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Clever questions HK tech recruiters use to filter out candidates

The job market in banking technology in Hong Kong is starting to warm up again. As we reported last week, banks generally now have more tech vacancies than they did in the middle months of the year when the pandemic was peaking locally.

Many of these jobs are available via recruitment agencies, so you may find yourself being interviewed by a recruiter first, who will then help decide whether you get an interview (and coding test) with the bank. The questions you’ll be asked during a “gatekeeper” interview with a recruiter probably won’t be as technical as those posed by a hiring manager at a bank. Nevertheless, it’s important not to take the recruiter interview lightly just because the questions may be more generalist. Here’s what to expect.

Are you still hands-on when it comes to software development (i.e. system design, coding, etc.)? If not, what’s your current focus?

“When recruiting for a technology role, it’s important to understand how hands-on candidates are in their current jobs, especially with regards to software development. Candidates have to be able to provide specific details when answering these questions, and demonstrate their technical capabilities and strengths,” says Fiona Mak, managing director of Ambition Technology Services in Hong Kong.

Describe the largest project you’ve been involved in or you have led, and specify the scale and budget of the project.

The resumes of banking technologists often focus on the technical specifications of projects rather than their business and financial impacts. This request is designed to tease out these details. As a recruiter, Mak says she uses interviews to “get a clearer picture of candidates’ experience and capabilities”.

What’s the favourite project you’ve worked on?

Your largest project isn’t necessarily your favourite. Recruiters pose this question for a very different reason to the one above: they want to assess your “cultural fit” for the role, says Sam Lam, head of practice at STC Search in Hong Kong. Asking about a favourite project and then “drilling down” on a candidate’s involvement can “reveal a lot about their actual personality and motivations”, he adds.

What are you looking for in your next move?

Because banking tech professionals are in demand, many candidates just want to move for a better salary, says Fiona Hui, manager of the technology practice at Hudson in Hong Kong. This question is designed to expose the non-monetary “pull factors” and reveal what technologists are “really passionate about” in their careers. Hui provides these sample answers:

  • “I’d like to drive initiatives. Right now I’m more on the execution side, and I believe I have the experience to initiate solutions for the C-level”
  • “I’d like to move to an organisation that invests in technology not just as a tool for small changes but to actually impact how the whole business operates.”
  • “I’d like to move to a place where I can contribute more using my experience. Right now, I’m only operating at 60% capacity and I want to do more .”

What’s been the biggest achievement of your career?

It’s best to pick an achievement on a project you did within your most recent one or two tech jobs, says Hui. “It’s surprising how many tech candidates talk about projects from five to 10 years ago, which suggests they’ve not been achieving much since then. Choose an achievement that’s large scale, up-to-date and has a solid business impact for the bank,” she says. Examples could include a one-year project revamping a website, or a two-year transformation project which reduced the operating costs in a department by 10%, adds Hui.

Tell me about yourself

If you’re a technologist meeting a tech recruiter you might think that the interview will start with a barrage of technical questions. Most likely, however, the recruiter will kick off the conversation with a generic statement like this one. The best responses address the following three points, says Vince Natteri, a former developer who’s now a director at search firm Pinpoint Asia in Hong Kong

  • Who you are: start off with your most relevant experience.
  • Achievements and strengths: your unique contributions, backed up with stats and numbers.
  • Fit and commitment: a clear explanation for why you’re the person for the job and what makes you interested in the bank and the position.

Photo by Steve Halama 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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