Hiring and firing Asian-sytle

You think you've got recruitment problems? Jim Morgan explains hiring, Hong Kong-style

You think you've got recruitment problems? Jim Morgan explains hiring, Hong Kong-style

The current bete noire of IT managers worldwide is hiring good staff. This surprises me a little, given the number of dot-coms that are currently laying people off or going belly-up. But however bad it is in the UK and US, you can factor in another few degrees of difficulty for Asia.

First of all there's the language problem. Well, that's to be expected really when you ask people to apply for jobs in a language that's not their native tongue. Newcomers to Asia may get a snigger or two out of the inappropriately phrased application letter (or menu, or shop sign for that matter), but after a month or two you don't notice it any more, and learn to take the application in context.

Consider the following (real) example: "Although I have not relevant experience in company but I am self-motivated, aggressive and willing to learn on my job. There are my qualifications for your kind consideration. "In London, this would go straight in the bin, but in Shanghai it has to be taken seriously.

But where do you draw the line? When someone tells you they are experienced in every programming language under the sun, do they mean they're expert at it, or that they have 'experienced' it? Usually the latter, I'm sad to report, but it's an easy mistake to make.

Then there's out-and-out mendacity. In the UK people might shade the truth or elaborate a little with their CV, but things go a lot further in many Asian countries. I once hired a programmer "proficient in Perl" who spent a week trying to get a program to work. It turned out it was missing a semicolon on the end of a line, which is probably the second thing you learn with Perl. My advice is to devise some sort of real programming tests you can give to prospective employees. Then if there is a communication problem, at least you'll be testing the skills that matter.

Third on the list of difficulties is the existence of different educational standards between countries. Now I'd expect someone who'd spent three years at university studying programming to be pretty good at programming. Nope. That was the person who missed the semicolon.

Once you've got the staff, and they seem to be working out OK, you'll be a victim of the frenetic turnover rate in Asia. Look at any CV and you'll find an average of a job a year. When you ask them why they moved, they're usually brutally honest: "Oh, I wanted more money."

In IT especially, people start working on their next CV almost as soon as they start a new job.

In Thailand I hear there is an even more insidious evil: loyalty. Fire the wrong person, and they will make sure they take all their friends to the next place with them. Look ma, no workforce!

So what does all of this mean? Besides tolerating bad grammar and incorporating tests that actually measure the skills you're trying to hire, you'll probably need to inflate your HR budget by 30% (a total guess this, but it never hurts to overestimate a budget, right?). As well as the pure cost of hiring, there are many knock-on effects to consider: how you plan projects with high staff turnover, what level of documentation you require, how you organise your system security, and how much confidential data you trust people with. As if you didn't have enough to do already.

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