Career Advice Job Market Trend Report

Seeking the sharp

Many dream of becoming a banker, but few will make the cut. Banking giant DBS, however, is very clear about the people it needs for its management associate (MA) programme, and by getting through the screening process, you are already halfway there.

DBS chooses 60 MAs a year across their six core Asian markets from about 2,500 applicants as it “seeks to develop and hone the sharpest minds” as future managers and leaders. Up to 20 of these MAs are from Hong Kong.

The 24-month programme – established in 2003 and upgraded last year – is popular because in building from the ground up, it provides all the necessary skills to establish a fast-track progression and clear career path. Graduates from all disciplines with up to two years of work experience can apply.

“We look for individuals who can push boundaries, take on challenges, and have the energy, enthusiasm and passion to be our future leaders,” says Sharon Cheng, managing director and head of human resources, Hong Kong and Mainland, DBS Bank (HK).

Applicants are tested for their ability to articulate a vision, inspire a team and set high standards. They have to communicate confidently, be able to influence others, demonstrate confidence to make informed decisions, and manage risk. A “customer first” mindset is also highly valued.

“Successful applicants will have to build and maintain strong and effective relationships and partnerships with customers, both internal and external,” Cheng says.

To pick the right people, the bank uses an arsenal of selection processes, which starts with résumé screening and goes on to online aptitude testing, competency-based interviews and further stages at an assessment centre. Those who get through all the different stages are invited to a panel interview.

“Throughout each stage we look for individuals who can demonstrate DBS’s core competencies: leadership, customer focus, performance and initiative, change and innovation, teamwork, risk awareness and control,” Cheng says.

Job training includes 11 months of campus training in Singapore in three tranches. Here, new MAs get together to learn about banking and finance and also personal effectiveness, which includes modules on presentation, situational leadership and business etiquette.

They are also immersed in DBS’s values to learn how to assimilate the bank’s culture, and have a chance to meet top management and establish a regional network.

The MA programme, which centres on education, experience and relationships, rotates MAs through three different departments in the front-, middle- and back-office. It also provides good networking opportunities with senior management, line managers, mentors, buddies and the MA’s programme manager.

Edwin Wan, a graduate of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), joined the MA programme 15 months ago. He says a customer-focused mindset, critical thinking skills, good time management and presentation skills are the most important qualities to do a good job.

“We take up responsibilities other than our rotation work. It is very important that we prioritise our tasks and plan ahead. I keep a notebook and write down what I expect to finish at what time each day,” he says.

Jack Leung, also from HKUST, joined DBS at the same time. He agrees that multi-tasking skills and time management are crucial in the workplace. “At work, duties can pop up any time with no pre-arrangement and they all have a tight deadline. All tasks are equally important and I have to acquire the necessary skills to ensure everything is well-managed.”

A comprehensive process is in place to assess the performance of MAs. There is objective-setting at the beginning of each assignment, as well as interim performance reviews, and development methodologies are also tweaked.

The job also has its fun moments. Wan enjoyed the annual dinner performance last year when, as an MA, he was part of the organising team. His team’s song and dance production was second runner-up, to their great delight.

Leung advises applicants to be determined, confident and create mutual understanding during the interview process.

Wan says it is important to build personal attributes. “Read a lot of newspapers, keep up with what is happening in the world, find out more about banking, and often ask ‘why’ to understand more,” he says.