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Software giant seeks more talent

It's already the world's leading provider of software and internet technology for personal and business computers. Now Microsoft wants to expand its reach in Hong Kong. The software giant is increasing its headcount here by 50 per cent over the next five years.

Behind the push for more talent is the belief that Hong Kong is poised to become a hub for information technology. Herman Lam Heung-yeung, general manager of Microsoft Hong Kong, said the company wanted to help build the city's reputation as a 'world-class digital city and contribute to its long-term prosperity and competitiveness'.

'We are excited about Hong Kong's economic growth opportunities as a result of its closer collaboration within the Greater China region,' he said.

Mr Lam said that because Hong Kong was usually known as a financial or logistics hub, people might question the idea that it could also be an information technology centre. He cited strong economic growth here and on the mainland that businesses in Hong Kong could tap into.

'To facilitate global enterprises, they need to have good systems to enable information sharing, communication and enable compliance,' he said. 'All of that is pointing to Hong Kong stepping up in terms of being more competitive. To do that, businesses need to embrace a new way of adding value.

'Many traditional enterprises in Hong Kong aren't as prepared as they need to be,' he added.

Having set up its Hong Kong office in 1991, Microsoft was one of the first major companies to move to Cyberport in October 2002. It is increasing its presence there with a five-year lease for almost 80,000 square feet, extending its three-floor base to a total of five floors.

'The expansion will support our future growth in the areas of developing cutting-edge software and services for customers, supporting the local innovations in the ICT industry and making Microsoft Hong Kong an even better workplace to attract and retain local IT talent,' said Mr Lam.

The company employs more than 76,000 people worldwide and about 400 of them are based in Hong Kong. Microsoft is hoping to create about 200 new jobs across various departments by 2012.

Half of the new positions will be in sales and marketing and another 40 per cent will be technical roles. Successful candidates, he said, would have gone through at least half a dozen interviews.

'We need to make sure we're bringing in the right people,' he said. 'When I interview people, I don't necessarily look at what their major was. What I'm really looking for in a potential candidate is whether they hold the same passion we do as a company.'

'It's a very demanding company and it will be difficult for people to work really hard and do really well on something they don't have a strong passion for.'

During the interview process, potential candidates also have to show they are adaptable and willing to learn: 'We try to assess how dynamic the individual is and whether they are a continuous learner who seeks ways to improve themselves and are on top of current issues and trends,' he said.

As a company, he said Microsoft was constantly seeking ways to help its people reach their full potential. People, he said, were one of the company's most important resources and investments.

'It's not totally about money,' he added. Training was a crucial part of the business, he said, because 'staff need to understand local dynamics and customise it for the local market'.

'Our sales team will maintain very good relationships with partners by understanding the nature of their businesses and bridge any gaps. Once we understand their challenges, we can help them overcome them.'

Twice a year, employees meet with managers to identify measurable and accountable issues that can help them move forward. The process is a much-needed open discussion and opportunity for improvement.

'It's hard to look at the dark or weak side of ourselves but when the company is doing this as a culture, it's much easier,' he explained. 'We not only encourage this as a company but mandate it. We want to identify people we can invest in and try to develop [them].'

Getting ahead

Microsoft wants to hire about 200 people in Hong Kong by 2012

Half of the positions are in sales and marketing; 40 per cent are technical positions; 10 per cent in other areas such as administration

Technical positions require a strong background in computer science. For sales and marketing roles, the company is willing to consider a wider range of different areas of expertise

Successful candidates will be interviewed anywhere from six to eight times