I am honored and grateful to my old friend and ex-McKinsey colleague Melvin LIEW for the chance to give my views on this pertinent topic.
The digital economy has transformed our lifestyles, the transformation is here to stay. Countries like Singapore are making a big push towards being a SMART Nation. Hiring digitally capable talent will be a strategic priority for many companies.
A top executive recruiter believes top management must make the recruitment of top talents a top priority. Meet Alex BERGHOFEN, Founder and Managing Partner of Helex Asia, the first and only executive search firm, focused exclusively on top tier Management Consulting talent.
This is part of a series of interviews with business leaders to be published in the quarterly Dale Carnegie ASEAN newsletter.
Q: What are some major digital trends that Helex Asia is seeing in the market right now?
A: Many ‘traditional’ companies have kicked off digital transformation projects, often after being advised by management consulting firms. But to fully transform themselves, they need to either upskill existing staff or hire external talents. We are seeing demands especially in Big Data, Fintech, Innovation, Blockchain, Predictive Analytics and many others. Often these talents will also come from consulting firms. Candidates are especially sought after if they also have generalist consulting skills, for instance in strategy or sales & marketing.
However the competition for talents is strong: ‘Native Digital’ companies, such as the FAANGs (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google), in China BAT (Baidu, Ailbaba, Tencent) and in ASEAN (Grab, Lazada, SEA), are aggressively hiring in ASEAN. They are often going after the same talent pool. This impacts also the ‘traditional’ companies as the war for talent is heating up.
Q: In what ways are these digital trends impacting your client organizations, especially in the areas of talent recruitment, development and retention?
A: Online platforms make it easy to apply for jobs but humans are still required to manage the process and could get overwhelmed by the volume of applications. In addition, candidates expect a process speed that usually cannot be provided by corporations. Candidates also do research on social media before or during the application process. They will form opinions about an employer based on the quality of available information.
‘Native Digital’ companies often offer more competitive packages, ‘bigger’ titles and/ or modern benefits like flexible hours or innovative leave policies (e.g., paternity, unpaid or even unlimited leave). Traditional companies should adapt accordingly to stay competitive in recruiting top talent.
Talent needs to be wooed during the recruitment process as both parties assess each other. Top management must make recruiting of top talents a priority.
This means making the time for interviews in a timely manner.
Q: How are your clients adapting to the new digital economy? What are some talent related initiatives, that they have adopted?
Some clients have already improved their social media presence. Companies try to promote their employer brand better but often direct applications are a ‘black hole’ in Asia; even highly qualified candidates never hear back. These organizations might be overwhelmed by the volume of candidates. A good headhunter can help as she will only present 3-5 candidates per position.
In South East Asia we have not seen a strong uptake of more innovative online recruitment solutions such as online scheduling of interviews or gamification (as compared with US). This is at least true in the experienced hire market. However some companies are finally warming up to conducting interviews via video: The solutions are working quite flawlessly nowadays and can be used without additional hardware, except of course a webcam. Skype for Business, Zoom, Bluejeans are utilized by many of our clients.
Q: The digital economy is in its early stages of development; many of our client executives tasked to set up a digital task force or capabilities do not find many executives with in depth digital experience. From your experience, where are these talents found?
Consulting firms are a good source of talent because knowledge transfer is a key function of the consulting industry. Consultants will have seen what works in multiple companies and industries. But companies need to be clear about their requirements and budget. Top-talent from McKinsey, Bain or Boston Consulting Group can demand compensation packages that some companies might not be able to match. So either expectations or compensation budgets might need to be adjusted.
Q: What advice would you give our clients, who are trying to attract digital executives?
Get the basics and foundation right before even thinking about more ‘advanced’ activities. The basics often do not involve a lot of resources from the start.
- Move fast with a streamlined process: interviews need to be arranged quickly and ideally ‘batched’ together so that a candidate can meet multiple interviewers back to back. This increases efficiency and keeps the candidate engaged.
- Remind interviewers that this is a candidate short market and they also need to sell, not only assess.
- Use video platforms for interviewing across the company: of course face-to-face is better but videoconferencing is nearly as good and much superior to a phone call. This is easy and quick to implement and it can impress candidates by the ‘brand halo’ effect: if a company uses services with ‘cool-sounding’ names like Zoom or Bluejeans, they must be quite ‘modern’, right? But this behaviour must be lived throughout the organization. I know a global multinational company where the Europe-based global head of talent acquisition boasted publicly about their video interview solution. But when they needed to hire a Director Talent Acquisition in Asia, the company insisted on a face to face interview (oh the irony!) and turned down a strong candidate who was traveling outside of the region during that time. This is obviously terrible for the employer brand. HR/ Talent Acquisition must lead the change in this, supported by top management.
- Make your process more digital: e.g., many companies in Asia require applicants to fill out a paper application form. These forms often look very old-fashioned and like they were designed in the 90s. This is an immediate turn-off to candidates. Actions speak louder than words: it just isn’t very credible if an organization wants to be digital and then requires such paper forms. Companies need to update and streamline the look (and content!) of these forms and ideally move them online so candidates can fill these out at their convenience (often copy and paste works faster). This also reduces costs as these forms do not have to be input manually anymore. Same goes for onboarding which usually means lots of paperwork.
Actions speak louder than words: it just isn’t very credible if an organization wants to be digital and then requires such paper forms.
- Encourage all interviewers to have a LinkedIn profile (both HR/ talent acquisition and line managers). This sounds basic but just last month I was in touch with a very senior HR professional who does not have a LinkedIn profile. This does not send the right message. Even CEOs and the Prime Minister of Singapore have a profile on this platform so there is really no excuse for a business executive to not having one (especially in HR/ talent acquisition).
- Have a company (or department) page on LinkedIn and fill it with content. This doesn’t cost anything but certainly requires the team to fill this with content. For such a page posts it is sufficient to post once or twice a month so the effort should be manageable. If it makes sense for your business, also consider other platforms like Youtube or WeChat (a must if your company is doing lots of business in China or with Chinese clients).
- Have a website with info about the hiring department: describe the history and mission of the department, introduce the department head and some team members with photo and brief bio.
Q: What advice would you give executives who do not have the requisite experience but are interested in pursuing a role in a digital?
You can either switch to another company that is more digital or try to get involved with relevant projects:
- Option 1: Stay in your function but move to a ‘digital native’ company. This can make sense but only if you are very clear about your career goals and how this particular move can help you.
- Option 2: Stay in your current company but get involved in relevant projects, e.g., Blockchain. No one really knows what will work and there are very few experts as many topics are so new. Position yourself as the Go-to woman for the topic that interests you. IT-departments need input from line managers like yourself to see how these technologies can actually add value in the context of your specific company. Choose a topic that was mentioned as a priority by your top management or or where competitors have been active.
- For both options, you need to learn: do your own online research, get involved with external networking events, volunteer to organize events and maybe even speak publicly once you’ve developed some expertise. Get hands-on: if you want to learn about Blockchain, try mining or buying cryptocurrencies, that way you force yourself to learn about the underlying Blockchain technology (“Skin in the game” theory).
- Market yourself: promoted yourself online, e.g., on LinkedIn: you can mention your interests on your profile, start posting relevant articles and in groups. Don’t forget other social networks like Twitter or Facebook. Having your own professional website can also be a great marketing tool. Complement your online activities with offline activities at the networking events mentioned before.
Original interview here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-attract-digitally-capable-talent-melvin-liew/