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The Asia Chronicles: Choose Your One Recruiter / Agent Very Wisely and Stick with One

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hongkong002 re.JPG[Ed. note: This post is authored by Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney of Kinney Recruiting, sponsor of the Asia Chronicles. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates and partners in Asia than any other firm in the past two years. You can reach them by email: asia at kinneyrecruiting dot com.]
Evan here. Here’s hoping that all our readers had a wonderful holiday season, now that we are back to work, at least until the upcoming Chinese New Year.
We are seeing continued improvement in interviews and hiring in Asia, mainly in HK / China. Of course the holidays put a stop to most interviews over the past few weeks, but interview activity should be higher this month and then after Chinese New Year than at any time in ’09. This week, for example, my candidates overall are having about 5 interviews per day, either in-person, by phone or video conference. Some of these interviews have been with firms which were on solid hiring freeze all of ’09 (firms that are just coming off hiring freeze are typically focusing mostly on cap markets hiring, due to the booming IPO market in HK / China). In fact we just made two HK placements at one wall street firm that was on hiring freeze from mid-’08 through November ’09.
The most impressive junior to mid-level US associate candidates, with top 10 law firm and impressive top 10 law school grades, as well as language skills and personality fit, are almost assured of solid offers within 6 weeks of entering the market now, whereas last year things could drag out for 9 months or more. The very impressive associate candidates who are just slightly below the aforementioned on paper can also feel confident they can land in HK / China in this market, but hard to say whether it will be a few weeks or up to 4 months, as there are still many more solid US associate candidates on the market than there are positions available (your personal connections and / or the connections of your agent / recruiter in the market can make all the difference in timing and quality of offers).
As for meeting one of our Asia team, I will be in NYC next Monday through Wednesday and have some openings in my schedule. I will be back in NYC again Jan. 24 and 25 and Robert and I will be back in HK / China on Jan. 29. Yuliya is in Moscow and St. Petersburg for the next 9 months and Alexis is of course based permanently in HK.
If you are considering a move to Asia, it is important that you have an organized and well-thought out approach to your Asia job search. Of course, a big part of such an approach is to approach the right recruiter / agent for your representation in the market.
***More after the jump.

Yes, you should approach a recruiter / agent, rather than just go with whatever nice fellow or lady happens to call you with great news of Asia jobs in abundance (not quite true) or with a particular job at a stellar firm that they say is more suited for you than any other person (in many cases, the particular opening does not exist, but the “pitch” is a way to get your attention), based simply on your firm bio and Asian name. Who you should approach for potential representation should be based on a referral from a trusted source and not based on an ad (including this one) or a recruiter’s self promotion. And once you meet by phone or in person a prospective recruiter / agent, don’t feel pressured to choose that one based on a nice short chat and taking up a small amount of that person’s time. Make that person prove to you that they actually have expertise and numerous relevant contacts in the Asia market(s) you are interested in. Ask for references of persons they have actually placed in Asia (we are not suggesting you should use us, but we can easily provide 50+ such references on a moment’s notice), especially considering many so-called Asia focused US based recruiters have just entered that market and many of the Asia based recruiters have just started to recruit US attorneys (mainly focused on locally qualified attorneys).
Personality fit is very important, as is your belief that this person will work hard and diligently on your behalf, but without expertise and a lot of actual experience in your preferred market, all the charm in the world won’t help much.
Try out my “3 hour test” strategy. Basically, if in your first chat with a potential recruiter / agent, you do not believe that person can talk informatively, enthusiastically and non-stop for 3+ hours about the market and particular firms and partners (their practice, goals, and personalities) you would potentially be working for, just move on to another prospect. Of course, you don’t need to talk for 3+ hours! It is whether or not you believe the recruiter could have such a conversation if you wanted one (I have been on such 3+ hour calls before, so it can happen believe it or not). This industry is filled with good 10 to 20 minute introductions and claims (some otherwise uninformed recruiters are very talented at this sales pitch, which is no surprise considering your resume is typically worth more than US$50,000 to them if a placement is made), but for an overseas move you will need much more than someone who is only capable of emailing your resume around (you could do that yourself).
