The Art Of Headhunter Maintenance

Note: If you want to see the world, one of the best ways of doing it is getting a job overseas. This post chronicles my experience in trying to find a job in Hong Kong a few years ago. I had the idea to contact headhunters in Hong Kong and Singapore.

This is what happened…

* * *

Head Hunters are an interesting breed of human beings. They could be observed. They could be studied up close. Or from a distance. They could be fed. They could be poked. But for the most part, they could be experimented on. And this is what this post is all about.

This experiment dates back a few years ago when I was trying to find a job in Hong Kong.

One of my good friends who lived there was trying to help me make my career move and introduced me to one of her friends, a recovering headhunter. She had told me that her friend could help me by making warm introductions to contacts at the top recruiting companies in South East Asia.

The Headhunter Experiment

This is the first list I received. Which included contact names in each company.

Christopher Ngai – Endeavour
David Cheung – Star Resourcing Partners
Synthia Ho – ConnectedGroup
Vivi Wang – Technology Careers
Danny Kwan – Pinpoint Asia
William Ko – Morgan McKinley

I sent emails to each one of the contacts.

1. Christopher sent this very encouraging response:

Thanks for your message Abe.

We are currently working with a very big service provider and they are expanding the Asian market.

Let me talk to our team and get back to you on any suitable opening. Let’s keep in touch!


I never heard from him again. I sent him 2 follow up emails anyways, for consistency.

2. Vivi brushed me off after 4 weeks from sending the 2nd follow up. Her response:

Hi Abe,

Thanks for your email and sorry for my late response.

I will keep your data on file and let you know if we have any suitable opportunities.

3. Danny Kwan put more heart and soul in his brush-off and ended it with a sincere question wondering if I will visit the city soon. His response:

Hi Abe,

Thanks for your resume and email.

I am not sure if I can help at this point as the market right now is really focusing on local candidates. Especially it is not difficult to get the right person locally now.

What I am going to do is I will keep you in my database and keep you updated.

Would you be coming to Hong Kong in the near future?

4. Synthia didn’t respond. I sent her 4 emails.

5. David called me the next day. We had an hour-long discussion where it was clear he didn’t know the difference between IT, Telecom, Software Development, Software Engineering, Integration, for him everything was IT. Irritated, I explained to him the difference. Never heard from him again.

6. William was the most interesting specimen. His initial response was a brush-off after the 2nd follow up email. He wrote:

Hi Abe,

Thanks for your message and sending your CV through to us.

Have you been applying to any roles directly in HK so far? Or do you have any companies in particular that you’d be interested in approaching?

I will pass your information to my team and see what roles we have on that would be suitable for you.

If you have any questions please feel free to let me know.

Two weeks go by and no news. So I sent him a follow-up email. He responded right away with a rejection:

Thanks for your mail.

At this stage, unfortunately, I don’t have contacts so not sure who you should be aiming to speak with.

As we don’t have any jobs on at the moment that specifically fits your profile we’ll keep in touch and I’ll let you know as soon as something relevant comes across our desk.

If you’ve got any questions please feel free to let me know.


The Pattern

Not a single headhunter made any effort to find out if there was a fit. They automatically assumed they understood my experience, my background, what I did and what I was looking for.

In total, I had contacted 6 headhunters where I came highly recommended through someone they already knew. I had 5 responses. 2 leads, which didn’t go anywhere.

Turning The Tables

I decided to change my approach. Knowing that headhunters will only understand what they already know, why not ask them for what the companies they represent are looking for?

I wrote this email back to William, the most interesting of specimens:

Hi William,

In your experience, and based on your industry relations, what is your professional assessment of the top skills, requirements that technology companies in the mobile field are looking for in Hong Kong?

He responds right away:

Hi Abe,

From what I’ve been seeing in the mobile area the demand is either at the very senior level or at the junior level. The openings for mobile app developers are everywhere, usually only looking for people with a couple of years experience and not very high salaries. At the other end of the scale there’s project managers and project director positions I’ve worked on recently that manage these mobile app and development projects and are quite senior positions. So to summarize for the mobile field in HK there is a great demand for developers and project managers to lead these development programs.

There are positions I have worked on previously worked on that focus on the mobile hardware, working with OEM – mostly from semiconductor manufacturing companies. Although unfortunately, this is an area I’ve only touched on and have not had a lot of experience.

Hope this helps.

Voila!!! I have my formula.


Use the headhunters to do your research. Never send a your resume to a headhunter and ask them to match you up with companies or to find you something. First, ask for opinions on the market. Ask them what skillsets the top companies in your field are looking for. What the hiring managers want. Then tailor your resume to match your skills with those requirements. It’s that simple. If you do this, then you are speaking their language. They can easily match the circles with the circles, the squares with the squares and the triangles with the triangles. Just like we did in kindergarten. If you ask them to mold circles into squares, you are asking for trouble.

So I contact the friend who initially hooked me up and ask her to send me a list of all the recruiting companies in the area (not only the ones she had contacts in). She sends me this comprehensive list:

Robert Half
Robert Walters
Harvey Nash
InfoTech Services
Drake International
JM Group
ALS Recruit
Reed Global
Kelly Services
Michael Page
Huxley Associates

I don’t bother uploading my CV to their database online. Instead, I go on LinkedIn and find recruiters from those companies and contact them directly, by asking them what the top companies in my field are looking for. I get their responses. I fill in the blanks.

Mission Accomplished.

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