I started as an analyst at HSBC’s investment bank in Hong Kong a couple of years ago, having interned there the previous summer. Let me tell you how to get into one of the most high-profile banks in the city, and what it’s like as an analyst here.
I faced three rounds during the graduate recruitment process. The first was a situational-based online test to see if you fit in with the firm’s culture and values. It’s pretty easy, but you don’t really know what the bank is looking for.
My second round was a phone interview with an HR person based in London. I was asked basic behavioural questions (on leadership, for example) and was asked about an extra-curricular activity and a past work experience.
Then came the big assessment day at HSBC HQ in Central. This started with a ‘technical interview’, discussing market trends and why I wanted to work for HSBC, followed by a ‘business interview’, focused on situational questions.
HSBC interviewers typically come in with a set of about 10 questions and they grade you on a scale of about one to five for each question. For example, I was asked: how would you handle a disagreement in your team? And, how do you try to make people buy into your point of view?
As a graduate, these situational questions are best answered by using examples from your internships, group projects, competitions, extra-curricular activities, university clubs etc. If in doubt, fall back on the good old STAR framework – it really helps if you only have a few minutes to wrap up your story while still demonstrating your skills.
Finally on the assessment day, there’s a group case study involving about 10 people. You have 30 minutes to look through the case study and questions, and then there’s a 30-minute group discussion, followed by a presentation to HSBC bankers.
And if you get through all of this? HSBC is one of the few banks in Hong Kong to provide a rotational programme in advance of being assigned a permanent position. So if you’re undecided about which product you like best, you can try several desks. A lot of other banks in Hong Kong allocate you a team right from the beginning.
But although the rotation programme sounds good, nothing is guaranteed: you still have to rank your top-three desk preferences and compete with other grads, especially for the more popular desks. And just because a particular desk takes grads on rotation, it won’t necessarily have any permanent headcount open when the rotation programme ends.
You won’t know your permanent role until about a year after you join the bank. You won’t know which desks are recruiting until nine months into the job, and you’ll still have to go through interviews for your desired desk.
Despite this initial uncertainty during the rotation, however, everything worked out fine for me. In IBD, the best aspect of my job has been the opportunity to attend and even represent more senior colleagues in client meetings from a very early stage. I’ve also got to learn a lot about the dynamics of the various industries that we cover.
The most challenging aspect is having to pitch ideas and defend them when the people you are talking to are often 10 to 20 years older than you. I don’t like waking up every day at 5.30am either, but that’s a given in investment banking. I also have to work at least 12.5 hours on an average day, but that rises to 15 hours or more when there are deals to complete.
I’m happy at HSBC. But would it be challenging moving to a new bank in Hong Kong this year? To be honest, no…the skills learned are pretty much transferable.
Tom Suen (not his real name) works for HSBC.