Career Advice Job Market Trend Report

Senior leaders hold key to employer profile

Follow-the-leader seems the name of the game for professionals contemplating their career choices in Greater China and Singapore, according to a recent survey by the MRIC Group.

For its 2014 Talent Report: Greater China Region and Singapore, the Asia-based recruitment services provider surveyed 4,700 professionals about the key factors motivating their career decisions.

When it came to the profile of a “good” employer, the leading characteristics were “high-integrity leadership”, chosen by 45 per cent of those canvassed, and a “culture of trust and respect for employees”, selected by 26 per cent of respondents.

But measured by these criteria, many felt their employers fell short. Only about 60 per cent said their own company was “good” or “very good” at providing high-integrity leadership, and only 50 per cent saw a culture of trust and respect for employees in the workplace.

Another weakness was pinpointed by professionals on the mainland, with many feeling their firms lacked a “clear vision and business direction”. Only 44 per cent of respondents from local private firms believed their companies fulfilled this criteria, falling to 41 per cent at foreign firms.

Respondents placed a high premium on meeting senior leadership during the recruitment process when assessing an employer. “It is the number-one factor for middle and senior leaders, but it is in the top three for junior leaders as well,” says MRIC Group CEO Christine Raynaud.

“We can say it is one of the most important criteria across all management levels, third after money and career advancement. This importance has also grown steadily during the four years MRIC has been conducting its annual survey. In Asia, the leader is maybe more important than in the Western market in general.”
Raynaud adds that a company’s vision and direction is also particularly important in this part of the world. “Very often, when middle-level managers interview for their own team – especially more junior positions – they will only tend to check on candidates’ technical skills. But they don’t pass on a broader picture [of the company’s goals and how the job fits into them]. There is a communication gap between the top, where there’s a vision, and this middle level. A candidate wants to know this will be more than a job – it will be a project, a challenge, a future.”

Alice Chan, Hong Kong HR manager at marketing communications company Cheil, believes meetings or interviews with candidates are an ideal chance to present the corporate culture and management style.

“Our general manager will interview the final candidates for positions from junior to senior levels in, I think, about 90 per cent of cases – the exceptions being when she is away,” Chan says. “For senior positions, interviews with headquarters management are arranged as well. Meeting with senior leadership can make the candidates feel respected.”

She also feels that whether successful candidates choose to join Cheil or not, the process helps keep staff turnover low, as they are making a decision based on an accurate view of the company.

The MRIC report also looked at the importance professionals place on a healthy work-life balance. Three factors were common priorities for both men and women: first, a manageable stress level; second, flexible working hours; and third, a manageable after-hours workload. The importance of remote working, meanwhile, was rated higher by women, as was regular working hours. Raynaud believes this is probably because the burden of child-rearing still falls mostly on women.

“We are in a region where we work extremely hard and managers and professionals have very high workloads,” she says. “The question is how can you, as an individual, embrace it and feel in control of it, rather than just feeling the weight of it.”

The report also uncovered how the career-decision process is affected by firms’ use of social media to enhance their employer brands. Those surveyed for the report were also questioned about this. “There are two dimensions to the way social media is used,” Raynaud says. “Possibly the most innovative and interesting is the way a leader can use social media to enhance the company and their own personal brand.

“I was in Beijing and had a pizza with my team, some of whom took pictures and immediately posted them. A minute later, people from the recruitment community were coming back, saying this is cool doing this with your boss. This creates a sense of the culture and the life of the company that you don’t get from traditional media.”

Chan says Cheil also uses social media to broadcast news about awards the firm wins at industry festivals. “This is an important part of employer-brand building,” she says.