Let’s get the most obvious reason to use a local executive search company out of the way: It’s the law. To place a hire in Thailand, a Thai recruitment license is required. There’s just no good reason for multinational companies to break the law for the sake of hiring.
Aside from following the law, though, there are plenty of other reasons why it’s a smart idea to choose a localized agency.
1) Local Lingo
Anyone who has tried to contact a key decision-maker knows what a challenge it can be to slink past the gatekeepers — the secretaries, assistants and middle managers who swat away interlocutors on behalf of their bosses.
If you speak English and reach a gatekeeper who only wants to speak Thai, your phone call might be exceedingly abrupt — and you won’t be any closer to the person whose voice you really want to hear. This is where smooth-talking researchers who speak the local language come in handy.
Even recruiters with just a smattering of multilingual ability will see better results than those who don’t know any local lingo. Throwing in the odd term in Thai or using familiar terminology subtly builds relationships in ways that directly affect success.
Reaching and communicating with the right people is one important part of executive search. But for successful placements, it’s also crucial to understand (and bend to) a country’s cultural customs.
2) Cultural Know-how
Richard Jackson, General Manager of RLC and Headhunter for Cornerstone Bangkok, believes that understanding how to work with Thai candidates is “a skill set in itself.”
There are the cultural nuances, like understanding how and when it’s appropriate to contact candidates. In Thailand, holidays are revered and affect when one should and should not reach out to prospects. Thais also have their own perspectives on acceptable communication channels for sending and receiving CVs. Many Thais use chat apps for correspondence that might be left only for emailing in other countries, for instance.
Then there are the weightier concerns.
Jackson cites conflict avoidance and weak negotiating skills as two cultural traits that impact executive search: “With Thais, you have to be very taciturn in the way you approach negotiations,” he explains. A direct communication style, which might be seen as honest in the West, could well be interpreted as aggressive in much of Asia.
Company culture awareness is another issue. For example, Pepsi in America could be a very different beast from Pepsi Thailand. This means that a candidate whose skills and personality fit a blue-chip company in one country may not be ideal for a branch of that same company elsewhere.
Local headhunters rely on their cultural experience to ascertain if a candidate is the right fit, then depend on this same knowledge to know how and when to handle communication — all of which a recruiter sitting in a regional office might struggle to do well.
Says Jackson: “If you’re not culturally savvy, even if you’re an experienced recruiter, you can still screw this up.”
And headhunters working for multinationals don’t want screw up — especially not when searching in emerging markets, where the incidence of English-speaking candidates with MNC experience tends to be low.
This brings us to the next plus of a localized search: Knowing where to look.
3) Casting a wide net
LinkedIn is clearly the social media network of choice for recruiters and headhunters worldwide. It isn’t, however, the be-all, end-all of executive search. In Thailand, LinkedIn’s market penetration has been growing rapidly, but, according to statista.com, it is still only 18 percent.
Headhunters need to cast their nets far beyond the reaches of the internet to tap into that juicy 80 percent of candidates not on LinkedIn. And local leadership teams will have a much easier time doing so than regional teams, for a number of reasons, the most important of which are carefully nurtured local networks.
4) Priceless Local Networks
Even powerful, global recruitment firms sometimes can’t outperform boutique agencies who have access to dense local networks.
One example: In 2017, a multinational company new to the Thai market called a global recruitment agency for their premium executive search. The MNC had a long-term relationship with this agency, but they didn’t have an established team in Thailand. After a series of unsuccessful hires and turnover, they came to Cornerstone Bangkok.
Cornerstone Bangkok knew the key players in Thailand and could identify skill sets from different industries to suit the client.
“Within six weeks, we placed four director-level positions with the company,” Jackson says. “One was literally a friend of a friend.”
When talent pools are small, it’s useful to think creatively and search out of category for candidates with similar skill sets but from different sectors. This skill depends, in part, on the quantity of quality of local connections the headhunter has — including, sometimes, friends of friends.
5) Getting Up Close and Personal
When it comes to Thailand, connections established face-to-face matter more than usual and far outpace the kind of loose connections made when adding someone on LinkedIn.
Thailand happens to be a nation of people who like to keep in contact with their staff and with alumni, even years or decades after parting ways. Thais therefore want to recommend people they’ve worked or studied with, whether or not these acquaintances are currently looking for a new job.
With each handshake, a local headhunter makes not just one connection but a whole series of second- and third-tier connections of people who want to help each other out. A local network in Thailand means access to active job hunters, passive candidates and those who are off the grid completely. Regional offices can’t compete with that.
6) Smooth Transitions
There’s one more reason why enlisting a local leadership team for your executive search makes so much sense.
Because they are where the action is, local agencies can help onboard candidates and ensure smooth transitions. This is a much safer and smarter bet than relying on a team abroad who won’t be there to make sure everything goes as well as possible.