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Singapore bankers turn down jobs in push for higher pay

Singapore’s overheated job market is beginning to take its toll on an unlikely group – the recruitment experts who help people move up the career ladder.

Some recruiters are beginning to express frustration with what they say are inflated salary expectations among candidates in their late 20s to early 30s looking to change jobs.

It’s not uncommon for contract negotiations to break down over a candidates’ insistence of a salary jump, with the typical expectation running at a 20% increase in base salary, according to Selicia Low, senior consultant, banking and financial services at Ambition in Singapore.

“This is a common feeling among recruiters,” says Low, referring to the frustration of investing weeks of effort only to watch a deal fall apart over salary.

One anecdote making the rounds is of a recruiter who secured a 30% salary increase at a new employer, only for the candidate to walk away from the deal after his current employer decided to match the rival offer.

In some instances, companies are baulking at the increasing salary demands of new hires because of the  disruption that would cause to their workplace culture.

Low says she represented one client who was seeking a 20% salary increase to join a new firm after having received a 20% rise in base pay only 12 months earlier. “So from this new company’s perspective after less than two years he is getting a 20% increment twice,” says Low.  “In the end they decided to drop the person because the salary expectation would cause disparity within the [employer's] new team.”

Low encourages candidates to be realistic about what employers can afford to pay and avoid benchmarking themselves against generous salary packages being offered by some firms at the moment. “They have this misconception that if my friend can get it, I can get it as well,” says Low.

Low, who specialises in compliance and risk, places around three to five candidates in full-time finance jobs during an average month. About two client negotiations per month fail over demands relating to salary expectations, she says. “I think we are getting used to it because this is how it works,” says Low, adding that she counsels herself to quickly move on and not dwell on failed negotiations.

Other recruiters say they encourage candidates not to focus on the base salary and instead to zero in on a broader set of goals. “There is no blanket minimum rate of increment to move into a new role but I always advise candidates to look at the bigger picture - job scope, reporting line, team culture, and career progression,” says June Tan, head of middle and back office recruitment at Principle Partners in Singapore.

Tan says she successfully placed a compliance officer at a hedge fund after convincing the candidate to accept a 15% salary increase, rolling back his desired 20% increase.

At the end of the day, clients aren’t missing out when they factor in the discretionary bonus and other forms of compensation, she says.

Low says in her experience some candidates are not willing to listen to advice relating to wage modesty. "I don’t think it’s something that we can convince them to change, but it's more of something that they need to realise themselves," says Low. "I don’t think candidates’ expectations will change."

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AUTHORChris Oliver Insider Comment

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