A View of Executive Recruiting in Asia

WittKieffer recently opened an office in Singapore, signaling that our firm is officially open for business in recruiting leaders in healthcare, the life sciences and academia in the Asian market – and with a global footprint, it is able to seamlessly search for the best talent anywhere in the world. The Singapore office is being led by managing director Anissa Low, who brings more than 15 years of experience to the role. In the following interview, Anissa shares insight into current recruiting trends across Asia.

What significant trends are you seeing in recruiting leaders across Southeast Asia and worldwide, due to the COVID-19 pandemic or other factors? What stands out to you?

Low: First of all, I have observed an increased usage of virtual platforms to replace in-person job interviews, in order to mitigate COVID-19 led disruption and sustain business continuity during the pandemic. This trend is likely to continue post-COVID-19.

The global pandemic has changed the executive employment landscape dramatically. Companies and organizations in highly impacted industries will continue to find themselves either laying off or furloughing executives. However, for organizations that are well positioned for long-term growth, they will find that there has never been a better time to hire because there is an employer’s market with a surplus of executives looking for work. This is especially true for startups that had previously found experienced candidates out of reach.

The mass layoffs worldwide have made candidates more realistic about the state of the global economy and the risks that lie ahead. They are now more willing to look beyond the cash component and put more weight on the vision that organizations can offer them.

As organizations are questioning everything and revising their strategies, are they looking for very specific talent to fit these new strategies? What are you seeing in healthcare and the life sciences?

Low: Yes, it definitely isn’t a “one size fits all” situation in terms of recruiting talent. In healthcare, hospitals are connected like never before with cloud, mobile, and technologies to improve their efficiency and quality of service. This has created entry point for hackers to target. Therefore, hospitals are investing in optimizing their cybersecurity posture to ensure patient safety, data confidentiality, and continuous healthcare service. In life sciences, building a strong patient advocacy team is a growing trend, and government affairs, market access, health economics functions are likely to see an increase in demand.

How is the life sciences industry coping with the pandemic?

Low: In recent years, life sciences companies have already been investing in technology and introducing hot-desking and flexible work arrangements, so the pandemic has not impacted how their business operates much. In fact in the past year, pharmaceutical companies have also moved into in-country specialization or clustering the countries into smaller clusters. As such, they find themselves recovering faster than other sectors.

Are executives still highly mobile in looking for new positions across borders, or has that changed recently?

Low: Yes, they are. However, with organizations moving into building in-country specialization teams, the hiring strategy has changed from one that primarily seeks mobile, global talent to one that looks closely at local executives who have global experience and also an understanding of their country’s people and culture.

Related to this, how worldwide is the sourcing of candidates? Do client organizations in, say, Singapore or Hong Kong expect to be presented with candidates from literally all over the world?

Low: The preference has always been “in Asia, for Asia”, especially for the life sciences industry where it is important for the successful executive to have a good understanding and knowledge of the country’s healthcare system, policies, regulations, people and culture. However, this is also highly dependable on the industry and position as well as what kind of knowledge, experience and skill are required for the role. We still see a shortage of talent in Asia in some highly technical/strategic roles, such as government affairs, health economics, clinical directors with experience in writing clinical protocols, etc. Therefore, the need to bring in executives from around the globe is inevitable.

You mentioned that searches being conducted more virtually than ever. At what point do clients want to meet a promising candidate in person?

Low: In recent years, with the introduction of improved technology and video communications platforms, searches are already being conducted more virtually. Skills and leadership assessments and video calls are used during most interviews. COVID-19 has greatly accelerated this trend. With travel restrictions and quarantines in place, clients are likely to only shortlist one promising candidate to meet in person prior to the offer. This makes selection more critical. As such, for middle and senior management positions, candidates can expect to go through more rounds of video interviews.

Finally, how is the pace of recruiting for top positions these days? What expectations do organizations have regarding how long a comprehensive global search will take?

Low: We adapt our searches to suit our clients’ needs. Many clients look to hire as quickly as possible and ask us to accelerate our work. Meanwhile, the pace of recruiting for other top positions has slowed down somewhat during the COVID-19 pandemic, as there is a bigger global talent pool to look at due to consolidation and downsizing, and the fact that COVID has prompted many executives to look for their next position. More time is spent on mapping local executives who are overseas, have built international experience and are now willing to return to their home country.

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