Hunted Worldwide: Hong Kong

Welcome back to Hunted Worldwide. The series that deep-dives into recruitment landscapes around the globe. Recent editions have explored tiny islandsa tropical paradisethe European capital of life sciences and an American mining town turned tech hub.

This time we’re discovering the Pearl of the Orient. Hong Kong. 

Officially an autonomous territory – or the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China – Hong Kong operates like a country within a country.

I spoke about what recruitment’s like there with Sarah Sellers, MD and Head of Hong Kong and Singapore at iKas International: financial services specialists focused on tech, banking, business change & transformation and compliance & risk.

1 Market Overview

Hong Kong’s a booming international financial centre. All the big bods have an HQ here: HSBC (of course), Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs.

Because of this, global economics are an important factor. Heads turn towards HK when there’s uncertainty elsewhere. And at the moment, perhaps understandably, the demand for talent’s high in Hong Kong.

It’s a transient market. And it’s always candidate short. Hong Kong’s quite small. And with 7 and a half million people living there, it’s one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

There are plenty of expats here. People also leave, meaning jobs need to be backfilled. So there’s a constant churn, which makes it a great place for recruiters. Sarah tells me:

“Forget everything you were ever taught about recruitment. You’ll have to learn it all again. The first three or four months here is all listening and learning. Although realistically, it’ll take at least a year to get your head round the market. So patience is key”.

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2 Contract Vs Perm

The split at iKas is about 70/30 in favour of perm. Culturally, that’s the preference. There’s a big focus on stability, career progression and the status behind job titles.

The contract market’s typically similar to permanent hiring. But there’s more opportunity to work in a consultative way, or fulfil Statement of Work type staffing projects.

And HK employers are increasingly looking towards temp, flexible or project-based teams.

Contract recruitment works completely differently here. They don’t have day rates. And candidates don’t need a LTD company.

3 Professional Community

Networking’s a mainstay of Hong Kong culture. People are brought up to understand the benefits of it so you’ll find a receptive ear here.

Expats are open because they’ve been in the same situation themselves. And clients are more than happy to share their experience. Even if you aren’t on the PSL, you’ll be fine to meet for coffee.

Meetups happen regularly. And there’s always something happening on LinkedIn.

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4 Business Culture

In many ways, the work culture’s similar to recruitment in London. Albeit less full on.

You’ll still work long hours. Especially with international banks. The end of your day’s probably going to be busier than the start.

Talking on the phone isn’t always the best way to communicate with people. Sometimes Whatsapp or email’s preferred by local candidates.

5 Language

Teams are multilingual and you’ll be sat next to people speaking Cantonese and Mandarin. The former’s the local language, the latter’s spoken in mainland China.

English is the main language used for business. Although Cantonese is useful working with local companies.

Cantonese can seem quite blunt. So although you won’t need to learn the language, you’ll need to communicate in quite a concise way.

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6 Business Development

As is the case with the business culture here, BD’s similar to the UK as well. Except people are more receptive to it here. Cold calling’s not looked down upon. And if you get it right, you’ll get results.

Hiring in Hong Kong’s a lot more challenging for most organisations. So there’s a higher emphasis placed on the value of recruitment services.

Meetings with Hiring Managers are easy to organise, so the main thing you need to watch out for is that you aren’t wasting your time. It’s very much relationship-led, and there aren’t many restrictions on you dealing directly with hiring managers.

7 The CBD

“People think London’s busy until they move here!”

The iKas office sits right in the middle of the central business district, along the northern shore of Hong Kong Island.

It’s densely packed. And you’ll be walking distance from the HQs of all your major clients. You’ve also got the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, the Hong Kong World Trade Centre and the International Finance Centre, the second tallest building in HK, right nearby.

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8 Dress

Summers in Hong Kong are long, hot and humid. So you’ll need to invest in lighter suits.

As you might imagine in the banking world, you’ll need to dress up when you’re out and about on meetings. It’s a location and market where formal dress is important.

