Links is planning to win big in China with a twofold increase in its mainland workforce
While China’s economic growth has slowed down slightly compared to a few years ago, it is still at a level at which many governments across the world can only dream.
But according to Ivy Lam, China country head and director of recruitment firm Links International, there are many challenges recruiters need to overcome to seize the massive opportunities available to grow their businesses on the mainland.
“The key thing for our clients is often a quick turnaround time,” Lam says. “They call you at any time of the day on your mobile and want an immediate response. They want to know ‘now!’”
Finding the sort of talent for which these clients are looking is the trickiest test Lam faces. “It’s a candidate-driven market and candidates can have four or five job offers at any one time,” she says.
“Fast-moving consumer goods and retail are booming sectors in China right now and these are the sectors in which we see the highest volume of mid-to-senior recruiting needs. This is all part of a natural chain reaction. More multinational corporations and small and medium-sized enterprises are going into China and creating more job opportunities there – with salary the most significant element in the competition to recruit and retain people.
“With people more secure in their careers and receiving fairly good salary increments when moving between jobs, they can aim to improve the quality of their lives. That’s why most of the luxury retailers are setting up in even third- or fourth-tier cities.”
Established in 1999 in Hong Kong, Links opened its first mainland office in 2010. It also has offices in Singapore and Macau. In addition to sourcing staff, the company can also handle a range of administrative processes for its clients, such as payroll, visa application and accounting services.
“We want to develop the business services and payroll side of our business, but people are the key,” Lam says. “Around 70 to 80 per cent of our business on the mainland is on the recruitment side and for the last three years this area has been increasing significantly.”
The growth of Links on the mainland has followed the rapid expansion of its existing clients in the country. “We follow our client’s footprint and grow with them,” she says.
From its Shanghai headquarters, Links is active across the country and is now looking to set up offices in Beijing and Chengdu. “We currently have 12 staff in China – mainly on the recruitment side, but we do have some researchers – and we’re looking to double this number at least. We want to take on specialists in a number different business sectors.”
When it comes to recruiting her own staff, Lam says she’s not interested in simply increasing the headcount. “We are a mid-size firm and we want to base our growth on the personality, professionalism and experience of our consultants. This type of talent is hard to find. That’s why even though I’d like to grow rapidly, I may not be able to achieve my targets since we want to make sure we hire the right people,” she says.
“Ideally we would be looking to hire people with experience in China – otherwise they won’t know about the culture, the market, and how you can approach and hunt for candidates.”
However, for Links, finding these people on the mainland is never easy – for itself or for its clients. “Everybody in the market is looking for candidates with high energy levels, passion and hunger,” Lam says.
This is one of the reasons why she also wants to develop in-house talent. “Most of our consultants have been here for a long time and we want to groom our juniors to become team leaders,” she says.
Lam believes that not every talented individual who wants a career in the recruitment industry is looking for the same thing. “Whereas some want to get corporate experience working for multinational companies, others prefer the sort of flexibility and transparency Links can offer,” she says. “We have procedures which we follow, but compared to some of the very big recruitment firms, we are pretty flexible and offer a great opportunity to grow with the company.”
LAM’S LIST OF LEADERSHIP QUALITIES
At management level, the mainland's top hirers are looking for candidates with:
COMMUNICATION SKILLS "Every client is looking for bi-lingual or even tri-lingual candidates, and of course Mandarin is the key. Candidates should be able to communicate effectively with both their headquarters and their local operations."
INTERNATIONAL MINDSET "Multinational companies are always looking for candidates who have been educated overseas or who have worked in multinational companies before."
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE "To manage operations in China, candidates need to have a comprehensive understanding of local business etiquette and cultural norms."
GUANXI "Candidates with connections within China, which they can build on and make use of, are highly preferred."
PROFESSIONAL PRINCIPLES "Personal credibility is highly valued in those at management level."