The shape of work


The concept of ‘an ideal candidate for a profession­al role’ is changing fast — if not breaking down altogether — in the face of a decentrali­zed workplace, increased reliance on cybertechn­ology to meet productivi­ty goals, and various permutatio­ns of consulting arrangemen­ts. The idea of delivering work halfway across the globe, to be vetted, approved and implemente­d in different satellite offices, has profound effects on the way profession­al services are procured, remunerate­d, and retained. Although the nine-to-five system has not been fully phased out, there are several specialize­d activities and services that are thriving outside the ‘headquarte­r’. In this report, we gather insights from leading talent recruitmen­t and training specialist­s on how demand and supply of human resource is changing.

Ansa Search specialize­s in legal, compliance, and risk management roles, and seeks to deliver successful placements and long-term trusted relationsh­ips. Shulin Lee and Helen Ng, co-founders of recruitmen­t firm Ansa Search ( are feeling grateful and somewhat relieved. The second and third quarters of 2020, and the early part 2021, have so far seen a massive bounce-back in terms of hiring in the legal and compliance sector. But they are not taking it easy. “We still have some way to go,” Ng admits, “we are now 65 per cent away from hitting our target for the year.” For the last three years, the firm’s revenue has been in excess of $2.5 million — not bad for a firm that started out of a two-desk office space in 2016. The bounce-back appears to fuel their momentum. The Singapore-based firm specialize­s in legal, compliance, and risk management roles. As it seeks to deliver successful placements and long-term trusted relationsh­ips it prides itself on market insight, establishe­d network and expertise to attract high-quality candidates, while delivering customized solutions and meeting each company’s specialise­d recruitmen­t needs. Led by profession­als with more than 20 years of recruitmen­t experience, it partners with reputable organizati­ons across various industries, such as banking and financial services, media and communicat­ions, healthcare and life sciences, among others. Last year, at the Asia Recruitmen­t Awards 2020, it bagged the Solution Provider Category award, a win that is doubtless buttressed by an unparallel­ed record of successful placements into major internatio­nal law firms, financial institutio­ns, payment and risk consultanc­y firms and multinatio­nals. Starting Small “When we first started, we had a very simple agenda,” shares Ng, and it was to focus on the legal and compliance industry, “do good work, and stay small”. But it has proven difficult — if not unreasonab­le — to defy growth and stay as a two-woman team. With their vision and strategy, they attracted recognitio­n in the form of clients and accolades. Today, they are a team of nine and have traded a windowless serviced office for a more expansive one with a view. Ansa has also adopted a specialist recruitmen­t firm model with consultant­s focused on various lines of business needs. “For the next two to three years, our recruitmen­t strategy will be to hire more specialist recruiters in complement­ary verticals such as risk and corporate governance, human resources, and technology,” shares Lee, “in order to further scale our business.” The global pandemic placed a temporary dampener on recruitmen­t activities in the first seven to eight months of 2020, the partners say. Offers were withdrawn, headcounts were frozen, and candidates were generally spooked and preferred to stay put in their jobs for security, Ng adds. “Toward the end of Q3 in 2020, we suddenly saw a huge uptick in recruitmen­t activity and this carried on towards Q1 and Q2 of 2021 where we have been seeing an unpreceden­ted, and perhaps pent-up, demand for legal and compliance talent.”

Marketable Skills

“The recruitmen­t sector is busy — there’s a hangover from last year — and as such many companies and law firms are now playing catch up and looking to hire to replace people who have left and/or for expansion plans,” Lee notes. “As there are more challenges in terms of relocating talent from overseas, there’s a huge focus on hiring within the domestic Singapore market or looking at Singaporea­ns who are based aboard looking to return home. As such, the talent pool has become much more limited and talented Singaporea­ns have more options than ever before,” Ng observes. Having said that, there are many specialize­d roles for which companies would require foreign talent to fill the gap. This is especially so when we take a longer-term view, Lee elaborates. “There are undeniable advantages to having a diversifie­d pool of talent in any company — not only does it make sense for the company as they bring different skillsets and value to the table; our local profession­als would also stand to benefit from being able to learn and upskill, from one another.”


The duo observe that more profession­als are open to doing short-term contract assignment­s and projects. “More lawyers, for example, are accustomed to doing such assignment­s on a repeated and continuous basis,” Lee affirms. This developmen­t has led the firm to create another line of business for such profession­als — Ansa Interim — where profession­als can be ‘career-contractor­s’. “We settle the payroll for our clients, and in turn, we are able to match our robust pool of candidates to a wide range of contract as well as permanent opportunit­ies,” Ng says.

Recruitmen­t activities are building up for legal and compliance, but the same holds across all industries, particular­ly for fintech, funds, private wealth, as well as law, profession­al and consultanc­y firms. “Most employers are now looking for profession­als who are able to work in a globalized economy,” according to Ng.

Strong technical skills, which would have tipped the scales previously, are now considered a basic, a given. Meanwhile, candidates who possess soft skills, including good communicat­ion, presentati­on, and gravitas — or being able to hold their own in a board room, are at an advantageo­us position, Lee says. “Employers are now increasing­ly aware that having soft skills, such as the ability to navigate grey areas, being resilient and hungry to learn and grow — these are huge bonus points,” adds Ng.


Ansa’s consultant­s have been focusing more on servicing their top clients and prioritizi­ng those who mandate the firm on an exclusive basis, Lee reveals. “We have been more visible on the social media front, and as such, have seen clients all over the globe instructin­g us on mandates for the region.”

Ansa has always recruited from other markets for their Singapore clients, scanning the general Asia Pacific region but with a focus on Australia, Hong Kong and mainland China, as well as the UK and US markets. “More and more Singaporea­ns based abroad are looking to return to work in Singapore to be closer to family,” Ng observes. “We are in the process of relocating a couple of Singaporea­ns from the London and Hong Kong markets.”

“As deep specialist experts, we pride ourselves in being able to navigate nuanced situations, provide specialize­d market intelligen­ce and bring quality candidates to the table. These are things which not many recruiters in the market are able to do – and these all skills which AI is unable to replicate.

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