Head hunters back in the game

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Seize the day: Navigos Group, which owns the employment website vietnamworks.com, reports an increase in hiring demand this year for executive level staff from commercial banks, the retail sector, Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), IT, and telecom services. (Photo by Nghia Pham)

Vietnam is seeing an increase in the hiring demand for executive level staff from commercial banks, retail giants, IT and telecom firms, but they are getting more selective, Nguyen Thi Van Anh, managing director of recruitment solutions provider Navigos Group, tells Thanh Nien Weekly.

Thanh Nien Weekly: What is the high-end labor market trend in Vietnam this year?

Nguyen Thi Van Anh: For many employers in Vietnam, 2009 was a year of prudent belt-tightening of the human resource budget. However, when the economy started turning mildly positive, we realized that many of our clients have started planning their workforce for the economic rebound.

It is likely that the employment market is heating up again, making it an employee market.

A recent survey we did of more than 200 general and human resources managers of companies in Vietnam showed that 67 percent of the respondents planned to increase headcounts in 2010, with more than half saying this increase would be more than 10 percent of the current workforce size.

This, together with increased FDI in 2010, will lead to a significant increase in the demand for talent, especially for highly qualified labor.

However, we've observed that our clients' hiring practices have and will become more selective and efficient in order to maintain their competitiveness.

If it becomes an employee market, will the average salary levels rise?

According to our 2009 salary survey, participating companies had an average salary increment of 16.5 percent. Of course, this increment figure differs from industry to industry with the highest at 23.7 percent and lowest at 6.1 percent. The majority of companies had salary reviews done in December or January.

Which fields would you say are in dire need of senior personnel?

From January 2010 till now, we see increasing hiring demand for executive level staff from commercial banks, the retail sector, Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), IT, and telecom services.

What about the supply?

The dynamics of supply and demand will always exist. Retention and hiring strategies are really important for companies. In our survey, 63.8 percent of the respondents ranked employee retention as the number one human resource challenge in 2010. This result is not surprising as it has been a hot topic in many recent human resource discussions. 


Vietnamese employees aggressively pursue opportunities to accelerate their career track to senior positions, and take on challenging work, stretch assignments, continual training and development and competitive pay. As long as this remains, employee retention will be hard work.

Hiring the best talent is also a big challenge in 2010. It has never been easy to find the right and best talent in the Vietnamese market and the situation will remain unchanged in the near future. Being creative in compensation and rewarding policies will be necessary components of retention work.

Why is there a constant shortage of senior personnel?

There has been a significant shortage of management talent in Vietnam. Furthermore, competition for highly qualified professionals, especially with leadership experience, is very fierce. There are various reasons of this shortage. In general, Vietnam produces specialists rather than generalists making it hard to choose them when it comes to the top positions.

It is not uncommon to find a senior candidate who is extraordinarily outstanding in his field of specialty, but severely lacking in other forms of business knowledge, particularly finance and marketing, that are essential for a general manager. This makes a lot of candidates less than perfect. The width of their experience and exposure is often limited, creating a skills gap if compared with other markets in the Southeast Asia region.

How can we deal with it?

In the last year we have seen continued improvement in the quality of the professional workforce. As the market matures, successful companies are investing more in executive training, resulting in improvements in the qualifications and capabilities of the workforce.

To meet the demand in the short-term, we advise our clients to look at all available options including both Viet kieu and expatriates so as to narrow the demand-supply gap.

For the long-run, my advice for our clients is don't hire for today, hire for tomorrow. Start training and development from day one to enhance performance of the talented, even if they are at the lowest rank in the company, if they are actually committed.

In which positions do companies lose talented staff the most, and why?

Ordinarily, companies lose talented staff for many reasons, such as salary, line-manager, working environment, career developing systems, leadership and so on, but among these, leadership matters the most. People leave people.

It seems that many companies are attracting talents by offering higher salaries. This leads to an increase in the number of job-hoppers. However, from my experience, salary, bonuses or incentives are not enough to keep a talent.

Companies should develop very specific plans to attract and retain talent.

Attract talent by creating a compelling answer to the question: "Why would somebody good want to join your company?" Since great people want to join winning companies, your reputation and track record for excellence is important. Appointing the right recruitment partner will certainly help communicate your employer's brand properly and attract the right talents.

Retain talented employees by creating an environment that they want to work for and creating a great leadership team that they want to be with. Also, reward performance. Merit-centered reward systems motivate people. And finally, identify and develop your star performers. Offer accelerated professional development for deserving employees, even at the lowest-level if they show promise.

How is the qualification of senior personnel in Vietnam in recent years?

We find that high-level personnel have continued to improve in terms of quality. Over the last few years, Vietnam has been one of the fastest growing economies in the region, so the companies have begun to invest more on training programs.

In addition, the development of the economy creates opportunities for Vietnamese to have a better education. Vietnamese personnel are more aware of the importance of soft-skills such as communication, teamwork, networking, leadership, etc. that are determinant elements for senior personnel to be successful. As a consequence, they put more effort in improving these skills.

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