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The skills you need to get a job at Ernst & Young in Asia right now

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If you want a job at Ernst & Young in Asia, you should consider applying for an advisory role and you shouldn’t rule out emerging markets like China and Indonesia. You are also strongly advised to have a CV chockablock with cross-border experience.

Bin Wolfe, managing partner of talent at EY for Asia Pacific, speaks to us about the type of skills the firm is looking for as it prepares its Asian recruitment drive for 2014. She also explains why employers in China need to be ultra quick in getting job offers to candidates as a “wage war” continues to rage in the country.

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What are your recruitment plans in Asia for 2014?

There won’t be a material difference in our overall hiring plans compared with the last three years, but hiring will be up, especially across the advisory business, as we look to invest in certain markets in Asia and capitalise on opportunities in these markets.

Which markets?

In Southeast Asia – for example in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia – we need people in advisory to grow our business. Take Indonesia: our focus has stepped up there because more and more global companies are making direct foreign investments in the country, while domestic companies are expanding. Both these two types of businesses need advisory help with things like transaction-support services, business-performance improvement, process efficiencies, supply chain and technology consulting.

What kind of advisory candidates do you want in emerging Asian markets like Indonesia?  

We look for people with technical industry competencies who’ve either worked in the industry itself, for example the resources sector in SEA, or worked at another professional-services firm doing similar work. But increasingly we are looking at their soft skills as well.

What kind of soft skills?

Team-working and intercultural skills. Our business is built around high-performance, globally-integrated teams, so we look for people who work well across borders with colleagues from diverse cultural backgrounds. These soft skills are even more important when one becomes more senior because our team leaders will be expected to lead multicultural teams.

How do you actually test for these skills at interviews?

We look at your experience: if you’ve never worked outside your home country or in cross-border teams, it may prompt some question marks. But in Asia in particular, there are actually lots of candidates who’ve worked internationally, so it’s not a big problem. At interviews we might ask about the work you’ve done on international projects, and how you’ve adapted to unfamiliar environments.

Do you receive many applications from outside of Asia?

Yes, both internally and externally. Any APAC job is open to candidates from the rest of the world. Overall we have a lot of success with international mobility, although of course language requirements for some roles, for example in China, do rule out some overseas applicants.

Is the recruitment process different in emerging markets in Asia compared with developed ones?

Yes, generally we have to act more quickly and decisively in places like China and Indonesia because the war for talent is so intense, especially for experienced hires. We have to make quick decisions because often the speed can actually determine whether we get a candidate or not. So it’s a more streamlined interview process and offer letters are approved asap for the right talent.

Banking-sector recruitment has slowed in Asia in the past 18 months. Has this been to your advantage in attracting talent?

It’s relieved some of the talent pressure, but in minor way. It’s not only global banks and other professional services firms that we are competing against. In China, for example, especially at graduate level, we increasingly find that large Chinese state-owned enterprises, including domestic banks, are looking for similar people to us. And while five years ago, working for a multinational was trendy and prestigious for graduates, domestic companies are now much more competitive in terms of pay and career development.

So is it challenging to recruit grads in China?

Yes, in that it’s common for the grads we are targeting there to receive at least two or three other offers. But overall the talent pool is much better than five years ago because of the improved quality of accounting, finance and business programmes across universities in China. Back then we’d need to import Mandarin-speaking grads from places like Singapore and Hong Kong for mainland jobs. Now we no longer need to; we have strong relationships with programmes in China.

Are candidates at all levels in China too focused on getting big salary increases?

Generally, people tend to be very focused on pay. It’s partly because, unlike previous generations in China, young candidates are no longer so interested in a ‘job for life’; they have a shorter-term, more money-driven mentality. When I tell young people that I’ve been at EY for more than 20 years, they often look at me and think ‘how is this even possible?’. Secondly, skill shortages in emerging markets have created a “wage war” among employers. As a result, they are happy to throw money at the problem and candidates have become used to 20 to 30% rises. They see this as normal.

How do you combat job hopping?

At interviews, we really need to understand from you that you want to move for the right reasons – because you are excited about the ‘employment experience at EY’ – and not just because of pay. And we know that employees, particularly in emerging markets, are more likely to stay if you provide them with learning and development opportunities that equip them with new skills and the chance to better their careers internally.

Is this strategy working for you? What’s your retention rate like in China?

I can’t give exact figures, but I can tell you that our retention in Greater China has improved significantly in the past two years. It’s now similar to that in mature markets, such as Australia. We are very focused on employee engagement, and China has shown the biggest improvement of any country at EY globally in the past two years. These improvements are partly because of the massive investment we’ve made in training and development. And we’ve also launched new programmes to recognise employee achievements – that’s important in China, too.

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