After 15 years of employment industry experience, Chris Potter recently launched Ambition Recruitment Agency in Phnom Penh. The Brit gave AsiaLIFE an insight into the current job market. Photography by Dylan Maddux.
Many western countries are in the midst of recessions while Asia seems to be booming. How healthy is the Cambodian job market?
It seems to be booming because it is booming. There are great opportunities for Cambodians and the inward investment to the country is unlike any other I’ve seen. This can lead to skills shortages and labour shortages as the best employees get snapped up. There’s a need for investment in training if Cambodia is to maximise on these opportunities. Inward investment is not just in garment production — there’s engineering, electronics and logistics added to the mix. Financial services and banking sectors have definitely grown, and as tourism increases there’s more focus on high-end hospitality.
What kind of employment opportunities does the city offer to people moving here?
Expats have the benefit of experience in different countries, which can be valuable in an emerging market such as Cambodia. They might find themselves using previously developed skills in a new industry. However, there’s increasing competition from educated, experienced Cambodians, who also speak the language better than most expats. There’s work available in NGOs, start-ups, new technology and international companies. My advice to expat job hunters is not to focus just on salary but to choose a position where they enjoy the work, the interaction and the differences.
Foreigners may experience cultural differences in the workplace. Do you have any advice on how best to adapt?
The role of hierarchy can take some getting used to. Overt deference for the boss, the importance of job titles, an expectation that senior management will give instructions without asking for contributions, can all be a shock to someone used to a more relaxed office environment.
The best way to learn is by observing Cambodian colleagues and asking questions of your team members. Be polite, remember you are a guest in the country, and remind yourself that things may be done differently for good reason. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
Do you have any advice on how best to present a CV?
It’s all in the detail, but sometimes there’s far too much detail. A 12-page CV, including the first aid course you completed in 1998, will put off a busy HR manager who will have to trawl through to find the relevant information. A good CV is factual, with the most important information in the top third of the first page, which is where the eye naturally rests. Ensure that your CV matches with your online profiles — LinkedIn is a great resource for hiring managers doing background checks. Demonstrate how you’ve been effective in previous roles — give figures for savings made for the company, increased sales or productivity.
Any tips on how to best present yourself in a job interview?
Research and preparation are key. Find out everything you can about the company before you go. If you have the time, find the location beforehand and allow plenty of time to arrive — we all know Phnom Penh traffic can be tricky. Allow the employer to get the best impression of you by looking the part: clean clothes, clean shoes, new haircut. Prepare questions about the role, what you’d be expected to do, how success will be measured, what the company expects from the first 100 days of employment. And don’t forget a pen and notebook.
What kinds of skills are important for young graduates entering the job market?
Critical thinking and initiative are difficult to teach but vital for ambitious job-seekers. Experience in a real working environment through an internship can put you slightly ahead in the game. You won’t be learning how an office works for the first time and can make a contribution more quickly. Be willing to learn and recognise all those opportunities for personal development, not just training courses but also conversations with more experienced colleagues, online articles, criticism from the boss. Loyalty and enthusiasm will be rewarded, so I always caution people against job-hopping every few months.
What areas could become more important as the country develops?
Things move quickly in the business world. Ten years ago, no-one would have considered going to university to learn how to develop smartphone apps. So I’m aware that my crystal ball is a bit cloudy on this one. Adaptability, flexibility and keeping up with technology will give people the best chance of developing their career, whichever direction they take.
Finally, what’s the most unusual job you’ve placed someone in?
The most unusual role was finding a bird-scarer for a waste transfer station in the UK. Their job was to fly a kite to scare the seagulls away. There were surprisingly few candidates for that.