9 Travel

Nothing’s stopping you walking, although most people get around in taxis which are super cheap. I’m talking £2 from home to the office.

Otherwise the Mass Transit Railway or MTR’s the fastest way to get from A to B. It’s also the busiest. But you get air conditioning and signal on your phone on there.

It’s never late. And it never breaks. If it does, it’s front page news.

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Life in the city:

1 Weather

Summer’s May to November and the temperature’s around 20 to 36 degrees. With June and August the hottest months.

“Sweaty handshakes are a thing”

You also get rainy season. And like the tropics, even when it’s cold it’s humid. Hong Kong doesn’t really have a distinct winter as such, although between December and February it can get quite cold.

2 Housing

This is the first time I’ve used the phrase “manage your expectations” sincerely since I left my job as a Recruiter, but in order to do so I need to let you know that Hong Kong’s quite expensive. You’ll be paying a lot of rent for a reasonably small place.

You’ll need to have saved 3 months rent up front. House and flat shares are doable and you’ll find you adjust to slightly cosier dwellings.

That said, you’ll be earning more. And spending the majority of your time out exploring and enjoying the city.

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3 Food

The standard of dining options is very high. And as an international centre, there’s plenty to pick from. And it’s not like you’ll have a hundred different places all serving the same stuff.

It’s cheaper to eat out than to do a food shop at the supermarket. So for a foodie, it’s one of the most interesting places you’re likely to experience in the world. Char siu – a type of dark, smoky barbecue pork – is a Cantonese speciality.

4 Outdoor Space

Hong Kong’s one of the most built up places in the world. Around 70% of the world’s skyscrapers are here. And most people see Central and Kowloon and think that’s it. When in reality, about 70% of Hong Kong is also national parks.

Because of the size of living spaces, people don’t really spend much time at home. Hiking through the mountains is really popular. As is wakeboarding, and there’s some great beaches. You can also head out onto the water for an all you can eat and drink party on boats in the bay.

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5 Social Scene

Hong Kong boasts a very vibrant social scene. Locals will take you out, show you around, and introduce you to their friends. So you’ll form a social circle very quickly, particularly among expats. The culture’s to pay it forward and, having been in your shoes themselves, know how important it is to welcome new faces.

6 Family

The standard of childcare’s very good. Everyone has a domestic helper to cook and clean.

The cost of schooling’s quite expensive: about 25k per year, per child. And schools can be quite difficult to get into. Although it’s easier for young families.

Kids will need to speak Cantonese to get into state school.

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7 Cost of Living

Both basic salaries and margins are higher than you’ll find elsewhere. So there’s an opportunity to earn good money. Important, given that Hong Kong’s reasonably expensive overall.

Here’s a list of prices covering the cost of restaurants, groceries, transport, childcare and rent.

8 Tax

One of the many big plus points for moving to Hong Kong is the relatively low tax.

There’s no capital gains, dividend or inheritance tax. And tax on your income follows a progressive rate: starting at 2% and ending at 17%. Or a standard 15%, whichever’s lowest. Here’s a tax calculator.

You won’t be paying tax through a PAYE system. You get a tax bill at the end of the year. So you’ll need to be a safe pair of hands with money and make sure you have enough saved to cover it.

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9 Visas

Sarah tells me it’s relatively easy to secure a visa. Here are the Hong Kong government’s Immigration Services General Visa Requirements.

iKas have never had a visa rejected. You’ll need reference letters, copies of passports and academic certificates. And the whole process usually takes about 6 weeks.

10 International Travel

Mainland China’s only an hours drive away. Tai-Pei’s an hour on the plane. Northern Vietnam’s 2. And Thailand’s 3.

Hong Kong International Airport’s one of the busiest worldwide, with flights to and from 180 different cities around the globe.


At the time of writing, iKas International are recruiting a tech headhunter.

Check out their profile on Hunted and pop them an anonymous message to apply.

A huge thank you to Sarah Sellers for her time and insight in putting this piece together.