Hong Kong headhunter: “90% of candidates don’t even interest me”

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Hong Kong headhunter: “90% of candidates don’t even interest me”

As a Hong Kong recruiter I can’t help every banker who comes my way – that’s obvious. But during the pandemic, the proportion of front-office candidates I’m securing interviews for is smaller than ever.

I’m now only interested in hearing from you if you’re an elite performer – and that means you’re better than 90% of other bankers out there. I deal with the top-10% of job seekers because, frankly, these are the only people banks are interested in. In the recently past, the ‘elite’ figure was 20% or more.

For top bankers in Hong Kong the job market is sill ok, but for everyone else it’s getting worse. I’m not placing people into jobs if they’re currently out of work, for example. And I’m not even placing people who are only good enough to secure an interview at one bank.

What makes you an elite in the current job market in Hong Kong? In general terms, you’ll be a Mandarin speaker who’s worked at two global investment banks, you’ll boast mainland clients, you’ll have a leading Hong Kong or Western university on your CV, and you’ll have topped the performance charts at your bank in recent years.

Moreover, you’ll probably also be at associate to VP level. Banks in Hong Kong face cost constraints from head office and there’s a growing feeling that expensive MDs don’t necessarily add that much more origination capability over their more junior counterparts.

Of course, this young and Chinese-centric profile has been in demand for a while as banks try to get market share from acquisition-hungry mainland clients. But this year banks are giving recruiters like me much less wriggle room. They're being more prescriptive with jobs, so we have to check all the boxes and not put someone forward who falls short in one area.

Banks are going to greater lengths to make sure they have the best people, which from their point of view makes sense as their recruitment targets aren’t large enough this year to bother with the rest of the talent pool. What does this mean if you’re actually in the top 10% yourself? Well, every bank is looking for your profile, so you’ll get multiple offers and your current bank will counter offer you.

This is a nightmare for me as a recruiter – especially as buy-side firms are often also in the hiring mix – but it’s a strong position to be in as a candidate. Take advantage of it before you get too old – your elite status may not last.

Michael Zhou (we have used a pseudonym to protect his identity) is a Hong Kong-based banking recruiter.

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash


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