Large pool of vacancies means employers struggle to find good candidates - and hold onto them HONG KONG'S POSITION as an international financial centre means the demand for people with financial services skills is high. Financial services and its related trades today employ about 180,000 people and account for 12 per cent of Hong Kong's gross domestic product. While sustained periods of double-digit growth were not uncommon in the financial services industry, attracting talent in the sector remained a key issue in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the region, said Mark Konyn, chief executive of RCM, part of Allianz Global Investors, in Hong Kong. Employers preferred a master's degree, though it was not a requirement, according to Joanne O'Reilly, associate director of banking and legal at recruitment firm Michael Page International. It was generally not easy finding good candidates, she added, and a typical search would first consider the candidate's background, language skills, market exposure and experience before taking into account the candidate's academic qualifications. 'Generally, though, we would go for the candidate with the postgrad degree,' said Ms O'Reilly. While this certainly stands one in good stead when it comes to securing a job or a promotion, other factors are also important in determining whether one eventually closes the deal. The key attributes that RCM looks for when hiring include technical ability, communication skills and the ability to problem solve and take the initiative. The problem of a tight talent pool due to high growth rates is compounded by the fact that the industry has been losing talent since the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s. 'We believe people have moved to other industries because of redundancies,' said Alan Chan Lun-sang, managing consultant at CareerXecutive, a Hong Kong-based headhunting firm that specialises in financial services. The large number of jobs available at the moment encourages job hopping. 'There is certainly a long list of people from which to choose, but the turnover rate is very high,' said Stewart Aldcroft, regional director for Asia of Noble Investments. 'In some cases, quite senior people moved after only 24 hours because they got a better offer.' In view of this, Dr Konyn keeps a particular look-out for a candidate's motivation. 'I am wary of people who have changed jobs too frequently and look for a candidate's commitment,' he said. Creativity and organisational skills are the key elements that Dr Konyn values above all else in a candidate. 'Fund management requires a collection of technical and non-technical skills,' he said. 'I would guard against a single prescribed educational criterion. If someone is smart they can acquire the necessary technical skills and there are plenty of professional accredited courses available. 'Key technical skills are numeracy, accounting, communication skills - written and spoken, allied with a profound interest in investments.' Paper qualifications are not the be all and end all for employers in the financial services industry. 'The view commonly held by many is that certain people are suited for certain jobs according to their paper credentials, but quite often they don't achieve what they are there to do,' said Mr Aldcroft. Still, CareerXecutive's Mr Chan finds that those people with postgraduate degrees tend to do the job better. 'They are more open minded and tend to be more the learning type.' He said when it came to management vacancies, his clients usually specified the need for post-graduate qualifications. Based on Mr Chan's experience, successful candidates were often those who demonstrated versatility, vision and passion for their work. Also prized by his clients are people with skills in managing change, in market development and in managing team collaboration and building a win-win team spirit. 'Candidates can get these skills from an MBA programme, combined with workplace experience. There is a high demand for MBA graduates for senior level openings. They are expected to be generalists,' Mr Chan explained. At the end of the day, as Mr Aldcroft put it: 'It's the track record and experience that counts.'