Call a recruiter in Asia these days and there’s a good chance you’ll hear a British voice on the end of the line.
Recruiters from London have flocked to the region in recent years in search of clients, candidates and profits in the comparatively buoyant job markets of Singapore and Hong Kong.
Here’s what they think are the main differences between recruiting in Asia and London.
It’s generally easier in Asia for agency recruiters to contact hiring managers at banks without being blocked by zealous human resources departments. “In London, recruiters are often separated from managers by e-recruitment systems,” said Karl Franzmann, associate director of recruitment firm PageGroup in Hong Kong. “In Asia, even when there is an efficient internal recruitment team within the bank, we’re often encouraged to go directly to the business. HR here typically plays the role of facilitator rather than gatekeeper,” he said.
Most hiring managers in Asia regularly meet recruiters for coffee to discuss their team’s needs or chat generally about the job market, said Will Russell, a senior business director at recruiters Hays in Singapore. This is less common in London. “The difference is largely because culturally in Singapore it’s seen as a good thing to know what’s going on within your particular sector; and it’s a much smaller finance community here than in London,” said Russell.
Candidates in Asia are generally reluctant to take short-term contact roles. Unlike in London, where contractors receive high hourly rates, contracts in Singapore and Hong Kong are paid less than their permanent colleagues. “Employers were also more reticent to employ an interim resource, preferring to distribute the workload among existing staff or recruit permanent heads,” said Russell. “However, this attitude is now changing as the temporary market matures.”
Banks in Asia are only hiring in certain sectors and they mainly want local candidates. “All the top recruitment brands are really fighting over the same niche talent,” said Sam Bexandale, associate director, technology division at recruitment agency Ambition in Singapore. “The market can quickly become a merry-go-round as the same candidates, with the sought-after skills, keep resurfacing,” he added.
Pushy "wide boy" London recruiters won’t thrive in Asia. “Candidates here are far less likely to tolerate a confrontational approach,” said Bexandale. “It’s important to come across as a service provider and coach candidates through the hiring process.”
Headhunting candidates, as opposed to advertising for responses, is usually more straightforward in London because finance professionals feel less secure in their jobs and are more willing to consider unsolicited approaches. “In Asia, there are fewer people on social media sites like LinkedIn. Job security here has been more stable over the last five years, so good candidates haven't needed to market themselves,” said Nicholas Wells, managing director of search firm Webber Chase in Singapore. “A cold call from a headhunter is generally treated with suspicion and rejection, and occasionally with fear,” he said.
London has a long history of “mass market” recruiters sending resumes to multiple line managers without either party’s consent, so HR teams there are used to dealing with this “dreadful behaviour”, said Wells. But as so-called CV spamming catches on in Asia, banks in the region need to step up their efforts to tackle it. “Candidates should also bear a bit of this burden as some believe that if their CV is submitted by several recruiters, they have more chance of getting an interview. Actually, the opposite is true,” he added.
Most people change jobs more frequently in Asia than in London, said Gerard Milligan, strategic account director at recruiters Randstad in Singapore. “There are proportionally more opportunities in Singapore and employees are more confident of attaining a higher salary or moving up the ladder by shifting into a new role,” he said. “The biggest issue with candidates here is that while they look good on paper, they can lack depth in certain skill if they have switched roles too often.”
About 80% of candidates in Singapore include personal details, such as their date of birth, marital status and photo, on their CV. “This is less common in London,” said Milligan. “The decision to include personal information is at the discretion of the individual, but is not generally a requirement by multinational companies because they adhere to global hiring practices.”
Chinese banks usually take longer than Western firms to make recruitment decisions. And it’s not uncommon for candidates to negotiate salaries directly with Chinese banks, bypassing the recruiter, said Alistair Ramsbottom, managing director of Shanghai search firm The Blacklock Group. “From an administrative perspective, contract renewal and due diligence may be a lengthy process at domestic houses,” he said.
Compared with their counterparts in London, HR people and hiring managers in Asia tend to use email much more when they communicate with recruiters. “They pick up the phone less often,” said Ramsbottom.
When recruiters in Asia pitch foreign candidates to Asian employers, they face strong competition from the firm’s own staff overseas. Banks are ramping up internal relocation programmes to cut recruitment costs. “We're seeing over 50% of mandates being filled internally as firms relocate employees. However, big expat packages are being scrapped for local contracts,” said Wells from Webber Chase.