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You are still stuffed if you’re unemployed

The news is fantastic! The news is still not so good! It all depends on which category of candidates you belong to: the all-too-busily employed; or the retrenched-for-nearly-a-year.

I am sure a lot of us have noticed how candidates who survived the GFC are now being cornered for a couple of roles simultaneously, even if they did not start their search themselves, but were approached by recruiters, friends and (in rare cases) banks.

At best the current market trend, not only in the front office but in the back and middle as well, can be described as “swaps”. It is a market of barters, or rather musical chairs – roles being vacated, filled and then back-filled.

Nothing wrong with that if you ask me, but there is one glaring problem here. What is happening to retrenched candidates? As the employability of anyone whose job has outlived the GFC is steadily on the rise, the unemployability of those whose didn’t seems to be on the rise too.

It’s still ugly for the unemployed

During 2009, every recruiter told retrenched candidates to look forward to plenty of jobs in 2010. Sadly while the number of positions has risen, the demand for these candidates has not.

And employed candidates look set to control the market until their requirements get too demanding and banks are forced to look at alternative solutions. As it is, we are already at the stage where we are facing too many offer rejections, counter offers and multiple offers.

But given the finite nature of markets like Singapore and Hong Kong, banks will have to start looking at retrenched candidates soon. It doesn’t make long-term viable sense for them not to consider people who have the requisite experience, market and product knowledge, and who might come a lot cheaper than those already in jobs.

Waiting for things to turn

The real question here is when will this happen? It’s tough to answer that one, but any hot market cannot really sustain itself for an indefinite period – it will have to cool down or burn out. So once the first round of musical chairs is over, the market will have to take stock of other options.

Whether that will happen before the end of this year, is something to wait and watch. Once enough continuously-employed candidates have created enough of a ruckus in the job market, by refusing, negotiating or demanding unreasonable hikes, banks will wake up to the importance of the alternative pool of candidates who have been neglected in this recent frenzy of a job market.

Enter the expats?

Another important talent pool in Singapore and Hong Kong has always been overseas candidates. While not many professionals have been imported this year, there are finally signs that numbers are now rising.

Expat recruitment has always been directly proportional to a hot local job market and hence this recent increase comes as no surprise. But it’s a bad kick in the teeth when a locally retrenched candidate is passed over in favour of an internationally retrenched candidate.

While no one can deny that foreign professionals make it easier for banks in Asia to adopt global best practises, it is important to note that some of these best practices did not hold them in good stead in their respective home (read European and American) markets!

So while the recruitment continues at a well-desired and well-deserved pace, we should maintain some sort of justified balance about who is being hired and when. Hoping that “may the best candidate win” does not seem to be so useful these days. It is more like a law of averages is in play.

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