Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Running a business in Thailand Part 1: The Pain of Hiring

Three and a half years after first stepping permanently into Thailand, I feel I am finally ready to start a new 'advisory' series. If my previous Survival tips in a Foreign Land series was created because of the experience built up from my ceaseless business-related travelling, this new column is definitely inspired by the unique challenges I have faced running a company specifically in Thailand.

Unlike the previous series, which was promptly concluded in 4 separate posts, this will be a topic that will become a permanent feature in my blog, and I will give some thoughts and sharing on the topic as I when I deem appropriate. It is not possible for me to teach you how to open a company and run one successfully here, as I am no guru and am still committing mistakes everyday, but I will definitely give you some insight on what obstacles you will need to overcome in order to run a decent business in Thailand.

I am currently in the process of hiring more staff in a bid to grow the company, and hiring has been a pain in my arse right from the beginning. Just in the last couple of weeks, I have suffered enough frustration from POTENTIAL interviewees for me to set my district on fire. Why POTENTIAL interviewees? Because I have really only seen 2 of them so far!

I placed my job advertisement on 2 popular job websites recommended by a couple of Thai friends, looking for a Sales Executive to assist us in dealing with customers. And here goes:

The job specifications, plain and simple

From my previous hiring experience, I understood that Thais have the bad habit of finding jobs during office hours. Resumes usually don't stop popping into my mailbox during office hours, while the mailbox goes absolutely quiet during weekends. This is pretty scary isn't it, as the candidate will probably do the same to my company if I hire them. Hence, although I have to give up on many candidates, I give special priority to those who take the effort to work when they are supposed to, and look for new opportunities after hours/during weekends.

Though the clear message that I am only interested in English resumes, 90% of the resumes I received were still completely in Thai. Luckily, I read enough Thai to identify the part where the candidates state their English proficiency and subsequently requested for their English CV. With this exercise, I successfully invited a few interesting candidates here for an interview.

Candidate 1:

She came with her MUM (who does that?), and could not speak a word of English.

Candidate 2:

She attempted to conduct a phone interview with me, asking me lots of questions before agreeing to come, only to send me an email a few hours before the actual interview saying her mother would not allow her to come because our office is too far from her home.

Candidate 3:

She came and absolutely lost all the fire in her eyes when she learnt that we work on Saturday mornings. She obviously did NOT read the job specifications.

Candidate 4:

She said that she was busy this month, and asked whether she could come for interview after 15th February (this was asked mid-Jan). Incredible!

Candidate 5:

I pushed away a couple of meetings to wait for her in the office. But I simply sat like an idiot in my room waiting. Half an hour after her scheduled interview time, I called her, only to find that she completely forgot about the interview and went back to her hometown Sukhothai during the weekend.

So you see, it has been disappointment after disappointment so far. In Singapore, at least during my time as a fresh graduate, everyone treated their interview opportunities with utmost respect. We read the job specs carefully, did extensive research on the company, dressed our best and made sure we arrived at the location as early as possible. I am not expecting the same in Thailand, but to have gotten such a slip-shod attitude from almost everyone (many who came from the better local Universities and spoke English like Americans) is nothing short of shocking.

Three years ago, my company was newly set up. We faced similar problems looking for people. However, I could accept the difficulties we faced, as we were looking for experienced staff (possibly older than me) to come in and help us immediately, and it would never be easy as I could not expect established professionals to quit their jobs to join an unknown start-up.

Times have changed. We are now a relatively well-known establishment in our field turning over nearly 3 million USD a year and rapidly growing. We should be more than a good fit for the young English-speaking graduates looking for a fresh challenge, but sigh, my hiring process hasn't gotten any easier.

Despite all the pain, this is not an aspect to deter you from doing business in Thailand. Perseverance is key. Though every step of hiring was frustrating, my company head-count has still managed to grow annually, standing now at 8. I have absolute faith that we will eventually find the right people to take us to another level.

On the other hand, I worry for the future of Thailand, if this is the kind of attitude the current education system has managed to nurture. Whoever's in charge better immediately start whipping basic respect and professionalism into the brains of their younger generation, otherwise, they will have no one to blame if the progress of the country is stifled by the lack of basic competence from their local workforce

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