EP32: Reeracoen - Developing Your Niche as a Recruiter (with Thomas Ehle)

All-In Recruitment is a podcast by Manatal focusing on all things related to the recruitment industry’s missions and trends. Join us in our weekly conversations with leaders in the recruitment space and learn their best practices to transform the way you hire.

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The transcript has been edited for clarity.

Lydia: Welcome to the All-In Recruitment podcast by Manatal, where we explore best practices, learnings, and trends with leaders in the recruitment space. If you've liked our content so far, please subscribe to our channels on YouTube and Spotify to stay tuned for our weekly episodes.

My name is Lydia, and with us today is Thomas Ehle, Director of the Recruiting division at Reeracoen in Thailand.

Hello, Thomas. Thank you for joining us today.

Thomas: Hello, thank you for having me.

Thomas’ Recruitment Journey In Japan and Thailand

Lydia: Tell us a little bit about your background. You started your recruitment journey in Japan and have been in Bangkok for several years.

So, walk us through that journey.

Thomas: My recruiting experience started 23 years ago, in January 2000 in Tokyo, when I joined a headhunting company. And it was interesting because, at that time, there wasn't any real recruiting going on in Tokyo.

It was full-on passive candidate recruiting, meaning headhunting and cold calls all day. Tokyo had only one or two big players in that space then. After about a year and a half, I developed expertise in legal recruiting.

So, my specialization was hiring Japanese attorneys and lawyers. My typical clients were financial institutions, investment banks, big corporates, global firms, and international law firms. They all had the budget and were interested in hiring Japanese attorneys.

After doing that for 10 or 11 years, I shifted my focus to Thailand and got into the management role of recruiting firms. At first, I was doing the job myself. Later, I managed and trained people.

So here in Thailand, it's general recruiting, from junior over mid-level to senior and executive search. Whereas in Japan, it was predominantly executive search.

Lydia: Tell us a little about your role at Reeracoen and your priorities so far.

Thomas: At Reeracoen, I'm running the recruiting division covering all of Thailand, with two distinct hubs, which are the Greater Bangkok area, as well as the eastern seaboard.

The eastern seaboard is the area between Bangkok and Pattaya, with 15 major industrial estates and famous companies from all over the world having their production facility there. So the area is a manufacturing hub in Southeast Asia with excellent infrastructure, and therefore very attractive to companies that want to produce over here. Our clients usually look for a niche to see what area our production professionals are in and the typical back office roles - accounting and finance, HR and legal and compliance, and general management. While in Bangkok, it's a lot of sales and marketing.

Lydia: You've talked about building your recruitment experience, finding your way into an executive search in Japan, and entering the legal space. However, many have described recruitment as something relentless yet rewarding, and in its pursuit of success, many people often fail, and some give up altogether.

So, what are some ways to become an expert in your recruitment niche?

Thomas: It's a challenging kind of work because it's a sales position, whereas in many other jobs, once you finish the job, you can kind of lean back a little bit and wait for the next job to come.

“Whereas the recruiting industry requires people to be very proactive. We always have to look out for the next good client. We always have to look for the best talent in the market. Unless we do something, nothing happens.”

You have to be driven and self-motivated. If you're not that kind of person, it will be difficult.

Generalist Vs. Specialist - Which One Should You Hire?

Lydia: Regarding recruitment, there is a long-standing debate about hiring generalists versus specialists. Obviously, it's not as simple and straightforward as it sounds, or is it?

So, what might be your perspective on this, especially in today's context?

Thomas: I was a specialist, and having run large recruitment firms over the past ten years, I'd still be looking for the specialist because the client always wants to talk to the expert.

For instance, a CFO wants to talk to a recruiting consultant specializing in accounting and finance roles because they know more about accounting and finances than a generalist. So, to be competitive, you have to be a specialist.

Still, it's okay to start as a generalist. But after some time, I'd recommend everybody find their specialty, something they are most interested in and comfortable with. When I started, I met people from IT, HR, accounting and finance, marketing, sales, legal, and compliance. I developed generalists in Japan until I found the profession I was most interested in.

So, that really helps. That's another item for being self-motivated. If you can meet the people you like in your niche, it'll be all too easy for you to reach out to them.

Meet People In Your Niche To Develop Your Specialization

Lydia: How did you identify that this was the industry that you're most interested in?

Thomas: Just from meeting all these people until you are naturally inclined to a certain type of people. I remember meeting this Japanese lawyer from a large Japanese trading house. He was very well educated, a graduate of Tokyo University, and had a Master's of law from Harvard University.

He was very well-spoken, and I felt I could learn something from him and other candidates like him. So, I want to meet more people like him and, of course, on the client side.

Lydia: Were there any steps you had taken to become more involved, knowledgeable, or skilled at speaking with professionals from this field?

Thomas: The best training is meeting as many people as possible and having good in-depth conversations. But don't get sidetracked. Let's talk about my experience being an executive search consultant for Japanese legal professionals.

I was never required to become a legal professional or to know about their legal work. I'm not a legal professional, but I know about the careers of legal professionals. So I could advise my candidates on how to develop their careers.

I could advise clients on what kind of candidate is the most qualified and perhaps even the best for this particular position within the legal space. Just meet the professionals, and talk to as many people as possible. This is all free training, lectures, and knowledge. There isn't a single meeting where you don't learn something.

Lydia: What are some tips you might have on identifying and initiating these conversations, particularly with passive candidates?

Thomas: There's been a lot of talk on LinkedIn on the best ways to reach out to get the highest response rate. I think a consulting approach worked best for me, where I would just reach out to a key professional and consult with him regarding a particular search I have. Since they are recruiters specializing in a certain function, it is very relevant when they reach out to somebody in that function.

