One good thing about the recruitment agency business in China is that it is not yet well established, so firms are expanding organically and proactively looking for new business and candidates.
I have met quite a number of headhunters, most of whom used to work in banks themselves. With their banking backgrounds, they know exactly what hiring managers are looking for – the knowledge, skills and attitude that will perfectly match the vacancy. Some of them currently hire for their previous employers and this solid relationship makes it easier to sell candidates.
Forced to make that extra effort
All in all, I’ve had pretty good experiences dealing with agents in China so far. Compared with more developed job markets such as Hong Kong, employees in the mainland change jobs less often. And with a talent shortage also making banking candidates harder to source, headhunters are willing to spend more time with me to establish a relationship, and understand my background and goals. Some of them even act like career advisors, giving me constructive suggestions.
In China, recruiters seem to focus on long-term relationships, despite being sales people paid according to how many vacancies they fill in the short term. In return, I always provide juicy gossip to the good headhunters – stories about X department of Y bank restructuring, which will lead to recruitment next month.
Why recruiters beat banks
1) Big banks have complicated recruitment processes supported by internal systems. This causes delays. Hiring managers have contacted me more than six weeks after my online application, asking if I was still interested in the role as my application was stuck in the system and not sent to business side.
2) When applying directly to a bank, applications are reviewed by HR first. HR staff lack business knowledge and are not paid on the number of roles filled, so they have less incentive to carefully read through applications to see if candidates are suitable. A friend in the HR department of a big bank once told me that during peak hiring seasons, they don’t have time to even read applications and can only search for an exact word in a CV that matches the vacancy’s job title. I can’t imagine how many potential candidates are screened out before their applications are reviewed by the hiring manager.
3) Headhunters liaise with hiring managers directly, bypassing HR. They are more flexible than HR. With a small pool of talent in the market, they are willing to take a risk of selling candidates with relevant, but not direct, experience.
Restrictions on recruiters
Having set out the positive sides of recruiters, most agents I know only have relationships with foreign banks at the moment. Chinese banks usually fill positions by referrals, internal transfers, promotions, company websites and recruitment days. Moreover, I hardly see any small buy-side companies using recruitment agents. They typically look for candidates from their existing networks.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of eFinancialCareers. The author works for a financial institution in China.