Readers' Submissions

IT Recruitment In Thailand

  • Written by Anonymous
  • April 22nd, 2005
  • 8 min read



Stick recently commented that among the most frequently asked questions he receives is the request for how to find an IT job in Thailand.

As an expat IT manager responsible for recruiting staff, I can tell you that your chances are pretty much close to zero.

Each day a resume crosses my desk hovering for a couple of seconds before ending up in the trash can. And around 98% fail for one simple reason – the applicants want to work in Thailand first, and want to work for my company second. Or maybe even third, fourth, or fifth. Whatever – instead of being primarily interested in my company, the applicants are desperate to work in LOS. And they are easy to spot.

There are two types of ex-pat wanabees. The first category I call the holiday makers. These people are the travelers looking for a base to explore the region. Much easier to do from Bangkok than say, New York. The covering letter with the application usually has the line …I am very familiar with the Thai / Asian / Far East culture as I have frequently visited the region over many years…blah, blah, blah

Fair enough, but visiting a place as a tourist and working there are two completely different things. Sipping beer from the pool side is a little different from fighting the city traffic day and night.

Basically, these applicants want me to sponsor their traveling activities, and when they’ve ‘done’ Thailand in say, a couple of years, they’ll be looking for pastures new. When I need someone to work weekends on an important project deadline or to take support calls at 2am in the morning, my holiday-making hopefuls will either have other plans on the go, or will be out partying and taking in the sights and sounds till dawn. Sorry, but I can’t subsidise your holidays. So into the bin they go.

The second category of applicants are the New Romantics. ‘Dear Sir, I would like to work in Thailand as I have just met somebody / have just married a Thai…blah, blah, blah.’ Sorry again, but if you’ve just met your Nid then good luck to you. But how do I know your relationship with her is going to work out long term? It’s important for me to know it because otherwise you might be moving on again in a couple of months time if things don’t work out between you.

Companies have to make an upfront investment when employing farangs – visas, work permits, health insurance, accommodation costs. And staff are not particularly productive in the first couple of months as they sort out apartments, telephones, getting the needful stack of papers. So if after all of this, Mr. IT man heads back to Farangland when Miss Right turns out to be Miss Take, then companies stand to lose a lot of money. Recruiters don’t need to take the risk.

I smiled when I read Stick Weekly a couple of months back when the subject was the applications for teaching jobs. Boy, did I recognise what he was saying. The quality of resumes range from the hopeless to the star players. If you wanted a one-armed java programmer from Stuttgart who supports the New York Yankees, he’s out there. A vegetarian, pipe-smoking Cisco network engineer who plays the oboe and ice-skates. No problem.

I had a red-hot IBM consultant who applied for a lowly support role. I called the guy in for interview as I was intrigued. He gave the ‘I met some people…’ in response to my asking him why he wanted to be in Thailand. Hmm… some people, more than one?..He didn’t elaborate and I didn’t press.

I told him to take a look around and asked if he really felt that he could work in this environment. I had taken him onto the customer site where the support engineer would be based. The interview room was scruffy; old safety posters peeled off the greying walls, we sat around a cheap metal desk; old network cabling snaked dangerously around the floor. He sat on a small plastic chair dressed immaculately in a Saville Row suite with an expensive Jim Thompson silk necktie, while the people rushed by the window in jeans, scuffed trainers and faded jackets advertising transport companies and the like. Welcome to the reality of expat working in Thailand. I can’t imagine why anybody would want to give up a high-paying farang job when they are at the peak of their earning potential just because they had met ‘some people’ in a foreign land.

Another big no-no is the way that resumes are submitted. It is so easy to spot the spam, churned out to every company in Thailand. The letters usually begin with ‘To the IT Manager / HR Manager / CEO’. If you check out our company web site you can find out the name of the IT Manager / HR Manager / CEO. If you have addressed your letter to a person, that way I know this is not a spam. But I just love the applications addressed as: ‘To whom it may concern.’ Actually, we’re not concerned at all.

It isn’t too difficult to get our address right either, but most people don’t, and I see it as an indication that this is more churn mail. If you are applying to fifty different companies then you just want to work in Thailand and for you any company will do. Unfortunately, most recruiters don’t see it that way.

Maybe I should be a stamp collector because most applicants come from foreign-based people. Umm, how am I going to interview you? By telephone? Ok, but there are plenty of hopefuls in town to choose from who can start next Monday, so your chances are not helped much by being overseas. Consider also this fact: that when we have a need to recruit then we will advertise the fact. So sending a resume when we are not recruiting means that it will not hover for very long on my desk.

If you’ve read this far, now to make you even more miserable. The long-term outlook for IT expats is not so good as it used be around ten years ago. Thai kids are coming out of university comfortable with speaking English. They understand IT. I have eighty Thais and the twenty-somethings are twice as fluent as the thirty-somethings. Very few farangs are proficient in Thai to the level where they can hold their own in a meeting. Listening to two Thais speaking is much more difficult than holding a one-on-one conversation where you can slow it down to your level.

How much salary and benefits are you prepared to give up? I can hire ten Thai graduates for the price of hiring a Farang IT person; and I can get fifteen Bangkok-based Indian IT people for the same amount. Further, if we subcontract programming work to an Indian company where the work is carried out on the sub-continent, then the cost works out about twenty times cheaper than hiring a Farang IT programmer. And guys, you would panic if you knew just how much IT work is pouring into India these days.

So there you have it basically. The Farang IT person cannot compete on price or language skills with the locals and they want to be in Thailand for the wrong reasons. Ok, they are the right reasons for themselves, but not for my company. And that’s why your chances are almost zero.

Now, I’ll cheer some of you up a tad. There are some niche skills which are hard to come by anywhere in the world. If you are a standard java programmer or PC support guy, you are not in this category. The niche guys know who they are. And they could end up in Thailand on a contract with a view to knowledge transfer. But since niche guys are paid a premium, your stay may not be a long one.

We do also recruit farangs for senior customer-facing roles where the customer is a global company with expat managers. It makes our customers feel that little bit more comfortable to have a few Farang faces on board. But should the customer replace his expat with a local manager, and this is the trend, then Thai managers really want to talk to Thai IT consultants. That means your, and my, days are numbered unless more global companies set up shop in town.

So who do I recruit for those senior IT roles? Well, the best guys, or girls, are actually those who have been working in Thailand / Asia for some time. These people know the ropes already and are not going to suffer from culture shock. And the very best of all are the people who have married Thai spouses for around four years and up. With children, even better. These guys are likely to stay around, can call on their extended families for backup and generally know the score. These are the 2% of resumes that make it to the interview stage , or if we’re not currently recruiting, stored in the bottom drawer of my desk.

Two months ago we advertised in the Bangkok Post. We didn’t use online because we’d be flooded with applications from Hannover to Honolulu. The successful candidate was a forty-something farang holed up in Buriram. He’d taken six months off to build a house and was an old Asian hand. A can-do Scotsman, settled down with his missus for a number of years.

If you’re looking for a holiday posting or just met Noy, then no chance. However, if you’ve been around a bit, senior enough, and have been shacked up with Nid for a while, you may be the ideal candidate.

Stickman's thoughts:

Excellent submission.