It’s not only candidates and hiring managers who are feeling the effects of a deteriorating job market in the Hong Kong and Singapore banking sectors – recruitment consultants are also changing the way they operate in the face of Covid-19.
“We’re now representing candidates and clients without having actually met them,” says Alex Martin, manager of financial services at Robert Walters in Singapore. “When we work with new clients, a big part of what we do is establishing the business, culture and chemistry behind the job description. It’s the same with candidates and seeing what’s behind the CV. Technology eliminates a lot of obstacles, but you can’t replace the human factor in the talent acquisition process,” he adds.
Despite not being able to see candidates in person, recruiters are putting extra efforts into discussing job moves. “A lot of people just don’t feel safe making a move with so much ambiguity about what the future market holds. We have to assure them and highlight the stability and potential of any move,” says Martin.
“We’re also spending more time connecting with candidates to understand how they’re working through this challenging period,” adds Gin Sun, a director at Michael Page in Hong Kong. “This often involves talking about their mental health, concerns and ambitions. People are more open in their conversations at the moment, which is a very good thing,” she adds.
Once a candidate decides to go for a job, recruiters are also devoting more time than usual to planning the logistics of interviews. “Hiring has been slower as some banks haven’t been able to fully convert their recruitment processes to online yet,” says Emily Tan, executive director of financial services at Kerry Consulting in Singapore.
But most banks are now getting to grips with video interviews, which first became commonplace in Asia back in early February. “Talent acquisition teams at our clients have really worked hard with us to bring normality into video interviewing, and to ensure both parties appreciate what’s different about it in advance,” says Sun. “We’ve been quite surprised by how many roles have been interviewed, offered and accepted without both parties meeting,” she says.
In the age of Covid-19, however, even candidates with firm job offers are getting nervous about starting at their new employer. Recruiters are dealing with growing fears of being ‘last in, first out’. “We’re seeing some challenges around keeping candidates calm and assured after they’ve signed the contract and prior to starting work,” says Christina Ng, executive director at LMA Recruitment in Singapore.
Recruiters in Asia have also tweaked the way they work with banks and other clients in the finance sector. “As banking recruiters, we’re doing more virtual coffees and lunch sessions as a way to stay in touch with clients, understand their plans, and exchange opinions and best practices,” says Rachel Liu, a director at Profile in Singapore. “We need to stay agile and creative in communicating with both candidates and clients, while also being empathetic,” she adds.
Liu says the job market will be “complex and challenging” even after the pandemic recedes, so recruiters must provide a “more consultative approach” to clients and discuss effective hiring strategies as opposed to “merely just filling open positions”. “It’s not about making a quick buck, but about being there with them through good and bad times,” she adds.
Warwick Pearmund, an associate director at Hamlyn Williams in Hong Kong, agrees: “As the market rebounds, clients will stick with the recruitment firms who stuck with them during the pandemic. You need to become more of a genuine consultant in difficult times and not simply a CV flipper, focusing purely on operational aspects of the hiring process. I tell my team that they must offer advice to clients on every call, they must add value and not just contact clients to benefit themselves.”
Many recruiters are, for example, training clients on effective video interview techniques. “We’ve also organised webinars about government Covid-19 incentives and how to work from home more productively,” says Ng from LMA. Meanwhile, Morgan McKinley has increased the amount of advice content on its website to “help clients and candidates navigate the Covid-19 landscape”, says Hong Kong-based Robert Sheffield, managing director of the recruitment firm for Greater China.
Many recruiters in both Singapore and Hong Kong have, of course, been working from home for two or three months – and WFH has been mandatory for staff at Singapore agencies since the Republic’s circuit breaker laws kicked in on 7 April. Some say this could have long-term effects on the traditionally office-bound recruitment industry.
“We’ve focused on keeping our flexible working environment sustainable for the long term,” says Sheffield. “After the pandemic subsides, the need for operating expenses like large real estate and travel will reduce. I think social distancing and other preventative measures will continue to be in place and influence how businesses operate for the foreseeable future,” he adds.
“The current period has been an excellent opportunity for more traditional businesses to really trial the flexi-working and WFH arrangements that were previously untested because of concerns about lost productivity,” says Martin from Robert Walters. “Many businesses may remain open to these arrangements long after Covid-19 dissipates.”
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