When Shane Sibraa boarded that train in Tokyo, the last thing he expected was a career inspiration. A former employee of the Japanese government, Mr Sibraa honed his Japanese language skills through his roles as a corporate trainer for Japanese banks and a coordinator of exchange programmes. After an encounter with a new acquaintance on a crowded Tokyo train, Mr Sibraa was introduced to the world of professional recruitment.
Today, nine years later, Mr Sibraa is managing director, Greater China, Robert Walters (Hong Kong) Limited. He oversees two offices in Hong Kong, one in Shanghai, and another in Suzhou, assisting clients in identifying talent across numerous functions including accounting, financial services, information technology, human resources, sales and marketing, supply chain, logistics and procurement, and business support.
Amid heavy leadership responsibilities, Mr Sibraa's natural curiosity and humble attitude shines through as he cheerfully describes the best part about his job. "It doesn't matter how long you have been in the business, the learning curve is steep — you never stop learning," he says. His approach to business certainly speaks to his current success.
However, Mr Sibraa's foray into the recruitment realm was first met with disappointment. While that particular train journey enticed him with a role in recruitment, Mr Sibraa did not get the job. This setback did not discourage him. Since he was determined to explore professional recruitment, he found an entry-level position with another firm.
Nine months later, he was contacted by Robert Walters to help launch the firm's Tokyo office in 2000. There, he oversaw the firm's core banking and finance business, assisting global investment banks and multinationals secure talent across middle management and executive level positions. Mr Sibraa cut his teeth in his three years with Robert Walters in Japan, the only Asian financial centre where English is not the primary language. In November 2002, his talent and hard work were rewarded with a promotion to director of the firm's Hong Kong office.
"The first year in recruitment is the toughest," Mr Sibraa concedes. "It takes time to develop contacts." He describes his own first year experience as a "boiler room" where he was on the phone for 12 hours straight in any given day. "People who make it past the first year usually stay in the business. With a broad network of contacts built over time, one will eventually feel the rewards of successful talent placement and offering tangible HR solutions to clients," he adds.
Mr Sibraa's job is exclusively people-oriented. He begins a typical day by reviewing profiles of candidates, identifying certain skill sets and experiences that are marketable to corporations. Then, a series of internal and external meetings follow.
"In times like this, communication skills and an aptitude for sales seem all the more relevant"
Throughout his tenure at Robert Walters, Mr Sibraa became a steadfast proponent of teamwork. The firm does not offer individual placement commissions. This model encourages all consultants to work with one another to make sure that everyone has access to all opportunities and is rewarded through profit sharing based on the entire team's performance. To further the cohesion of his team, Mr Sibraa engages his staff in various team-building activities such as charity work.
While overall office morale is a priority, Mr Sibraa's leadership agenda revolves around a central motto of his professional career: "motion creates emotion." These three words ring true particularly in the context of the current economic downturn.
"You cannot sit by the phone and expect things to happen," he says. He encourages his staff to go out and meet people in different industries at every chance they get. Through these meetings, they can become aware of industry concerns and in turn identify potential solutions and services that Robert Walters can provide. "We need to diversify. Even in a recession, some companies still do well," he notes, pointing out that new target industries for the firm, such as fast moving consumer goods, fast-food, outdoor lifestyle apparel and equipment, are relatively less susceptible to downturns.
In addition to a proactive attitude, Mr Sibraa believes that a successful recruiter is also a great communicator. "What we do is sales," he remarks. "In times like this, communication skills and an aptitude for sales seem all the more relevant."
To fresh graduates this year, he has the following advice: "Choose half a dozen companies that you really want to work for. Contact them directly, and get your 'elevator speech' down pat." He notes that this is one of the toughest recruitment years for graduates in the past decade. To find success, it is crucial that candidates can capitalise on their own skills and sell themselves in a clear, concise, and coherent manner.