By Bharati Jagdish
Evelynn Koh’s decision to become a headhunter is steeped in a deep sense of empathy. Today, the PeopleSearch Practice Leader can proudly say that the desire to help others whose life experiences she could relate to has helped her build an illustrious career in recruitment, first in Singapore, then in Taiwan and now, in Japan.
The seeds were planted early.
“I came from a low-income family. Both my parents had to work hard to bring up the four of us. I am the eldest child in the family.”
Her father was a container truck driver and her mother, a seamstress.
Naturally, Evelynn felt the need to help support the family.
“While in school, I worked part-time as a tuition teacher for Primary 1 and 2 children from lower-income families. During my school holidays, I worked in private childcare centres as an assistant teacher.”
Having been through this, she made it her mission to help young people from low-income families gain part-time employment as well.
She joined a small recruitment firm where she worked for six years, placing part-time retail assistants, drivers and administrative clerks.
“I had to collect time sheets, ensure the staff were happy in their jobs and also ensure the clients were happy.”
NO TURNING BACK
In 2003, an ex-colleague who had joined PeopleSearch, Singapore recommended her to Group Business Leader, Jaime Lim.
“I specialised in the semiconductor sector, specifically, engineering positions. After having worked for about two years in Singapore, Group Managing Lorencz Tay asked me whether I would be interested in relocating to Taiwan. My command of Mandarin was strong and he thought it might be a good idea.”
Evelynn was the first consultant from the Singapore office to successfully transfer to Taiwan.
“I’m really grateful that PeopleSearch gave me a chance to work overseas. There was no turning back. I told myself I must do well in Taiwan and I invested a lot of time and effort compared to others in the firm because I wanted to be successful.”
Her success at PeopleSearch, Taiwan resulted in more opportunities. When her 3-year contract was completed, she was approached by an HR Director from an American clinical research company based in Taipei.
She joined the firm as Senior Talent Acquisition Manager and ended up spending the next six years in the profession, working for various American and French companies in Taipei.
IN SEARCH OF NEW CHALLENGES
In 2013, Evelynn developed a desire for new challenges and adventures and wanted to leave Taipei.
“Lorencz had been keeping in touch and when I told him I wanted to leave Taipei, he invited me to come back to PeopleSearch. I am inspired by Lorencz. His belief and trust in his team is always strong and genuine. I have to thank him for trusting me even though I had left PeopleSearch for six years. I didn’t want to return to Singapore, so I chose Japan.”
I ask her about her reluctance to return to Singapore.
“Overseas, I was hired for senior roles in global companies based on my experience, skills and capabilities, rather than based on my educational background. In terms of paper qualifications, I only have “O” levels. Considering this, I was not confident I would have many career options in Singapore, so I didn’t want to return. Since Lorencz mentioned that PeopleSearch had needs overseas, I thought it would be a great opportunity.”
However, the opportunity came with a new set of challenges.
“I couldn’t speak Japanese so I needed to have strong key accounts to survive. I decided to leverage on my in-house talent acquisition skills. I chose to go into niche markets. For example, I successfully signed Chinese company, Huawei, as a client in Japan. The strength that allowed me to do this was my ability to identify the best talent for most engineering functions. I could also communicate well in Mandarin with the hiring managers from China to truly understand their needs.”
These were vital strengths as during that time, Chinese companies in Japan found it challenging to attract talent. Most Japanese professionals preferred to work for Japanese or American companies.
Evelynn’s lack of proficiency in Japanese did not hinder her. Most Japanese professionals could understand and speak simple English. She managed to convince candidates to join Chinese companies by becoming intimate with their motivations and reconciling these with the clients’ needs and a comprehensive presentation of the opportunity.
“I gained trust and recognition from the client as well by helping them hire top talents. I helped the HR team meet their KPIs.”
When she first started in recruitment, she was chiefly helping low-income individuals gain part-time employment.
Today, her scope might be different but the objectives remain the same. Evelynn has found great fulfilment in powering industries with talent and helping various clients and candidates achieve their goals.
EMPATHY FUELS SUCCESS
Evelynn’s advice for building strong relationships is also steeped in a sense of empathy.
“I always imagine myself as part of the client’s recruitment team. If my client’s talent acquisition team can’t convince the hiring manager, especially hiring managers from HQ in China who may not know much about the Japanese market, I will help the talent acquisition manager speak to the hiring manager directly.”
Taking the approach of “helping others achieve their goals enables them to help you achieve yours” has generated many lasting relationships.
No doubt, this has had a deep impact during the current economic challenges sparked by Covid-19. Client referrals continue because of years of relationship-building and competent delivery.
When asked for her advice on dealing with business challenges, especially today, Evelynn puts it simply, yet meaningfully.
“Never give up even when others think it’s not possible. In tough times, trust your own judgment, your client, and your team. Working together is important.”
Hear from other team members who’ve been instrumental in strengthening this ethos in future editions of “20 Years of PeopleSearch”.