You’re desperate to leave your current role as the busy post-bonus hiring season comes to an end in Asia, or perhaps you just can’t get a big enough pay rise. But after talking to a recruiter, you receive some unexpected and unwelcome advice: “don’t move!”.
Finance recruiters in Singapore and Hong Kong are increasingly acting as long-term “career advisors”, which often means telling candidates to stay in their jobs, says Christina Ng, executive director at LMA Recruitment in Singapore. “Hong Kong and Singapore don’t have a highly developed career-counselling or life-coaching industry like in the US, for example. So here in Asia, more than elsewhere, recruiters need to step in and take on this advisory role.”
Ng says she is telling more and more candidates this year that they are better off at their current bank, especially those applying for back-office roles at risk of being offshored away from Singapore and Hong Kong in the future. “These days you need to be certain that you are moving to a stable platform – if not, the risk may be too great.”
James Carss, managing director Asia at Dryden Human Capital in Hong Kong, agrees: “I won’t recommend a move if I’m aware of market information that indicates the potential new firm may have operational issues such as management problems or high staff turnover.”
It's not only back-office staff who want to move for the wrong reasons. “Senior bankers who’ve been in a role for several years can be out of touch with the realities of the market and often think they are underpaid in comparison with other banks,” says Ng. “As a recruiter, you have to talk things through with them to convince them that they are actually being paid very well.”
When a recruiter tells you to stay put, it’s not always related to compensation. “Recruiters should help you weigh up the pros and cons of remaining with your current platform, not just tell you how great their own vacancies are,” says Ng. “I often point out that taking a new job means you lose the support of internal stakeholders and colleagues, which you may have taken years to build up.”
Even if you’re desperate for an early exit, recruiters should, ideally, instruct you to delay your application if one or more of their clients is about to hire heavily in the coming months. Insider advice is especially important in the second half of the year when post-bonus hiring has run its course and recruitment peaks aren't so obvious. “We often tell people to wait until the market is hot and we advise them about busy times to grab the best opportunities,” says Adam Piper, a team manager at recruiters Huxley Associates in Singapore.
This approach can pay off in the long-term for both recruiters and candidates. “Someone who was disillusioned in their role approached me in March, but while there were opportunities back then for a modest advancement, I advised him to hold out until June. He’s now got an offer with a 20% pay rise,” says Piper. “Because he appreciated my advice, he’s now given me a number of job referrals.”
Sometimes a chat with a recruiter can even pay dividends in your current company. “I advised one candidate to speak to their manager and explain how they felt about being underpaid – I was uncomfortable to represent them until they did that,” says Carss from Dryden. “He met his manager, received a pay increment and was later promoted. We have maintained a good relationship and he is now a client of mine.”
While the practice of prioritising career advice is increasingly common in the Asian recruitment sector, it is not universal. “Good recruiters who have been around a while always do this and build their reputation on it,” says Carss. “Unfortunately, like in every industry, the quality of individuals varies: there are some who still operate in a purely transactional manner and don’t value giving advice if it doesn’t result in a candidate placement fee right away.”
Some candidates refuse to listen when recruiters point out the drawbacks of moving. “In hot sectors in Asia like risk and compliance, candidates – especially younger ones – will leave their jobs even if you've told them that their CV has too much job hopping on it,” says Ng from LMA.