How I built a successful career in recruitment

Don Zhao

Don Zhao worked for a major Australian banking group in Melbourne before making the move into recruitment with Robert Walters Singapore in 2013. Now a manager in our financial services division, Don shares his career journey, why recruitment was the right choice for him and how he’s maintained his record as one of our global top achievers for four years.

What attracted you to working in recruitment?

I’d been working in an assistant relationship management role for a major bank in Australia for a couple of years, but I’d always felt that the role wasn’t the right fit for me – I love building relationships with clients, but my role was more focused on supporting the relationship manager. When my girlfriend decided to return home to Singapore, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to experience working abroad and take my career in a new direction so I decided to join her.

I’d grown up watching films of trading floors and the idea of working in a fast-paced, upbeat sales environment really appealed to me so I was looking for a role that would give me that buzz. I did really enjoy the people management side of my role as an assistant relationship manager so it was quite important for me to find a role that also had a strong social element. Recruitment seemed to fit well with my career aspirations so I spoke to a friend who works for Robert Walters’ South Korea team to find out more about working as a recruiter. This really confirmed to me that recruitment was the right direction to take my career.

What made Robert Walters the right choice for you?

I was really impressed by the interview experience at Robert Walters. The people that I met during the interview process had a big impact on my decision to join the company. I liked the fact that my interviewers made a real effort to understand my motivations and career aspirations and to get to know me personally. Not only did this help build a strong rapport, but it also made me feel confident that I’d be well-supported and able to progress in my career at Robert Walters.

What challenges did you face coming into recruitment and how did you overcome them?

I’d say that learning how to manage my time effectively was probably one of the biggest challenges I faced when I joined the world of recruitment. Recruitment is a fast-paced environment, but I quickly learnt to adapt and balance my priorities efficiently. The training I received early in my recruitment career was a big help, but I also learnt to take a step back and not let myself get overwhelmed.

How did Robert Walters support your move into recruitment?

The induction process offered a great start to developing my career as a recruitment professional. New team members are often grouped together so they start on the same day and, while the management team offer great support, I found it really helpful to talk to people who were going through the same experience as me.

The formal induction training programme also helps you to transfer your skills into a recruitment environment. The sessions are run by senior members of the business so you get a great insight into the different working practices from leading industry professionals. Another positive thing is that the training sessions are open to everyone, so I actually still attend internal training as a means to refresh my knowledge and keep up-to-date with new ways of working.

I’d also say that the wider team were incredibly supportive in helping me adjust into recruitment. For example, the first few client calls I made as a recruiter were quite nerve-wracking and not always as smooth as I’d hoped. However, my team were fantastic and helped me to laugh off and learn from my mistakes rather than dwell on them. With their support and a little practice, I quickly gained confidence.

How has your career progressed at Robert Walters?

I started my career at Robert Walters working in the operation division, recruiting both contracting roles and permanent roles in the financial services sector.

One of the best things about working at Robert Walters is that there’s more than one way to advance in your career. In addition to managing a team, there’s also the option to specialise in a specific market. I expressed my interest in becoming a manager very early in my career at Robert Walters and the management team were incredibly supportive in helping me to achieve that goal.

In 2014, I moved to the project and change arm of our financial services division and was promoted to senior consultant. The management team then helped me to develop an 18-month progression plan, which was a huge help because it ensured that the progress I was making was easy to track, which helped me to maintain my focus and motivation. In 2017, I was promoted to manager and I’m really enjoying working with my team to strengthen Robert Walters’ position in the projects and change sector in Singapore.

What’s been your biggest achievement to date?

I’m particularly proud of the fact that I played a key role in developing the contracting side of our financial services division. Contracting was quite a small market in Singapore and Robert Walters had only recently started to develop that area of the business when I joined. This meant I had a fantastic opportunity to develop the client-base from scratch. It was a challenge, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

I’m also proud to have been the top biller for the Singapore office in 2016 as well as a global top achiever for four consecutive years. Each year, the company’s top performers are rewarded with a five-star trip to a luxurious location. The most recent incentive weekend was held in Las Vegas and it was a truly fantastic experience. It’s a difficult goal to reach, so I feel immensely proud to have maintained my strong record of success.

What do you like best about your role?

I really enjoy working with the people in my team. There’s a strong sense of camaraderie as well as a good amount of competition, which I love. In any sales role you will experience good and bad months in recruitment and having that strong team support and being surrounded by people that are really focused on achieving helps you to maintain your drive.

In addition to the people, I really love the autonomy of my role and the fact that I spend the majority of my time away from my desk meeting clients and candidates. I can’t imagine ever going back to spending hours working my way through a spreadsheet!

What qualities do you think are essential to succeeding as a recruiter at Robert Walters?

Perseverance is critical. There’s no doubt that you will experience low points, but staying motivated through the challenging times is crucial to success. Everyone has goals, whether they be to achieve financial rewards or to develop a particular market, and maintaining the drive to reach your goal will ensure that you can manage the ups as well as the downs.


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