Most Singapore employers keen to hire overseas returnees: Survey

Within Singapore, 82 per cent of the employers surveyed are keen to hire an overseas returnee in the next 12 months, of which 75 per cent are willing to hire mid-level professionals. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Eight in 10 of employers in Singapore are eager to employ an overseas returnee in the coming year, citing "cross-cultural awareness" as the top benefit, a survey by recruitment firm Hays found.

Responses were collated from both candidates and employers residing in five markets namely Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan and mainland China.

Within Singapore, 82 per cent of the employers surveyed are keen to hire an overseas returnee in the next 12 months, of which 75 per cent are willing to hire mid-level professionals.

Asked about the benefits overseas returnees could bring to their organisation, 79 per cent of employers voted "cross-cultural awareness" as the most prominent skill, followed closely by "language and communication" skills.

Nonetheless, while 62 per cent of employers believe that overseas returnees are able to bring overseas "commercial experience" to their organisations, only half, or 50 per cent of the returnees say that they have gained that particular skill in their time working or studying abroad.

Generally, Singaporeans returning back home have realistic salary expectations, with Singapore returnees being one of the least expectant, following closely behind by mainland China, the report highlighted.

While almost half (45 per cent) were open to having the same remuneration as when they were working overseas, across Asia, most returning candidates were expecting an increment, with only a third (34 per cent) expecting an equivalent pay. The most demanding when it came to this respect was Hong Kong, where three in five (61 per cent) of returnees were looking for an increased salary, whereas only 32 per cent of Singaporeans felt the same.

Despite the fact that returnee candidates do not expect a premium salary, there persists a mismatch in expectations of offer packages, Hays noted. About two thirds of employers (65 per cent) are unable to secure returning Singaporean talents for this reason. Second to monetary compensation is the reality that the pool of returnees "lack local work experience", with 36 per cent of employers facing this issue.

"Businesses are usually keen on talent's local knowledge of cultural nuances and corporate processes to navigate the local business landscape," Hays said.

Notwithstanding this, employers have been generous in being willing to pay returnees with suitable experience a premium salary. Fifty-four per cent of employers will offer returnees a salary package higher than that of their peers, and 28 per cent are keen on providing "up to 10 per cent more", data from the survey shows.

Among other factors, being closer to their families was cited as the most compelling reason for Singaporeans to move back home, followed closely by the opportunity to develop their careers, and the culture or lifestyle in their home country.

Nonetheless, those returning after a stint abroad do face several challenges, Hays noted. The main challenge was "unsuitable job opportunities" (53 per cent of returnees), "unsuitable remuneration" (45 per cent) and "unfamiliarity with local job market conditions" (39 per cent).

Across Asia, Singapore fares the lowest in terms of having hired a returnee in the past 12 months, with only 39 per cent of businesses having done so, compared to the Asian average of 54 per cent. Hong Kong firms came in with the highest rate of 52 per cent.

That said, many employers reported having good experiences with their overseas returnee staff, and would advocate the hiring of skilled candidates who have worked or studied abroad.

Asked about their satisfaction rates of overseas returnee staff, 39 per cent of employers in Singapore were "satisfied" and 9 per cent were "very satisfied", while only 2 per cent were "unsatisfied" or "very unsatisfied". This means that nine in 10 employers are willing to recommend employing an overseas returnee to their peers.

Grant Torrens, regional director at Hays in Singapore, said: "With dwindling confidence in recruiting locally for the essential talent needed to drive growth, employers look with favour on overseas returnees who bring ample value to the table. Overseas returnees are therefore in a good position to highlight their experiences working or studying abroad.

"They could stand to benefit from displaying their cross-cultural awareness in particular, and how it would help improve existing business processes and translate into business value. Overseas returners should therefore take advantage of the existing market situation that favours them."

The survey also found that while most employers were utilising recruitment agencies (62 per cent) in search of overseas returnees, candidates have not been taking advantage of this means of securing a new job with only two in five (37 per cent) of them going through a recruiter.

In addition, while many returnees (32 per cent) are using search engines such as Google or Yahoo to seek job openings, only one in 10 (11 per cent) of employers are doing so. "The mismatch in the utilisation of platforms for both job and candidate seekers could represent missed opportunities," Hays noted.

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