to get lost in a big bank, so devote time towards building your personal brand,” says Ovidiu Olea, a former HSBC associate director, now CEO of Hong Kong start-up Valoot Technologies. “Small things like buying the team coffee every Tuesday morning or wearing funky socks can actually help you stand out and get known. In a bank, your brand tells your colleagues a story about you. So once you’ve built it, use it to extend your network.”

Chase your moonshots

“Life in a large bank can be a bit of a grind, so take on a pet project that aims high and gives people around you inspiration,” says Olea. “These moonshot projects can get you remembered for your original thought and can-do attitude, which will help your promotion chances.”

Impress managers in other teams

People in other teams may help determine your promotion, especially if you’re senior and subject to a promotion committee. “To stand out, you’ll need to create cross-business-line exposure,” says Russell Graham, a banking consultant and former head of solution delivery at Standard Chartered in Singapore. “For example, a transaction banking salesperson could look to generate FX revenues – and publicise the fact – to get support from senior management in FX. You could also volunteer for cross-business working groups.”

Improve your social skills

“To influence people beyond your immediate team you’ll also need to be good at developing relationships,” says Stunt. “It can be hard to let go of tangible near-term goals to focus on these softer skills, especially if you've always focused on mastering the technicalities. But all the research shows that successful leaders have strong social skills. This is particularly important for engaging with people across the diverse cultures of Asia.”

And your time keeping

Bosses in Asia tend to favour staff who stay late in the office and are habitually punctual to meetings. “We’ve all worked with people who perform well and have an enviable repertoire of skills, but are constantly late for meetings and are absent from the office at key times,” says a Hong Kong recruiter. “Their habits often hold them back from promotions, particularly in roles where they need to lead from the front.”

Get international experience

Banks in Singapore and Hong Kong are clamouring to hire local banking professionals who’ve worked and/or studied overseas. “Having experience outside of Asia can be a distinct advantage,” adds the recruiter. “Global banks often need employees who can act as a bridge between the local office and their headquarters. Lacking this exposure can hold you back, particularly if part of the promotion decision is made overseas. I’ve known cases where promotions have been made less on merit and more on who senior management feel comfortable with.”

Take on managerial tasks

Constantly beavering away at solo assignments stifles your ability to develop the managerial skills you’ll need to step up. “Develop yourself in the direction you want to move,” says Henry Chamberlain, a Hong Kong-based consultant and former head of selection at Standard Chartered. “Sometimes that means being selfish and searching out assignments that show off your management skills. I frequently interview managers across Asia and consistently find that successful ones spend 20% to 30% of their time managing and developing people. If you’re not in that ballpark, think about putting in more effort.”

Photo by Tai's Captures on Unsplash

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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