Will Your Company Be a Victim of ‘Recruitment Hijacking’ in the Construction & Engineering Sector in Hong Kong?

Posted by stevethomas on Sunday, February 13, 2011

Its generally regarded that the balance of power in the engineering, construction & property sectors in Hong Kong & China has moved back from the employer towards the job seeker again. This is especially the case in relation to the local Hong Kong based, Cantonese speaking skill sets that are being recruited by the Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTR) and the numerous contractors and subcontractors working for them.

‘Recruitment Hijacking’ is the rather extravagant term applied when individuals at other construction companies or their recruitment agencies lure away jobseekers that have already agreed employment terms with an employer – hijacking the deal you had made.

 As Chinese New Year 2011 is upon us & the associated bonuses ripple across the construction sector in Hong Kong, what should prudent construction industry employers in Hong Kong & Asia be doing to minimise the risk of this happening?

The consultants at Maxim Recruitment in Hong Kong have noticed that some engineering and contracting employers have yet to modernise their recruitment and retention practices from the days of economic downturn & recession in Hong Kong. The days of overqualified and over-experienced Hong Kong construction staff taking an underpaid job & being genuinely grateful for it are now definitely over and to attract talent, construction industry employers need to act differently.

The gloves are coming off in the “Tussle for construction Talent”.  As an expert in construction, engineering and property recruitment in Hong Kong, China & Asia, Maxim Recruitment offer the following observations for consideration in relation to recruiting candidates for construction, engineering & property Jobs in Hong Kong:

1. Define your job vacancy with a full Job Description
A clear competence based job description is the perfect method of defining the person you need to fill the construction job vacancy you have available in Hong Kong.  If you know what you are after yourself, and any appropriate colleagues in HR etc know and agree as well, you will already be ahead of many of your competitors.  Your hit rate ratio of interviews to hires will also rocket upwards.  Maxim Recruitment has a great track record in delivering on a recruitment assignment when a full job description has been agreed and confirmed with a client.  Contact us for free advice and consultancy on writing construction sector job descriptions or click here and send us a draft for us to discuss and work on together.

2. Be realistic about the salary banding
If, as an employer, you were to have a moment of candour and consider the calibre of construction staff you wanted to employ in Hong Kong, would they be ‘gold, silver or bronze medal level winners’? Is the salary you have to offer such candidates in return both a reflection of this level, but also different or better from what is being offered by your key competitors?  Is there a coherent message coming from all company staff conducting interviews about salaries, training provision, career development and anything else that sells your company strongly?

3. Consider offering a package that differentiates you & 6 monthly salary reviews
Good calibre quantity surveyors, engineers & project managers etc are being offered generous additional perks in job offers now, and packages that pay for extras are only set to become more common.  Also, people are coming to expect a salary review every 6 months rather than annually now the market is hotting up.  Clearly retaining good staff is even better than having to recruit replacements as well as additional head count.  The promise of a salary review is not a promise of a raise.

4. Shortlist & Speak to Suitable Candidates for Your Live Vacancy Quickly
This may also sound obvious, but if you’ve defined what you want, and a good match that is affordable is sitting on your desk, why wait? A good candidate may often already have direct contacts or other options on the table – without the personal contact that comes from calling to express an interest in them (even if its just a pre-interview), a good candidate might take an inferior job and employer before you get round to speaking with them which is a waste for all concerned.

Maxim recruitment consultants in Hong Kong aim to supply three suitable candidates for every live vacancy in order to give an element of choice within the brief provided, but it’s getting harder and harder to do this with serious active job seekers, making it all the more important to secure good talent quickly when it offers itself.

5. Make a verbal offer; especially if the written one will take a little while to process
Candidates who are keen to join your company will be grateful for prompt feedback & information about the progress of a draft job offer if they have impressed you at interview stage.  Specific details on a job offer, even if only provisional, can build the relationship & show you are serious and value their construction expertise.

6. Keep a ‘new hire’ warm till their first day
Most people who employ people or recruit staff for construction and engineering companies in Hong Kong have been let down at some point by someone who didn’t turn up as agreed on their first day. The best way to minimise this risk is to continue to build a relationship with the individual right from initial application, through to when they accept your offer and right through until their first day.  This relationship then extends and grows to encompass their performance review at the end of month 1 or month 3.  It’s not particularly onerous to interact with them in a friendly & professional way prior to their start date and to bring them up to speed on project details, invite them out to a working lunch & introduce them to some of their new colleagues on the team.

Make sure that either you or your Hong Kong construction recruitment consultant contacts your new employee at regular intervals and directly asks them whether there is anything that might threaten their commitment to start work with you as agreed.  Longer lead times can lead to greater problems, and it is better to know about issues brewing that can be resolved than getting a nasty surprise and an empty chair on what would’ve been day one.

7. Work with a specialist and trustworthy construction recruitment consultancy
The very nature of using a specialist recruiter to fill a specialist position means that it is necessary to ensure you have contacted the right agency who knows the market & has the right talent pool of construction professionals; ask a few searching questions of your potential recruiter to establish if this is the case. 

Even if you are running a direct advertising campaign, the services of a construction recruitment agency are free until they have a better candidate than you can find elsewhere – not a bad proposition, and one worth testing out in the current construction recruitment market.

On the issue of trust, it’s been rumoured that some recruitment consultants working in the Hong Kong construction, engineering & property industries have been quite happy to hijack employment contracts already signed by a candidate when the job is not with a client who is paying them the fee.  This is despite the fact that they may often do recruitment work with the same employer.  In addition, to some construction recruitment consultants a different client on a higher fee % will be the green light to hijack their own placement into an alternative employer irrespective of the candidate’s or other client’s best interests.

Will Your Company Be a Victim of ‘Recruitment Hijacking’ in the Construction & Engineering Sector in Hong Kong?
There are many ways in which construction employers can be victims of 'recruitment hijacking'.  However, the best way to minimise the influence of the invidious external forces is to look at how well your organisation is following best practice in relation to the seven areas identified above & see what improvements can be made.

Good recruitment and retention practices are one of the ways that the best construction companies can make sure they are positioned to take full advantage of the Hong Kong construction boom that is now upon us. High calibre construction recruitment agencies will play a significant and increasing part in making this a reality.

Steve Thomas
Maxim Recruitment,
Hong Kong