News Column

The 5 biggest traps to avoid in securing a job in an Islamic bank

February 10, 2014

paul@eaglemontmedia.com (Paul McNamara)



The Islamic Globe received enormous response to its recent two-part article on '10 things to help get a job in Islamic finance'. Following this theme, the next article in the series looks at the five biggest traps to avoid in securing a job in an Islamic bank. In this feature Paul McNamara, editorial director of The Islamic Globe, gives insights gathered from working with Islamic banks around the world for the past 13 years.

1. Many Islamic finance graduates and students are drawn to Islamic finance industry because it appears inherently more ethical than the world of conventional finance. These students presume, as a consequence, that the working environment will therefore be 'softer' and more relaxed than that of a conventional bank. It is not. The CEO of an Islamic bank is under the same pressure to achieve results, measured in terms of return on equity, as that of the CEO of a conventional finance house. The work ethic between the two types of institutions is likely to be equally tough and new recruits are the likely to be subject to the same level of scrutiny, pressure and results-oriented training.

If you had thoughts of applying to an Islamic bank because it would be and easier and more peaceable place to work, check your rose tinted glasses at the door.

2. Don't set your sights too high. Be realistic and pitch yourself towards jobs that are appropriate for your level of expertise. Some countries, particularly those with a bias towards their own nationals (I am thinking here of Saudization, Emiratisation, Qatarization etc), it can be tempting to believe that you can skip a career step and start work as mid-level manager. The world no longer works like that.

Before the global financial crisis I can remember walking through the offices of a newly launched Islamic bank in the GCC and seeing dozens of young locals sitting at desks texting, playing Solitaire, Facebooking because they had nothing to do. They had been hired to do jobs for which they were not suited or trained and proved to be singularly ill-equipped. Three years later, they had all been retrenched and the bank was still struggling to reach the breakeven that the shareholders demanded.

The industry learned some salutary lessons and a bank is now more likely to employ candidates who are more highly qualified than they need to be for the role on offer. Learn from this and do not be shy about applying for jobs for which you think you are overqualified. Once you have a foot in the door, your employer will see how good you are and then you will have a chance to advance to a level more commensurate with your skills.

3. Understand what internships really mean. In an ideal world an internship would lead to a full time role with the bank but not all Islamic banks seem to see it this way. Some institutions, Islamic banks included, will use interns simply as cheap (or free) labour with no prospect of full time employment. If this bothers you, make some enquiries up front about what proportion of internships lead onto real jobs. The bank should be able to give you this information. Alternatively, ask to speak to staff who went through the internship programme themselves to see if they have any lessons for you. If there are no such staff to ask, this might give you your answer.

Don't think of a 'dead-end internship' as wasted time. It can still be great experience and will look better on your CV than a blank space.

4. Don't presume that a bank will give preference to Muslims over non-Muslims when hiring. Islamic bank CEOs are generally quite upfront about the fact that it is far better and far cheaper to hire a person with banking experience and teach him Islamic banking than it is to hire someone who understand Shari'ah and teach him banking. To impress an interviewer during the recruitment phase, it will be far more important to impress him that you are serious about banking and that you want to make it your chosen field than it will be to impress him with how devout you are.

Always remember that Islamic banks are there to make money too. Almost all banks, whether Islamic or conventional, will almost always favour employing someone who will be a good worker over someone who will be a good person.

5. You don't get to choose what you do. If you are lucky enough to secure a job with an Islamic bank, you might find that you have to do things you don't like. A real case in point is young female bankers in the Gulf finding that they have to spend part of their time in what Islamic banks refer to as 'customer facing roles'. This is shorthand for 'dealing with the public' and not all young women find this culturally acceptable. They do not feel comfortable dealing with customers who are men, sometimes angry men, about matters concerning money.

CEOs of Islamic banks in the Gulf also complain of employees who are primarily attracted to working in Islamic banking because it involved working 'banker's hours' and allowed staff to head home before 4pm. These same staff were far less keen on the job when they were required to work more flexible hours. It is worthwhile remembering that Islamic banking, just like conventional banking, is a service business and its success rests on delivering that service to customers when they want it and where they want it.


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Source: Islamic Globe, The (UAE)


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