Earlier, I mentioned the CFO as an example. If a consultant is specialized in accounting and finance and contacts the CFO to inquire about job openings or express interest in potential opportunities, it's relevant. This is because the consultant has already done some work in this field and is knowledgeable about it. It's the best person to talk to develop your career.

Returning to the topic of the best approach, I prefer the consulting approach. This involves reaching out to individuals and informing them of a confidential search that I am currently conducting. I explain why I think it's a great opportunity and ask if anyone in their network might be interested in learning more about it.

Steps To Keep Clients Satisfied

Lydia: Let's move to the agency perspective of recruitment. The recruitment space is incredibly competitive today, and the talent space is equally complex, so recruitment agencies really have to step up.

What are some ways that recruiters can discuss those tricky but necessary subjective fees with clients?

Thomas: We work in the contingent search industry, which is based on successfully recruiting talents. So, that means the client only pays once they hire the most qualified, the best candidate coming from us. This is similar to when you go to a restaurant, and you have a meal, and you only pay once you like what you ate.

We provide all of our work and services and only charge once we succeed in placing the best person. So, I want everybody in the success-fee-based recruiting industry to have a lot of confidence in their fee structure.

“Have confidence, and don't be shy about it. You put in a lot of work to find the best candidates. You did your homework, used all kinds of tools, pre-screened the candidates, and so on. Therefore, you deserve a fee. You deserve to be compensated.”

I'm not shy about it. I always approached clients directly if they asked about the fees, and there are standards in the industry. If your fee structure is not so much over the standard, you don't have to be shy about it.

Lydia: Once you've made a successful placement, what are some of the most important or immediate steps you need to take to keep the client satisfied?

Thomas: We want to facilitate a smooth transition. Of course, the client needs all the necessary documents, such as the candidate’s contact information. We have to bring them together so they can take care of all the paperwork necessary to make the transition.

Simultaneously, we have to work with the candidate. We have to prepare for this step. This is because starting in a new environment and a new position is never easy. So we've got to talk with them about it and maybe mention some of the obstacles that may come up. It’s kind of troubleshooting before the trouble actually occurs.

Proper follow-up is essential, both before and after the starting date. It should be done on both sides (candidates and clients) at regular intervals, such as a day, a week, and a month after the start date. This is because there might be issues.

“A lot of times, I noticed that issues occur because of miscommunication. It's not really because both parties don't speak the same language, but more because things that should be said aren't clearly said.”

Perhaps it's about something that is tricky to discuss that people shy away from discussing. But that's never helpful. This is where the recruiter, as a third person, can really add value and facilitate proper communication and troubleshooting.

Lydia: Acting as a mediator, so to speak.

Thomas: Yes, exactly.

Lydia: For companies looking to partner with an agency, what might be some ways to get the best results from a recruitment partner?

Thomas: I think companies that are looking to partner with an agency will always get great results. It's the companies that regard a recruiting firm or a recruiting agency as just another vendor that probably don't get the best results.

We want our clients to work closely with us. That's why I said if the company wants to partner with us, we are happy to partner with them. We want to learn about their organization and the character traits they seek in candidates with a professional background. Then we can go out and find the most suitable person.

It's when the client keeps us at a distance or they don't tell us about the background of the position. For instance, why did the position come about? What happened before?  How long does it take to set up meetings?

“I think clarity, transparency, and partnership will create a very successful recruiting experience for the client working with a recruiting agency.”

Trends To Look Out For In the Executive Search Space

Lydia: For recruiters in the executive search space, what might be some trends they should look out for and maybe prepare for in the near future?

Thomas: There are always industries that are growing. You can do a Google search, and you will know what industries are growing. If this is your chosen industry, then just simplify. Get to know all the key players. Let’s say you specialize in the head of the production, go out, and know all the heads of production. There's an unlimited amount of professionals out there in almost every function. So just go out, know your people and market, and build a huge network. Later, take advantage of your network to take you to the next client or that elusive candidate everybody has been looking for. That will be my advice.

Lydia: HR tech is booming, and plenty of recruitment tools and technologies are out there.

So, what kind of impact do you think these technologies, like Manatal, have had on the industry?

Thomas: They all have their place, and, of course, they've changed the landscape a little, maybe more than I'd like to make. This is because I'm like the old-school headhunter type.

But yes, HR tech is important. So, whenever you can, you save a little bit of time. You open up room for something else. I think it's important for all of these different apps and platforms to be there.

They make the space more colorful, productive, and effective. But on the other hand, I'm a believer in face-to-face, person-to-person recruiting,

Lydia: That human touch must always be there in people's space, right?

Thomas: Right, there was the fear that once HR tech becomes so dominant, that old school, face-to-face, person-to-person recruiting goes out of business. However, that has never happened, and I don't think it will happen anytime soon.

Lydia: You've had lots of experience in recruitment. What advice would you give someone starting out in this space today?

Thomas: Know yourself, your personality, and what you want. You need to understand that this job is self-driven and proactive. So if you're that kind of person, then by all means, go into it, enjoy it, organize yourself, and work systematically.

As soon as possible, find your specialization and become an expert. Just aim to be number one in that space.

Lydia: Thank you very much for your time and insights, Thomas. I'm sure the audience would also want to know where to connect with, having seen this and having discovered some of the expertise you've already mentioned earlier.

So, where can they find you?

Thomas: LinkedIn is probably one of the best ways. I'm very approachable and usually reply to messages.

Lydia: And we have been in conversation with Thomas Ehle, director of the recruiting division at Reeracoen in Thailand. If you like our content, please subscribe to our channels to stay tuned for more weekly episodes of All-In Recruitment. Thank you.

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