Also, you should feel comfortable in asking your chosen potential agent / recruiter to have discussions with you about your preferred Asia market for months (or even more than a year) before you begin any job applications. This is a major move after all and arguably the biggest move of your professional career and you should not feel pressured to rush into things. It is logical to start seriously thinking about such a move a year or so before actually starting a formal job search. Your recruiter will ultimately do very well by placing you in the future in Asia, so he / she should be more than happy to enthusiastically discuss the market and such a big move in detail for many months, if that is your preference, before you start your job search.
I strongly suggest that you use only one recruiter or recruiting firm to assist you in such a move, if possible. Sure, there unfortunately are situations that develop in a job search where you may lose faith in your first choice recruiter and need to turn to other help. The biglaw recruiting industry is filled with shady characters and, especially with regards to US to Asia biglaw recruiting, it is unfortunately common for US associates to be duped into thinking their chosen recruiter can get the job done for them. However, keep in mind that you are seriously hurting your job search efforts when you have multiple recruiters racing around to contact firms and competing with one another. It also makes you look desperate and unorganized. Our Asia team won’t even consider to take part is such resume emailing races (we prefer to contact firms when not only we have permission from candidates of course, but when the timing is best at the particular firm, based on face to fact meetings we have with partners scheduled and also based on when a firm is truly ramping up efforts to consider new candidates), regardless of revenue we could lose.
Just today, one of my long-term candidates let me know that a recruiter called him yesterday with fantastic news about two very specific HK mid-level M&A US associate openings perfect for him at two specific firms in HK. This was utter nonsense though because I am in close contact with both firms and coincidentally had been on the phone with partners at both within the past two days. One has no US associate needs in HK, while the other is only interested in cap markets juniors at this time.
Another of my long-term candidates let me know that a recruiter contacted him earlier this week with news of a mid-level PE / M&A opening at a top US firm in BJ. When the candidate explained to the recruiter that he was already being represented by me and that he was aware of that potential opening (it is not active yet, but may be soon, as that firm’s partners in BJ are trying to get clearance from firm management for such a hire) and has applied there, the recruiter then explained that in fact he is the exclusive recruiter on the search and that the candidate would have to send him his resume if he wanted to be considered for the opening.
The above two examples are just two of many examples of BS you will encounter on cold calls. I could go on and on with 100s of examples of more nonsense from some (certainly not all) cold caller recruiters trying to break into the Asia markets. Do yourself a big favor and stick with one recruiter that you trust and work with on a daily or weekly basis for the long-term (including well before you start your job search), rather than suddenly have another recruiter sending your resume around to firms, compromising the work that you and your primary recruiter have done for months. In a worse case scenario you might have an offer in limbo because of two recruiters claiming representation and partners wondering why and how you allowed this to happen. So the warning is simply use one recruiter if at all possible (an exception being in-house openings that usually are exclusive searches and not known by all top recruiters in the market).
The importance of using one recruiter is just one more reason why you should choose carefully and not simply respond to salesman Joe that calls you today with some great 10 to 20 minute pitch about how hot the HK / China market is and how they are close with a particular top US firm that is sure to be an interesting destination for you.
We are not saying that you should only consider Kinney, but that you should take your time and choose wisely and not allow yourself to be instead the chosen, at random, depending on who cold calls you at the right time. I am happy to recommend other very good recruiters (outside of Kinney) for the Asia markets if you would like such unbiased advice. At the end of the day you want to be able to make the most informed decision possible about which firm to join in Asia (or whether you should transfer within your own firm) and this ability all starts with making the most informed decision about who is representing you as your agent in the market. If you use a resume e-mailer or even worse multiple resume e-mailers, you may very well still get a solid offer, but your job / career options and confidence in your new position will be of course much more limited. There is no need to play a guessing game of chance, when a very well informed decision is quite possible.