The Lowdown on Hiring for Startups in Asia

BY THE TALENTDASH TEAM | September 28, 2016

They say the first 10 employees you hire will develop and carry your company culture to your next 100. Better make sure you get those hires right!

The first employees you hire can make or break your business. Sure, it’s an exciting step forward and a great sign the business is growing, but it’s also a notoriously difficult thing to get right. The very first people you bring on board will play a huge role in cementing your startup’s culture, not to mention how your product or service develops over time.

The right person can help you reach seriously new heights. The wrong one, well, you could risk your entire business when you make a bad recruitment call.

The guidelines around hiring for startups differ around the world, and in a market as nuanced and diverse as Asia, you’ve really got to understand the differences in culture, language and corporate etiquette before you hire.

Thankfully, you’ve got us to help guide you through that tricky first hire.

1. Know the local business etiquette
This doesn’t mean you need to be fluent in another language, but it does mean you need to have a broad understanding of the cultural differences between, say, Singapore and Malaysia. The countries might be right next to each other, but the way you conduct yourself in meetings, when making sales, and when greeting people differs drastically in each.

When communicating with candidates, be aware of the ‘rules’ and expectations. In Australia, for example, you might expect a job seeker to be confident, proactive and speak firmly and highly of their attributes and experience during a job interview. But in Thailand — where modesty and courtesy are very important characteristics — candidates are likely to conduct themselves quite differently. If you’re making hiring decisions based off Western notions and expectations, you’re going to end up confused and probably disappointed, when you don’t need to be.

2. Consider government grants
The beauty of many countries in Asia is that local governments are hugely supportive of small businesses. Startups have plenty of opportunities to hack their own growth and save money in the process.

In Singapore (arguably one of Asia’s most supportive environment for startups), the government has rolled out several initiatives to help small businesses gain access to funding — cash grants, government-backed equity funding schemes and incubator schemes, to name a few — but they also have fantastic schemes around hiring local employees and cash incentives to help you upskill and promote staff.

3. Of employment laws and regulations
Researching the local laws around hiring (and firing) staff is crucial. As a new company, in a new place, with limited resources, you’re going to need all the help you can get to ensure you prepare for any loopholes and surprises. In Singapore, for example, the Employment Act only covers full-time (over 35 hours per week) employees who earn less than $4,500 per month. This means anyone earning above this has no protection or assurances around certain aspects of their work life — unless you contractually promise to provide it. It can be the difference between finding top talent and having them turn their nose up at your lack of understanding.

Other examples of things to be aware of include:

  • Malaysia recently formalised a national minimum wage.
  • Taiwan recently mandated a maximum of 40 hours worked per week, with employers required to pay overtime beyond this.
  • China amended its one-child policy to a two-child policy, meaning cost of labour will increase and employers need to factor in additional provisions of welfare, benefits and other entitlements.
  • In an effort to stamp out discrimination, Singapore’s Fair Consideration Framework stipulates what you can and can’t say in a job ad.
  • Terminating an employee in Vietnam is a difficult process, where you must meet certain standards to release an employee and gain the consent of local authorities.

There are many more examples, but the message remains the same — startups need to do their research before they hire!

4. Language is important
You’re safe with English in Singapore and Hong Kong (for the most part), but if you’re going to be doing business in somewhere like Japan or Korea, you might need to learn some local tongue. Even being able to master the basics for small talk chit-chat can change people’s perception of you (and your business) for the better.

Consider this: the pool of talent expands considerably when you no longer have “fluent in English” as a requirement. In somewhere like Thailand, for example, you’re going to struggle to find engineers who speak anything other than Thai. This is because in school, students are split between two tracks — language and technical — meaning that they rarely overlap. Knowing the local language gives you a huge opportunity to leverage all the local talent that are typically left alone by other recruiters and headhunters.

5. Align salaries with local expectations
It’s all well and good to promise big payouts to initial staff once you’re IPO-ready, but in reality employees will have certain — and very different – expectations around salary and remuneration, even at a startup. For example, in China, 72% of candidates expect to have a salary bump of 6% or more this year — and 74% of employers intend to offer increases at this level. If you don’t plan on aligning your salaries with this, you might struggle to attract the best talent away from competitors and big multinationals.

If money is tight (which, let’s be honest, it usually is) then you need to consider other avenues of attraction for candidates. Understand what perks work for the local environment. A 13-month bonus is standard and expected in many industries in Singapore, but it might be a real plus and point of attraction in other markets.

Need a helping hand with hiring? Get in touch to find out how TalentDash can map out the best talent for your startup.


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