Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are a US associate at a top US firm and contemplating a move from US to Asia or within Asia, your choice of recruiter / agent may have a great influence over your job search experience. There are three realities of selecting a recruiter that have the potential to greatly influence your career: First, the vast majority of recruiters who are calling you have the time to make those calls only because there is nothing else they really do and their contacts at firms are minimal at best, notwithstanding their convincing claims to have close relationships with various US partners at target firms in Asia. Second, most recruiters in the Asia markets (whether they are based in Asia, US or elsewhere) will send your resume to many more firms than you give them permission to contact. This type of behavior of recruiters is unfortunately common in the US markets too, but even more prevalent in the Asia markets. Third, many recruiters who are calling you with news of an opening at your level at one or more of the three most targeted and popular firms in HK / China for US associates are simply making up a story (maybe there actually is an opening at one of those firms, but they don’t care or know, they only know they have a better chance to get your resume if they talk about “openings” at your level at a particular firm or firms).
Against this backdrop consider that most recruiters covering the Asia markets have not made more than 10 placements of US associates in Asia in their lifetimes.
At Kinney, we have one recruiter who has made over 125 US associate and counsel placements in Asia since 2007: Evan Jowers. We also have other excellent recruiters on our Asia team who have each made numerous placements in Asia, and who have collaborated with Evan on his placement work. Evan is in Hong Kong on a monthly basis and Robert Kinney is in Hong Kong or China at least quarterly checking on our operations there.
Robert and Evan meet numerous times each year with most of the senior US partners of top US firms and US practices of UK firms in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. It’s from these meetings and personal relationships with these key US partners of our client firms that Robert and Evan have been able to gain so much market knowledge in Asia over the eight years Kinney has been involved in the Asia markets (Asia became a focus for Kinney in ’07, but we have been making placements in Asia since ’05). Each of the 125+ US attorney placements Evan has made in Asia (mostly in HK / China, but also in Singapore and Tokyo) represent significant experience in dealing with the relevant firms. Often our candidates have multiple offers, and dealing with those situations diplomatically is an art form as much as a science. Brute force and inexperience are not helpful. Further, Robert and Evan, along with Yuliya Vinokurova and the rest of our staff, have collaborated on a number of US partner placements in Asia. Robert Kinney is one of the most successful partner level recruiters in the US and has personally built offices of top firms in US markets. To have worked with the partners hiring our associates as their recruiters when considering positions has proven invaluable to us and to our candidates and clients simply because of the increased market knowledge.
Danielle Cyr, based in our NYC offices, and Yuliya Vinokurova, based in our Moscow offices, have each made more US associate placements in Asia than most Asia-focused recruiters in the market. Yuliya frequently travels to our Hong Kong offices.
All of the above should not dictate that you only consider using Kinney for an Asia job search. There are other good recruiters in the market as well, but be careful when choosing a recruiter. Frankly, most who claim to be Asia recruiters are terrible. They will (at best) mostly be looking out for their own short-term best interests, and at worst they will be just plain unethical.
Here is a suggestion: ask any recruiter you are considering for 20 referrals of US associates placed by them in Asia. Twenty is not a big number; it’s minimal for someone to be able to have any market knowledge. Call or email each of those 20 referrals and half or so will get back to you within 24 hours. Evan Jowers could send you 100+ referrals with no problem, but you surely don’t need that many. Also ask for a few referrals of senior US partners and recruiting coordinators in Asia markets (not at the firms you are planning to target of course). A good recruiter can easily provide such referrals as well. This may seem tedious but it takes 24 hours to get this done. It’s your career at stake, it’s not a drive through at McDonald’s.
Take the time to consider a few recruiters and let them pitch for the right to represent you. Don’t make the terrible mistake of going with the one recruiter who called you many times and with whom you kind of sympathize. You are not buying a car, you are considering a move that very well could define your career options in the coming years. Why not get the most value you can out of the experience of looking for a new position?
Different US and UK firms and different supervising partners in Asia represent big differences in practice focus, future opportunities and office / team environment, differences that can’t be corrected if need be as easily as would be the case for a move within NYC, for example. Personality fit is so important in Asia job searches. You need a recruiter who will guide you through the process and be there to prep you for interviews and the calls sometimes lasting hours when you are deciding whether to accept an offer. Your recruiter is getting paid a lot of money if he places you, so it’s ok to expect excellent advice and a real service.
Ask for referrals of recruiters from trusted friends in the industry and pro-actively reach out to them, rather than just rely on cold calls. If you are waiting for Evan Jowers (or anyone at Kinney, really) to give you a call, don’t hold your breath. Evan has never made a candidate cold call. The best recruiters don’t have the time for cold calls and are inundated with referrals. Even when you are referred a recruiter by a trusted friend in the industry, you should still vet them by asking for references because any recruiter can get lucky and make a placement here and there of a very marketable candidate and the person they place will consider them a great recruiter solely because of that accomplishment.
When you are listening to a recruiter’s pitch (choose two or three to have the privilege of giving you a pitch), remember the “3 hour test” we have discussed in previous years in our Asia Chronicles blog.
You don’t have to listen to your recruiter for three hours to know that he / she could talk about your target market and your target firms for 3 hours. The one with three hours worth of real information – that’s the recruiter you want to use.
The act of sending around a resume is not rocket science. We have had recruiters seek to join us because they think that is all that we do on our team. When they find out how much actual leg work goes into the way that we work with candidates, and how long our hours are, most ex-lawyers decide that practicing law was better – at least the pay is steady. But the truth is that most recruiters out there will simply call around until they find a “most placeable candidate” who does not have the basic instinct or knowledge of the industry that leads him/her to follow the steps outlined above, then the recruiter will hit send on their computer and send the resume around to recruiting coordinators at firms (many of those firms without your permission) and just hope for the best. It is truly shocking how many times we have heard from candidates that another recruiter had “just had lunch” with some specific partner whom we know. In every single case we can think of a quick call to the partner in question yielded a surprised laugh and a quick, “Who?”
Remember that you cannot “fire” your recruiter. If he or she submits your resume to any firm, you are stuck with that person’s good or bad or shameful representation for 6 months. You can’t get around that. Take your time and find the right recruiter for an Asia job search. It does not have to be Kinney for you to have a successful job search and an enjoyable experience with your recruiter, one who actually provides you a service and deserves to have the opportunity and privilege to represent you. If you don’t want to consider Kinney, still reach out to us at email@example.com and we will set up a call for you with Robert Kinney or Evan Jowers and they will recommend a few recruiters from other companies who we think of highly. We’ve been trying to hire a few of them.
By the same token, if you get taken for a ride by an unethical or simply just an inexperienced or lazy recruiter, reach out to us as well. We can’t represent you at any firm such a recruiter submitted you to within 6 months, but we will throw your job search a life preserver and try to help where we can. There have been several instances recently where we went ahead and made a call to our partner contacts at firms where candidate resumes previously sent to the recruiting staff had been ignored. In one case, the candidate was hired. He knows he owes us one, and he like us will be around a long time. That’s what makes our business tick.