Eleven ways to get your resume past a recruiter in Asia

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Recruiters in Singapore and Hong Kong are spending much of their time fielding enquiries from candidates in the US, Europe and Australia.

But many such job seekers are rejected after just one phone call, email or glance at a CV. Employers in Asia are prioritising local hiring ahead of relocating foreigners, especially junior ones.

If you’re about to contact a recruiter in Asia, here’s how to get them to take your application forward.

1) Reach out to recruiters in this order

Candidates should contact recruiter by phone, then send an introductory email with resume attached, said James McEwin, consulting director of recruitment company Kelly Services in Singapore. “Keep your introduction short, outlining the reasons why you are considering relocating, your target industries and roles, and what your timelines are,” he added.

2) Say you’ll take a trip

Make it clear to recruiters that you will also visit Asia soon and want to meet them. “So many people are looking for jobs in Hong Kong that we can only focus on the ones that can actually see us in person,” said Damian Babis, director of search firm Capital People in Hong Kong. “This means organising your own flights and accommodation and spending a week or two seeing recruiters and potential employers.”

3) Don’t oversell yourself

Desperate candidates often clog their CVs with almost every task they’ve ever done in the hope that some of this experience will be wanted in Asia. “Play to your strengths instead,” said Sharmini Thomas, regional director for recruitment agency Michael Page in Hong Kong. “Don’t try to sell your skills as too broad. Articulate what your main offering to the job market is – your industry specialisation.”

4) Don’t mention your own money

Recruiters aren’t keen on candidates who talk tough about their pay and benefit expectations from the outset. “Gone are the days where lucrative salary packages are offered to expatriates,” said Marc Burrage, regional director of recruiters Hays in Hong Kong. “Housing allowances are extremely rare these days and candidates need to re-evaluate their salary expectations to be more in line with the local market.”

5) Do mention the bank’s money

Most banks in Asia are equally as cost conscious as their counterparts in the West, so keep this in mind when you promote yourself to recruiters. “Mention how you’ve affected the bottom line in your jobs by either generating revenue or saving costs,” said James Incles, managing director of Hong Kong headhunters ESG Search. “These are the two most important facets that firms in Asia are looking for in the current economic climate.”

6) Research the cost of living

Don’t derail your application by giving ignorant answers to basic questions. “Living in Asia is expensive, so one of my first questions is what research they have done on the cost of living here – what their family circumstances are and whether they have budgeted for these costs,” said Ben Batten, country general manager of recruitment agency Volt in Singapore.

7) Set specific Asian objectives

When telling recruiters why you want to work in Asia, remember to link your objectives to your job function. Rafael Brana, an associate at search firm Bo Le Associates in Hong Kong, gave the following example from an M&A banker’s CV: “Focus on cross border M&A, helping Asian corporates acquire Western assets.”

8) Shout about any Asian experience

You may not have lived in Asia before, but you may have made business trips to the region or managed teams based there. If so, let recruiters know about it as soon as possible. “Any previous experience in Asia will always position you positively against other candidates as the inference is that you have already gone through a transition of adapting to a different business culture,” said Thomas from Michael Page.

9) Don’t attempt a career change

A quick way to get your resume binned is to seek a career change on top of a country change. If you’re a Big Four auditor, for example, don't try to move into a bank, said Batten from Volt. “The organisations you target in Asia should be similar to those you have worked for before because you understand their culture and practices,” he said.

10) Don’t give fake phone numbers

A favourite trick of overseas-based job hunters is to put an Asian phone number on their CV to fool recruiters into thinking they are already in the region. This smacks of dishonesty. “Once these candidates are contacted, we soon realise that they are actually working in another country,” said Batten.

11) Make it personal

Don’t be afraid to mention a personal connection to Asia – such as your spouse being from the region – when you first contact a recruiter, said Brana from Bo Le. “Recruiters see this as a big plus because it adds to your perceived commitment to staying in Asia,” he said.

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