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Is the red-hot tech jobs market cooling?

Andrew Zee of Selby Jennings tells us where tech jobs opportunities lie and shares tips for securing roles in tech.

By SGN | 19 July 2022

Tech giants may be slowing hiring, but it’s still a candidate’s market in Southeast Asia, if you know where to look. Andrew Zee of Selby Jennings tells us where opportunities lie and shares tips for securing roles in tech – for both experienced candidates and mid-careerists looking to break into tech.

Recently, we’ve witnessed a consolidation of tech companies globally. Southeast Asia hasn’t been spared, with formerly aggressively expanding companies like Shopee and Crypto announcing layoffs. Yet in early 2022, headlines speak about soaring tech pay in a tight labour market in Singapore. What are your views on this?

From a macro perspective, it’s true that many large companies had to restructure due to the rise in interest rates. In the United States, more than 35,000 workers have been retrenched in the first half of 2022 according to Layoffs.fyi, a website tracking tech layoffs.

This is particularly so for bigger players with high overheads and large workforce – even Microsoft announced job cuts of 1,800 in July 2022 due to restructuring.

The rise in interest rates has also impacted larger companies in Southeast Asia similarly. But this isn’t the case for smaller companies here. They relish the opportunity to hire fresh talent that has been released from these larger companies.

If you look at Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) and other companies one tier below the bigger players – companies at seeding stages, or even growth companies which remain comfortably funded by established investors – hiring is still on track.

They may not be expanding as aggressively as they might have been at the start of 2022, but they still have healthy levels of headcount open.

What does this all mean for the jobs market in Southeast Asia?

Hiring is still resilient. Singapore in particular is still bullish about strengthening the tech market, with many companies are still looking to fill open positions across verticals. Whether it’s Medtech, Edtech or otherwise, there are still interesting pockets of opportunities in the next half of 2022. We have a salary guide for 2022 that may be helpful.

What has changed is it is no longer a ‘pure’ candidates market. Not every candidate is going to come in with a 40% increase as they might have when every company was fighting for talent. We still have many interviews ongoing, with my clients sending us pitches to instil confidence in investors and markets that they are here to stay. This injects some stability into the market. The banks and Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWFs) are still looking to hire, which sends strong signals as well. 

There’s also been news of fresh funds in the region, with VCs like Sequoia Capital announcing in June 2022 a $850 million fund dedicated to Southeast Asia. What signals are these sending to the market?

For one, it’s a good signal amidst a lot of negative news. People are aware that there is still money in the market, but new start-ups need to be more attuned to how they allocate their funding and how they pitch their businesses.

Sequoia might also send signals and set the direction for how investments will be allocated. Others will wait and see, taking signals from larger VCs like Sequoia to take cues from them.

Sequoia Capital has raised $2.85 billion to invest in Indian and Southeast Asian startups. The venture capital firm will invest approximately $2 billion in Indian startups, with the dedicated $850 million going to Southeast Asian startups. This is the largest fund of any kind by an investor in the region.

From a private equity perspective, there are still a lot of deals in the pipeline, but with longer deal cycles and more due diligence. News with long-standing VCs could be a good boost for smaller VCs which might be smaller, but still have capital to allocate.

In today’s context – global uncertainty, high interest rates and a slowing job market – is it still a good time to enter the tech market?

Whether you’re an experienced candidate or a mid-careerist looking to make a career transition, it’s still a good time because of the direction in which governments are heading. Look at the economy focusing on cyber security, new digital landscape arena – these are still robust areas.

I’ll break down my advice to (1) those who are already in tech and seeking a new role, and (2) those looking to pivot into tech as a mid-careerist

If you’re an experienced tech jobseeker looking for a new role

If you’re already in tech and looking for a new role, never place salary as your primary consideration for moving. If you’re only attracted to salary, it will not be long before you seek more interesting and meaningful work.

We’re also pushing hiring managers to talk about the vision and outcome of the strategy (realistic timelines – 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, and what the job scope is and can grow into). With clear timelines, you can make clear decisions in the long run. These factors are what make you stay in the long run.

Ultimately, from experience, soaring pay is not going to be the main motivator for candidates to move. We once secured a senior candidate a increment in salary of more than 50%. In what seemed like a sure deal from the candidate, he ended up turning down the role for another that only offered a 20% – 25% salary increase – solely because of the vision, stability and 5-year roadmap they had laid out.

When you’re a mid-senior candidate, you might not always want to take big risks at your life stage, where work-life is much more integrated. You may have to balance family commitments, or decide if relocating everyone is worth the new job – serious considerations that need to be made. Mission, value, scope of work they need to execute. Money should be a secondary consideration for sure. Job scope, culture – these should come first.

Finally, with the way the tech market is, the convention is to job hop every 1-2 years. That’s fine, but we advise candidates to ensure that they’ve completed a key project before leaving. This is so they may leverage that in interviews. Companies want to avoid hiring employees who enter projects mid-way, participates but never sees them to completion.

If you’re a mid-careerist looking to pivot to tech

If you’re looking at roles such as software engineering or development, infrastructure etc., commit to an area of interest and build knowledge in that vertical. Avoid being a jack-of-all-trades.

While the Tech hiring phase looks set to remain for a while, make sure that you have an action plan. Take courses, ramp up skillsets in a programming language, or figure out if your current role has transferrable skill sets.

For example, as head-hunters, when we pitch mid-careerists to companies, we don’t focus on matching them with a roles that have a 100% fit. We seek candidates with longevity and some vertical experience in areas such as end-to-end life cycle management skills and business transformation.

It might also be helpful to speak to a recruiter – we’re happy to give honest feedback and advice on how to proceed. We understand things from both perspectives: what companies are looking out for and what candidates seek.

We’re always happy to give advice to candidates – will there be a pay cut? What about taking on a lower level role that will get them a foot in the industry first? This is how we’ve built a strong rapport with our candidates, who tend to come back to us again.

About Andrew Zee

Andrew Zee is Associate Director at Selby Jennings, a banking and finance recruitment agency under Phaidon International. Presently, he leads the Front Office and Technology-based domains.

Connect with him here.

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