Merchandisers' job-search habits vary widely, depending on their age group, monthly personal income and even gender. In a survey carried out by Career Times' in-house research team between 29 April and 29 September this year, Hong Kong merchandisers exhibited some occasionally surprising findings.
A quarter of all merchandisers who responded to the Career Times survey noted that "unclear career prospects" lay behind their decision to leave their previous job, closely followed by "low salaries" and financial problems at their employers. This view is closely supported by many recruitment experts, who explain that better remuneration and job prospects lie behind many job-switches.
However, Danny Cheung, divisional manager at trading company Li & Fung (Trading) Ltd., adds that, in this profession, career moves are "all about job satisfaction". "Basically, merchandisers are self-motivated and want to change for career advancement," he says. "Merchandisers are very competitive and their value lies in their sourcing ability."
"Merchandisers may want to upgrade themselves by working in a buying office, rather than trading and manufacturing, since we all know the buying offices can offer better working hours and benefits, lower work loads and, in turn, lower pressure," adds Emily Cheng, general manager at recruitment specialists Pacific Regent Global (HK) Consultancy.
Meanwhile, the channels employed proactively by merchandisers in their search for jobs range widely, from registering with agencies to referrals by personal connections or responses to advertisements on the Web. On the other hand, being head-hunted is not exactly unknown in this industry. "Merchandisers have many connections and are head-hunted by vendors, business partners and trading partners," says Mr Cheung.
Job-hunting via publications such as Career Times is, of course, another option. The Career Times survey discovered that, according to respondents, the most important reason that merchandisers read recruitment publications is to find quality jobs.
Is this an accurate reflection of the status quo? "It depends!" says Mr Cheung. "Trading and merchandising is all about buying and selling and creating value in the merchandising chain. What you own is your knowledge and connections with different suppliers, for example. Your value is intangible. So, after four to seven years' experience, merchandisers would rather look for a company with the sustainability factor, which will not fade out."
In the same survey, the three most important factors considered by job-hunting merchandisers were first the company brand name, followed by the seniority of post and the size of advertisement. Merchandising experts agree that brand name and seniority of post are certainly important.
Merchandisers want to upgrade themselves
"A company with a good name implies that their size is large, the operation is complex and welfare is reasonable," says Dr Karen Moon, assistant professor at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University - Institute of Textiles and Clothing. "Therefore, many merchandisers who work in reputable companies would like to work in similar companies again. Those who have never worked in these companies are also willing to try. Moreover, having worked in reputable companies will be an advantage in finding another new job."
"Having a senior job title means that the merchandiser has acquired related qualifications and knowledge," Dr Moon adds. "In searching for a new job, many merchandisers, particularly those with several years of experience, strive to find one with a more senior title."
The size of the advertisement is a sign of a large company advertising a senior position. Small companies advertising junior positions would never use large size ads. That is why size matters for merchandisers when it comes to searching for their dream jobs.
Another perhaps unexpected piece of information was that 63 percent of respondents to the merchandising survey were female. However, some merchandising experts were not generally surprised about the apparent gender imbalance in the merchandising sector.
"There are more females then males due to the requirements of very detail-oriented work," says Alan Au-Yeung, a consultant at recruitment agency Levin Human Resources Development Ltd.
In addition, it is thought that companies tend to recruit more females as merchandisers, particularly in the garment merchandising field. This is because they are seen to be more cautious, able to have in-depth solutions to problems and have better communication and interpersonal skills, says Josephine Kea, deputy head and senior lecturer at the Department of Business Administration at the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (Sha Tin), Vocational Training Council. "Moreover, the biggest industry employing merchandisers is the garment and textiles [industry], which normally recruits more females," she says.
Other experts put the survey's findings down to the fact that "females are more responsive, whereas guys do not bother to do such kinds of surveys". Indeed, according to Maggie Tso, operations manager at recruitment agency Staff Service (HK) Co Ltd, the mixture of each gender is very even in the merchandising field as a whole. "There are even slightly more males than females at a senior level and in most of the fields."