Nov 4, 2010

In my fourteen years of involvement in both corporate recruitment and agency search/contingent work in the Asia Pacific region, I’ve seen some quirks in this part of the world that may differ from the rest of the globe. Even within Asia, some candidate sourcing practices are different; for example between Singapore and Japan. It is important not to see Asia as a homogeneous entity when it comes to doing business, let alone candidate sourcing. Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll share with you some of the recruitment idiosyncrasies in this growing economic powerhouse.

Many American-based multinational corporations have launched direct candidate sourcing capabilities starting with their own backyard; that is in the US. Firms that have reaped the benefits on their return-on-investment, especially in reducing the cost-per-hire compared with the over-reliance of recruitment agencies, have rolled-out, in a wholesale fashion, carbon copy sourcing strategies for the rest of their global operations, including Asia. The premise is, “If it works in the US, it will work for the rest of the world!”

However, I’ve seen roadblocks when firms try to push through a candidate sourcing model in Asia with the exact structure as the one in the US. The result can sometimes be frustrating if one does not consider cultural nuances.

One major hurdle is the reluctance of hiring managers to use the newly-minted internal recruitment organization. Instead, they would rather use the tried and tested third-party recruiters and their high recruitment fees. Perhaps it’s a case of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” But there is another reason.

One of the howls of protest I hear from Asian-based hiring managers is the mistaken belief that it is unethical to directly source candidates from the competition; the notion that it is breaking some form of corporate governance. It is a perception that is quite widely held among some quarters in Asian business circles. I can find no basis for this misplaced view, however. There is no business or labor law in any part of Asia that bars organizations from directly using its corporate recruiters to source for employees of competitors. Even the old school, traditional HR senior executives (you guys know what I’m talking about) take the same view as many hiring managers; an unwritten code of conduct that if you want to source someone from a competitor, it must be through a third-party recruiter. This reluctance to use the internal recruitment team has resulted in less than stellar outcomes among some organizations seeking to introduce new sourcing strategies as some hiring managers go rogue and continue to use third-party recruiters.

Until today, when I’m giving talks at various human resource seminars across Asia, I get gasps of derision from some members of the audience when I describe the concept of direct candidate sourcing. Some even come up to me at the end of the seminar and exclaim, “Isn’t it illegal?”

So how can we get these stakeholders onto the direct candidate sourcing bandwagon?

Proper communication from the company headquarters to their Asian counterparts, both hiring managers and human resources, on the merits of an internal candidate sourcing model is vital. I’m not advocating the usual long-distance conference calls that global firms seem to do these days. Rather, senior members of the corporate recruitment team (well versed in the dark arts of candidate sourcing) should fly out to Asia on a multiple-city road trip and meet with the stakeholders face-to-face to listen to their recruitment woes and sell the new staffing model. Face time is important. Despite working in a globalized world where we can work together virtually to roll out a game-changing business strategy (in this case, a direct sourcing model), it is overwhelming for some hiring managers in Asia, especially when they have been reliant on third-party recruiters who have serviced the organizations very well – for several years in some cases. The axiom “change is always hard” holds true here.

It is imperative that corporate HQ gets the word out to their Asian business divisions that forward-looking competitors ARE making use of internal candidate sourcing strategies. What is the consequence of not doing so? There is a high likelihood that your best employees will be poached directly by the competition.

Direct candidate sourcing is still a fairly new talent acquisition concept in Asia. It has been a boon for some global firms who have executed well in rolling –out their candidate sourcing model across Asia, taking into account cultural nuances. However, for other multinationals and home-grown organizations in Asia, this idea of talking directly to a competitor’s employee about career opportunities is alien and deemed “unethical”. Proper education of the Asian senior management is crucial for a successful implementation of a direct candidate sourcing strategy.

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