While contractor jobs have traditionally been viewed as an unstable, undesirable career option in the Hong Kong finance sector, I think that candidates in the city are now starting to become more interested in them.
More and more Hong Kong finance professionals are taking contractor jobs to land a permanent position at the end, while banks are increasingly using fixed-term contracts to test candidates' suitability before hiring them.
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High demand for contractor jobs in Hong Kong
So far this year banking and financial services has experienced the most demand for contractors out of any industry in Hong Kong. This demand has mainly been in middle and back-office positions, including operations, finance, compliance, human resources, sales and marketing, business support and IT.
Encouragingly, a high 60% of contract positions handled by my recruitment firm this year in Hong Kong have been converted into permanent jobs. In one recent case, a trade support analyst – who started on a three-month contract to cover a heavy workload – was made permanent after impressing the bank with her work ethic and reliability.
It’s not only the lure of a permanent job at the end which is making contracting a more popular option in Hong Kong. Contractors at financial institutions in the city – from bulge bracket banks to smaller firms – increasingly feel that they are at long last being treated similarly to permanent employees during their actual contract stints. This is a huge shift in mentality after years and years of contractors here complaining that they were getting a raw deal.
Contractors in Hong Kong are now receiving annual-leave entitlements of at least 10 days as well as better benefits (one of my clients, for example, is offering them the same medical insurance as permanent staff). And when contractors are in line for pay increments, their rises (3% to 5% on average) often exceed those given to permanent staff.
I also hear that contractors are being more integrated into the teams they work in and are being invited along to company dinners and other social events. Line managers no longer see contractors as people they have to tolerate for a limited period, but rather people they could potentially convert into valuable members of staff.
Some finance professionals are even switching from a permanent position into a contract one in order to gain exposure to a new market or sector. While most of them will hope to use the contract to snare another permanent job, taking such a step would have been unusual in Hong Kong only a few years ago.
Testing times for contractor jobs in Hong Kong
In Hong Kong, more so than in a developed contracting market like London, leading banks and financial services firms often hire candidates on a contract basis primarily to determine whether they have the potential to become a permanent hire – based on their performance, ability and whether they "fit" well into the culture of the team.
Hiring managers in Hong Kong will be generally open about this and tell you that the contract is essentially a trial, an opportunity to prove yourself. From their point of view, it is always better to convert a contractor to a permanent employee than hire an unknown new joiner who hasn’t familiarised themselves with the organisation and the workflow.
Importantly, opportunities are not restricted to the contract position that the candidate currently holds. Hiring managers in other departments who have permanent vacancies often look out for contractors within the firm who perform well before looking at external job seekers.
How to turn your contractor job into a permanent one
In my experience, contractors have used the following techniques to land permanent roles:
- Put your hands up for extra tasks and always try to be recognised for your work within the office.
- Always act like you are part of the team.
- Don’t be shy to suggest new ideas.
- Keep in constant communication with your recruitment agency throughout the contract period to make sure your performance is up to standard.
- Take criticism well and be flexible if your manager offers you different responsibilities: they manager may be testing your ability within a range of tasks.
- Above all, be patient. If a permanent position doesn't come up straight after your contract ends, don't stress: the bank may not have the right role for you just yet. The normal practice in Hong Kong is that the organisation will renew your contract and when the time is right, the permanent position will come along.
Carly Adams is an associate director in the contract division at Robert Walters Hong Kong.