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MD turns up to Singapore job interview wearing sandals

It’s April and the post-bonus hiring season is still in full swing in Singapore and Hong Kong. Many final-stage interviews are taking place at banks in both cities right now.

But getting through to the last rounds is no guarantee of landing a job. Even experienced banking and technology professionals sometimes make fatal (and unusual) mistakes that end up scuppering their applications. We spoke with several recruiters in Singapore and Hong Kong to find out what’s gone wrong at job interviews for their candidates recently.

What are some mistakes that candidates make at job interviews?

Sandals in Singapore

Singapore may offer year-round warmth, but there’s a limit to how casual you can dress. “I had a candidate at director/MD level who got an interview at an exclusive PE fund, but he turned up in sandals. The employer was more than a little bit insulted and I was called in to explain,” says Jay Abeyasinghe, a director at recruiters Morgan McKinley in Singapore. “The candidate said it was dress-down Friday at his current work, so he thought sandals would be fine. It goes without saying that it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed in an interview…and that your toes should be covered.”


A candidate for a head of engineering role at a wealth management firm in Singapore was asked as part of the final selection process to collaborate with its engineering team and create a mini application, says Sharna Barrett, a director at recruiters Space Executive. “But the candidate announced in the interview that this wasn't the best way to test him, and that he’d rather present on what he’d do in his first 90 days on the job. He clearly defied authority and showed that he didn't understand the reasoning behind the programming task – this essentially landed him no offer,” says Barrett.

Small fish

Grant Torrens, regional director of Hays in Singapore says a candidate for a sales job at a bank was recently asked: “If a potential client was giving you a hard time, how would you handle the situation?”. The candidate replied: “Is it a big client? If it isn’t, I would just move on and focus on a bigger fish.” This was a bad mistake because hiring managers at banks typically prefer sales people who are client-centric, says Torrens. “Dismissing potential clients, regardless of their size, isn’t only unprofessional, it may not be in line with the bank’s corporate values,” he adds.

Inside job

Choosing an insider as your reference person can backfire. Lucas Yeo, a director at search firm Tangspac, says a candidate of his reached a final-round interview at a bank in Singapore and named an employee of that firm as someone who would “definitely vouch for him”. “This turned out to be a tragic mistake as that contact told the hiring manager that the candidate wasn’t suitable. Despite being very qualified, he didn’t get the job. Always make sure you speak to your reference in advance,” adds Yeo.

Emotions run riot

“A candidate of mine ended up challenging the interviewer on a question they’d asked. This challenge got heated to the point where it felt more like a strongly worded argument instead of a healthy debate,” says Vince Natteri, director of Pinpoint Asia in Hong Kong. “It wasn't that the interviewer didn't want to be challenged, but more the way it was done. The candidate lost their cool and a healthy debate on the facts turned emotional. Expressing yourself is good, but it should be done in a non-confrontational manner,” he adds.

Too old school

You must guard against inadvertently coming across as having an “old school mindset”, if you’re going for a technology or digital role at a bank, says Pan Zaixian, a partner at recruiters Pan & Co. “I frequently come across people who can articulately talk about how tech innovation is key and how they are the right person to lead that innovation. But then they let slip during more casual parts of the interview that they’re averse to trying out new apps, or that the world doesn’t need more social media. I have banking clients who eliminate candidates based on these sort of casual faux pas,” says Pan.

Too honest

Candidates can be “too honest” when asked about a topic they’re unfamiliar with. Too many people make the mistake of replying, “I don’t really know anything about that”, says Richard Aldridge, a director at recruiters Black Swan Group in Singapore. Hiring managers at banks like to see how you deal with a question you can’t answer in detail. Aldridge recommends saying something along these lines: “That’s a good question. One of the main reasons I was initially interested in the opportunity was because I didn’t know much about X aspect of the role. I’m keen to know what you think the biggest challenges for me might be.”

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Email: or Telegram: @simonmortlock

Image credit: Image Source, Getty

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager
  • Ja
    10 April 2019

    I honestly haven't got to any headhunters. They do approached me to provide candidates though. I must say, the recruiters do not know the business and thus probably why the candidates, especially, the straight shooters just went straight at them. can't blame some of the better ones as they won't take the headhunter crap.

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