As the practice of product management develops across AsiaPac, two experts in recruitment consider some commonly asked questions and discuss the future of hiring as the Coronavirus (COVID-19) impacts working life as we know it.
John-Simon Purcell is Senior Director of Product and Technical Strategy at Naspers/Prosus, a global internet group and one of the largest technology investors in the world. In the AsiaPac region, it’s best-known for being the largest investor in Chinese giant Tencent. Currently based in Amsterdam John-Simon spends the majority of his time with various stage startups throughout AsiaPac, consulting as an expert-in-residence, supporting product strategy and execution.
Andy Willshaw is IBM’s Executive Search and Integration Practice Lead for Asia Pacific, Japan and Greater China. Here he puts forward a wider industry view on hiring, based on his experience at one of the world’s largest tech firms. Having worked in AsiaPac for the last 13 years he’s also now considered an ‘Asian Insider’ – a term used in the region to describe those who aren’t local but who have spent a considerable length of time in the region and, therefore, have a high level of cultural sensitivity and understanding.
To Hire Locally or Import?
The question of whether to hire local talent or import it has become the focus of many conversations across AsiaPac in recent years. Teams are growing, and with more green than experienced talent available on the ground, the question is unlikely to go away any time soon.
In Singapore, where there’s been a shortage of tech talent, tighter guidelines have also made it difficult for companies to hire from abroad.
For example, as of July 2018, any company with 10 or more full-time employees, looking to hire foreign employees for positions with a fixed monthly salary below S$15,000, was required to first advertise the position on the government job-matching portal, MyCareersFuture.sg (previously the National Jobs Bank).
“This meant that, from a compensation point of view, every job below the role of senior management or perhaps executive level had to be advertised to the Singapore general population,” says Andy. “If you were to find a foreign candidate you wanted to hire when local talent was available, you’d need to be able to justify why. It’s just as it is in Australia where they have labour market testing.”
John-Simon has seen the same conversations play out repeatedly. “The number one thing that people say about hiring, across the region, relates to talent,” he says. “Everybody will mention the lack of readily available startup talent in general but this especially applies to product management, data science and engineering roles.”
But in product, he continues, “there is a huge amount of green talent and that’s a good thing. However, the role definition of a product manager is somewhat loose and can vary tremendously across AsiaPac, making it harder to transfer a product manager’s skills and experiences from one area to another. They may also struggle to create products that appeal to wider audiences outside of their country or region, which is crucial for certain smaller markets such as Singapore or Hong Kong.”
This issue therefore is not so much a lack of talent at the lower levels, more that it needs to be upskilled, a process that requires solid mentorship.
“If you’re not able to import that top-level talent, the people who’ve been on that startup rocket a few times and can deliver that mentorship,” says John-Simon, “then your organisation is going to have to go through a lot of learning hoops with these greener individuals, as they learn and move up on their own.”
In-House Versus Agency
Whatever the hire or level of experience, for most companies, some form of outreach is essential to find quality hires in a competitive market. While job-board advertising will do some of the work, most firms require a more proactive approach and so it’s worth understanding what this might look like when looking for your next product role.
Typically in the US, you’re more likely to experience direct recruitment rather than through an agency, and in the UK there’s a strong lean towards using recruitment consultants. In AsiaPac, the experience you can expect depends on the individual market. As Andy explains: “Across AsiaPac business in general, you see a range of different markets from mature to emerging and this, in itself, impacts the way those companies will recruit. Take New Zealand, for example. As a more mature market in AsiaPac, the recruitment model here is sophisticated. In fact, in-house recruitment functions have been in place for the last decade, if not longer.”
Look next to Malaysia, Thailand or Indonesia, and the picture is somewhat different. As Andy explains, here, companies use a generalist model, providing hands-on HR services to a local part of the business, rather than dedicated recruiters. “All of this means that, as a candidate, the experience you’ll have will change dramatically depending on whether you’re looking for roles in an emerging or mature marketplace. Everything, from the people you’ll interact with and their knowledge of how to recruit, to their knowledge of how to accurately assess the qualification of candidates, will differ.”
However, throughout the last decade, there has been a shift, as more organisations across Asia have started investing in their own in-house recruitment functions, significantly reducing dependency on third parties be they recruitment firms or recruitment process outsourcing firms. “Building and owning your own recruitment infrastructure has been a really key push.”
The Future of Hiring
Speaking to Andy and John-Simon, it’s hard to move the conversation away from the reality companies and hiring teams are facing right now as the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak continues to disrupt everyday life. Its impact sees organisations worldwide, from startups to big enterprises, grappling with the rapidly changing situation, and most likely questioning what their future hiring strategy will look like. “As organisations struggle to do deals because they can’t meet clients, they’ll be thinking about what they need to sustain the business for the remainder of the year,” says Andy.
What’s more, in recruitment, not being able to meet in person will surely play a big part in the disruption, not just from a logistical point of view, but also a cultural one. Andy adds: “Different cultures in Asia put a different weighting on face-to-face interaction, whether you’re in recruitment or business development. It’s a case of understanding the cultural nuances in each country.”
But with every challenge comes opportunity and by adjusting in these unusual times, John-Simon believes companies will be forced to evaluate their hiring and onboarding practices.
Consider this onboarding process, he suggests. Imagine you join a company where, because nothing is written down, your onboarding experience involves only spending time shadowing a colleague. After a couple of days, you’re picking things up, learning the ropes. How can that work in a completely remote working environment?
John-Simon says that “for every setback, there’s always an opportunity to learn and grow,” and suggests that we’re likely to see nimble startups taking this seriously, refining their processes, acting fast and not waiting around to make changes.
A Helping Hand
As part of our digital event, Mind the Product APAC, we’re offering free upgrades on all job postings for product roles based in the region.
Submit a role (located in AsiaPac) to our jobs board in March we’ll upgrade it to a Featured job for free – that’s a saving of £150.
Featured jobs appear at the top of the jobs board for 30 days, on the homepage of our website, and are included in our weekly newsletter. Post your job now.
You Might Also Like to…
- Read: A Guide to Salaries: Know Your Worth and How to Ask for It
- Watch: The Secret Sauce to Hiring Great Product People by Kate Leto
- Read: How to Further Your Product Management Career in Asia
- Listen: Hacking The Hiring Process – Alex Yang & Max Bevan on The Product Experience