It is often said the early bird catches the best worms. This may also prove to be the case when it comes to hiring experienced banking and finance employees. While Europe remains mired in financial uncertainty - and a dip in mainland manufacturing triggers headwinds for Hong Kong's banking sector - there is still demand for experienced candidates in several key sectors.
Marc Burrage, regional director at Hays in Hong Kong, says there is specific demand for good quality candidates in functional areas, including relationship managers both for institutional and retail sales, client servicing associates, compliance, regulatory, risk and accounting professionals.
As the task of hiring from a shallow pool intensifies, like other recruitment professionals, Burrage advises clients to act quickly to identify headcount needs and draft a hiring process in advance.
'Candidates, particularly bilingual ones in strategic functional areas, understand their market worth and are ready to move when they get an attractive offer,' says Burrage, adding that employees also understand current market volatility, and allocate equal importance to long-term job security and career prospects before any decision.
'There is no point going to all the effort to attract skills if your process is so long that they are lost to competitors who have a swifter one,' cautions Burrage. 'We already see those organisations that haven't started to quicken their recruiting process missing out on the best candidates.'
To reduce the timeframe, Burrage suggests no more than two interviews be held - one with the direct line manager, and a second with senior management. 'If several managers need to be involved, employers should arrange schedules so they can all attend one interview, rather than separate ones,' says Burrage.
While speeding up the process is important in order to secure the best staff, Burrage warns it should not trade time for the depth of information required to make a decision.
Martin Cerullo, Alexander Mann Solutions MD for development in Asia Pacific, says in tight talent areas, there is pressure on employers to streamline processes while ensuring the best experience and company culture fit.
'Two to three months is a long time unless it is a team move [taking a whole team from a competitor] or a senior hire,' says Cerullo. But, he adds, there is still a need to balance time-sensitive practices with a robust approach to underwrite the risk of a wrong hire.
John Mullally, Robert Walters' manager for financial services, notes that while the recruitment process for top-performing revenue generators has speeded up, for many it is business as usual. 'Two-thirds of finance professionals would probably like to explore other opportunities, but the reality is that there are not enough roles for them,' says Mullally, adding that a chasm exists between employer skill set and experience requirements and job candidate aspirations.
'A lot of financial services professionals are unhappy in their jobs, but are even more concerned about job security and the fact that there are not a huge amount of roles on the market,' says Mullally.
Amid the talent squeeze, Eunice Ng, director at Avanza Consulting, says there are variables. 'Some firms have an inescapably long process, others a streamlined procedure, especially if the position needs filling quickly or the candidate is in hot demand. Inevitably, when the process is over a long timeframe, existing employers have time to make a counter-offer and sometimes candidates change their mind.'