Recruiting SAP candidates in the Asian market

10 November 2010

Frances George

Frances George

Head of Global Recruitment

Managing recruitment for a global SAP consultancy comes with many challenges, one of which was when Bluefin Solutions opened its first office in Asia Pacific.

Like many companies, in order to meet demanding headcount targets, we use recruitment agents as part of our hiring strategy. However, in this case, it became obvious fairly quickly that using this approach in Malaysia was not the best way to source key local SAP consultants.

We initially engaged agencies to help find the required skills and to educate us in, what was for us, a new market. This approach caused much frustration early on in the process as it became evident that the agencies we identified as the ‘best in the market’ couldn’t in fact deliver the value to justify the inflated hiring fees.

Identifying the right skill sets

For example one of the agents who was extremely personable (as they all are) invited me to their offices to discuss Bluefin Solutions and our hiring requirements, however their ‘specialist knowledge’ was somewhat lacking so my afternoon was spent sat in the agents office drinking copious amounts of green tea going through their database to educate them on the key SAP consultancy skills we were looking for.... so there I was, using my time helping them identity candidates, that if hired, we would have to pay them their fee. Not a good scenario.

A candidate is more than just a £ sign

In the end the agencies weren’t coming through for me.  They were very upfront about the number of roles they were working on, which were prioritised on % fee and level of complexity (i.e. the higher the fee and easier the role the more time they spent on them), this  resulted in us getting pushed to the bottom of their priority list..

So although we were a new client, with a clear proposition, it meant they would have to invest time in understanding our requirements and values, I also didn’t feel they had the ability to identify the right type of skills we were looking for.  In addition and most importantly I didn’t feel they were committed to learning how to sell us to prospective SAP candidates as a new start-up in Malaysia, this would take them time and of course time is ringgits!

I knew this was a big ask, as this kind of passion, enthusiasm and commitment would generally only come from somebody who knew Bluefin Solutions and this was what was needed in order to attract the right level of candidates. I needed reassurance from the agencies and this was something I was struggling to find.

A change of direction: From recruitment agencies to direct recruitment

A change in direction was needed. With tight deadlines, I decided rather than spend days getting the agents up to speed, that my efforts would be better channelled in recruiting directly. This I knew would be a risk as we lacked local knowledge and cultural understanding and with barely a name to our Asian recruitment database this approach was definitely going to be a challenge. However I believed in our proposition and this strategy paid off!!

Embracing a new culture and engaging with the locals

I found the key was to talk to as many people as possible; you need to build up your knowledge, even if it is convincing your concierge at the hotel to have a quick coffee to chat about his favourite football team. You need to embrace the culture you are trying to hire into, which means getting to grips with local information and local values which will in turn start to build a picture of what motivates people. 

In a relatively short period of time I felt I understood how to engage with the locals.  I started networking heavily with SAP candidates, advertising anything and everything to get our name out there. Interest built quickly and people were only too pleased to speak with me to discuss things further.

Steps for success

  • Embrace the culture you are recruiting into. Don’t try and stamp your own on them as it won’t work
  • Take time to get to know people, offer to take them out for a coffee / lunch / dinner, try and understand how they think, what they value, what motivates them
  • Have a CLEAR proposition, and enthusiasm for the opportunity you are selling. You need to get candidates bought into your company as we did for Bluefin Solutions
  • Be VERY clear about the benefits you have on offer. You will soon get their interest if the benefits are unique and  relate to their market
  • Engage a local legal team to provide knowledge surrounding fair working practices that are relevant to the region
  • Build your own market intelligence.  Don’t rely 100% on 3rd parties to give you advice as it may not be accurate

Value gained from taking this approach

  • Significant hiring cost savings
  • Firsthand knowledge of the region including cultural differences
  • A constantly growing direct network and lasting relationships of top talent
  • Increased speed and consistency in the whole process of identifying and deliverying new hires
  • Assurance that Bluefin Solutions is being presented and positioned well to potential candidates as well as in the market generally
  • Created a repeatable approach for other new Bluefin Solution’s regions

We have now been established in Asia Pac for 2.5 years and in that time we have grown significantly and now have a great team of talented people on board.

Headcount targets continue to be demanding for the region. Our hiring strategy is still very much to recruit directly where possible as the value is clear, but we’ve also invested the time to work with a select group of agencies who now have a good understanding of Bluefin’s objectives and values.    

This experience has been invaluable for us, we’ve now been able to repeat this approach in other new markets we’ve opened in which has resulted in us hiring faster, meeting headcount targets and making significant cost savings.

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About the author

Frances George

Head of Global Recruitment

Bluefin and SAP S/4HANA - welcome to the one horse race

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