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How social media is changing the landscape for recruitment

Technology, and specifically the Internet, is impacting all parts of the market research industry. From the Asia Research annual survey of research buyers, we observed more corporations going direct to online panel companies, often cutting out the research agency as the ‘middle man’.

So what about the market research recruitment industry?

\"\"Many speculate that social media would do away with the need for recruitment intermediaries as companies and candidates can be more easily linked up and LinkedIn through the worldwide web.

Companies are continually seeking ways to lower their costs, and recruitment fees (usually at 20% of the annual salary of the candidate being placed) are no exception. As a result, some of the larger agencies are employing their own ‘talent acquisition managers’ to leverage off social media and find candidates directly without the need to engage recruitment consultants.

Social media recruitment can be considered as a type of DIY headhunting and a natural progression from more passive recruitment when agencies would advertise for candidates, or post their vacancies on their own company website.

However, such strategies have their drawbacks. The recruitment firms all agree that Social Media can draw in too many candidates with the wrong experience. The sheer reach of social media is such that it is simply becoming too big and too unwieldy to be an effective method for companies to source candidates directly. Paradoxically, as a result of an overstimulated and overhyped recruitment market, both companies and candidates are turning to one stop sources of advice which are offered through the recruitment firms. The evidence is shown through the continued growth in the recruitment business in Asia.

Resources Group is one of the most established recruitment firms in Asia and has been placing candidates in the region since 1995. Rowan Haylett, Managing Director of APAC comments that while they have seen fluctuations in demand (e.g. declines during the Asia Crisis of the late nineties and more recently through the Global Financial Crisis) over the last 2 years they have observed a steady growth in placements in Asia.

With the economic difficulties in Europe, global agencies are shifting their emphasis to Asia and there are many new entrants, for example UK research firms establishing their first offices in Asia with Singapore often being their preferred destination.

Roger Baker, Director of Elizabeth Norman International (ENI) states that there is also growth in the number of clientside vacancies as corporations create more consumer insight positions. And there are shifts in geographic emphasis – traditional research hubs such as Singapore and Hong Kong, while still important, no longer dominate the list of vacancies with now more demand to place people into China. This creates new challenges for recruitment since agencies will often ask for experienced researchers who are also Mandarin speakers. As a result ENI set up their Asian office in China and other recruitment consultants intend to do likewise.

Senior appointments

\"\"Andrew Wood, from Asia Talent says that they have observed growth in more senior appointments in Asia as a result of high churn through recent mergers. “You only need a couple of senior people to move within an organisation to have a knock on effect, with companies having to restructure and reorganise as a result of these people leaving”.

Senior recruitment is most challenging since the pool of candidates is that much smaller and with a multitude of start-ups and new entrants, this is drawing senior people away from the established agencies. As a result, recruitment firms might be asked to undertake ‘headhunting’, involving the proactive targeting of specific individuals in companies. Rowan Haylett, from Resources Group comments that they avoid head hunting since this can create conflicts of interest, but she adds “we find it is often just as effective to fill these positions in the normal way – utilising our networks in the region, talent database, advertising and careful selection etc – The assumption that you have to be a headhunter just because the position is senior couldn’t be further from the truth!”.

While there is growth in the industry, the recruitment consultants still have to compete against DIY recruitment. Among the many ways to convince agencies to use their services rather than recruiting directly is the suite of value add services they offer including reference checking and proper screening of candidates to assess whether they are not just ‘window shopping’ for jobs. With more recruitment firms being set up in Asia, some seek to create differentiation through value add services such as providing advice to companies on salary levels and benefits which is taken from their own salary surveys and database of candidates that includes information on their current remuneration and benefits.

The more candidate-driven nature of the market impacts on recruitment consultant’s strategies in certain sectors and specific regions. For new recruitment firms, the emphasis is to source and develop a bank of high calibre candidates first and foremost.

To attract candidates, recruitment consultants build up their pool partly by using the very media that is thought to undermining their business – all the recruitment firms have their owned LinkedIn site and most are advertising for candidates in portals such as Jobs DB and now through Asia Research’s own ‘one stop shop’ portal at

So who do you want?

The recruitment firms all agree that much of the current demand from research agencies is for experienced qualitative researchers. A growing trend is for these researchers to go freelance where they can be far more selective about the type of work they take on, giving them the flexibility over working hours, and last but not least the ability to earn more money!

In response to this trend, Asia Talent set up a separate business stream in contract staff placement, e.g. placing people for specific projects such as for qualitative research rather than for permanent roles. This was particularly effective during the Global Financial Crisis when companies still had demand for specific researchers, but faced headcount freezes.

With few companies recruiting during the Global Financial Crisis, the knock on effect is that there are fewer candidates at the Project Manager level, e.g. 3-4 years experience, and there is still a tendency for these people to shift to clientside positions, further reducing the pool of available candidates for agencies.

Recruitment firms also report growing demand for candidates with more specialised skills to who are able to use new media in their research. This would include candidates well versed in digital platforms such as blogging and social media – perhaps these people can do their company’s staff recruitment too!