Having suffered the fall-out of staff cuts, streamlining and general fine-tuning in almost every industry, sales and marketing professionals could be forgiven for thinking that it was time to consider a career switch. However, with Hong Kong heading out of economic gloom, openings within this field are likewise forecast to be on the up for candidates with the right skills, attitude and experience.
Today, recruitment specialists generally believe that the market outlook for the sales and marketing field is promising accross the board, with job openings likely to appear in the retail, banking and finance, insurance, logistics and engineering industries, as well as businesses focusing on fast-moving consumer goods and electronic components.
Indeed, according to Alan Au-Yeung, a consultant at Levin Human Resources Development Ltd, there should hopefully be a "20 percent increase" in opportunities in this field.
Why is the market currently active? "We went through a contraction period in 2002 and 2003, but now the economy is improving," explains Tracey Batty, regional general manager of Drake International. "Companies stayed as lean as possible through last year and streamlined all their business areas, but now they are ramping up their sales and marketing efforts. It's really positive, but we've got now to match employers' expectations with candidates' expectations," she says
Patricia Sham, branch manager, permanent services, at Manpower Services Hong Kong Ltd, notes that her organisation, too, has seen an "upturn" in sales and marketing positions over the last six months. Ms Sham notes that this is particularly evident for marketing communications professionals at varying levels, from junior to senior, and business development and direct sales professionals.
"This is a natural effect of companies being in a better strategic position to plan ways to increase awareness, through hiring candidates with the ability to generate new business and those with the ability to promote the company and its products," she explains, adding that this trend is more apparent in the service, retail and professional services industries.
The candidates most successful in securing these positions are, according to Ms Sham, those with a proven track record in the industry spanning over five years, as well as demonstrably strong communication skills in English and Putonghua. In addition, candidates should indicate a "proven financial track record of their achievements or, in the case of marketing, a direct result on revenue".
What kinds of people are employers looking for? Mostly junior staff - particularly those working in direct sales, promoters, account managers, sales representatives - on base salary plus commission, according to Ms Batty. "In the last two years, a lot of middle-management jobs were [cut back], so companies now want to increase their junior sales force or replace at regional manager level," she notes. "You can't add an extra 20 head-count without having somebody manage them. If we look to the future, once sales people are returning and regional manager-grade jobs are filled, we may see middle- management opportunities."
In order to nail these positions, candidates need the requisite skills at their fingertips - and to be able to hit the ground running. "Knowledge is power!" explains Ms Sham. "The key is to learn and put into practice. Companies today invest heavily in soft skills training [and are] expecting to see the results. Eight to 10 years ago, you'd hear of the major multinationals offering excellent competency training. Today, it's affordable for the smaller companies too."
As a result, if a candidate is considered a "champion" at a certain skill-set or system, their input is valued in the training process. "Any additional training, whether a competency-driven qualification or a formal MBA, is highly valued in today's employment market," she adds, "provided the candidate puts their knowledge into practice."
As far as job opportunities in mainland China are concerned, positions are currently available for senior-grade staff, such as department heads or expatriate employees from overseas subsidiaries, according to Ms Batty. "All local managers in China are pretty much in place, as are junior-level staff," she says.
However, she warns that sales and marketing professionals intent on working over the border should bear various tips in mind. In particular, it is essential that people working on the mainland understand cultural difference - not just the difference between foreigners and Hong Kong people, but also differences within China itself. "How you behave in north and south is completely different!" she says. "There is the language issue as well - for example, with Shanghainese versus Mandarin."
Indeed, she believes that, although China is a "land of opportunity", those relocating there need to do their homework. "You need to mix - it's imperative to build a family atmosphere with staff [and create] a team environment."
Other areas meriting serious consideration include professional behavioural differences, says Ms Batty. "There's a different approach in sales and marketing on the ground in the PRC, with high-level networks and relationship building. Trust is huge - you've got to establish trust. That can take time and you have to be tolerant of that time."