Business Support staff: jobs market update 2016 (Hong Kong)
Following on from a very buoyant market in 2015, this year has seen a strong demand for good quality junior to mid-level support professionals across law firms and professional firms. We have also seen more expectations being placed on support staff in terms of their skills sets and adaptability.
So, for example, accounting staff being more assertive in chasing bills or suggesting solutions on how to cut aged debtors, reception staff taking more initiatives in smaller offices to take on additional roles (such filling in for secretaries over lunch or during annual leave, or assisting with logistics on a marketing event), and business development staff having the skillsets and confidence to prepare high quality pitch documents and take the initiative in training junior staff.
These are the so-called ‘value add’ qualities that candidates should demonstrate in interview, or if you don’t have those experiences, then being proactive in your current job so as to gain those skills.
BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT AND MARKETING – LAW FIRMS
There has been a lot of movement and demand for Business Development professionals in the junior and mid-level range, with high demand for candidates with between 4-6 years of BD or marketing experience.
Mandarin language skills (especially written Mandarin) are a huge asset to have, as there is more and more BD demand coming from law firms’ Greater China offices, requiring the HK team to get involved in drafting Chinese pitches and other marketing materials.
One issue that a number of our law firm clients have been facing is that they’ve been seeing a lot of mid-level candidates with strong technical and operational skills who are looking for a ‘step up’ to Manager title. Law firms want such recruits to join with a view to training them up to reach a Manager level. Whilst this might be frustrating process, it is gradual, and ultimately, it will be rewarding for the successful candidates.
Many law firm BD heads and HR managers we speak with express disappointment that candidates who are seeking new job opportunities now seem to be very focused on making ‘instant leaps’ (ie promotion) and short term gains, rather than looking at long term career potential.
HR & ADMINISTRATION
Senior HR roles within law firms have been hard to come by in 2016, with most of the activity in this space seemingly having happened in the preceding year. However, it has been quite an active market in the space for large companies and multi-nationals, particularly in the finance, fashion and fashion accessories arena and conglomerates.
Reception and general administration roles have been largely confined to graduate administration roles and temporary reception roles.
The demand for legal secretaries dropped in the summer but has experienced a growth since the Autumn commenced. Many of these vacancies are from mid-size law firms. As usual, a good level of English and Chinese language skills are the most important factors to be considered, as well as good Chinese typing skills. In addition, stability and the experience of serving senior lawyers would also be important considerations for many of the firms.
Roles for senior legal secretaries (with more than 10 years’ experience) have been less than forthcoming this year. When they do appear, it is usually to support senior lawyers or partners. Rather, the demand has consisted mainly of mid-level (4-8 years) secretaries.
There has also been some demand for night shift secretaries and those on contract roles to fill in for staff on maternity leave. Vacancies do get filled quickly so it is recommended for secretaries to register their interest early in order to be alerted to the latest roles that appear.
The IT sector has experienced some turnover throughout 2016, with a high demand in IT managers (managing a small team that oversees the Asia offices of a law firm) and specialist technical support (monitoring security and evaluating integrity, resolving support enquiries).
Given the specialist technical background required, and the lack of highly talented candidates within the legal or professional services industry, many law firms have taken a very strict approach on their hiring in this area.
This could partly be blamed for the unique and demanding requirements in a law firm, where IT staff are expected to take on both a very ‘hands-on’ and coordinated approach (particularly where working with their counterparts in other Asia offices) and require a very good understanding of the pressures that lawyers face and the processes they need to adopt. To be a success in this field, an outgoing personality and excellent communication skills are essential, and increasingly, strong Mandarin language skills (in order to communicate with their counterparts and colleagues in their China offices).
FINANCE AND ACCOUNTS
Compared with 2015, the need to hire senior finance managers, financial controllers or CFOs in law firms has dropped considerably in 2016. This area has remained relatively stable amongst law firms.
However, we have seen a high demand for billing candidates (AR/AP) this year among law firms as many billing coordinators move into an accounts-related role. Not all law firms will have billing coordinators or managers, however, as these billing duties (particularly for smaller offices) can be split between secretaries and the accounts team.
At times during the course of this year, we have seen spikes in demand for temporary working capital executives and officers, to deal with a backlog of work, including clearing bad debts, chasing aged debts, and reconciling or identifying unknown payments.
For more information, please contact:
For C-Suite, senior support roles: Chris Tang — email Chris
For Business Development and Marketing roles: Christy Ho — email Christy
For legal secretaries, HR, finance and accounting: Judy Lui — email Judy