With over 5 years of experience in Data recruitment and now building a team of consultants at NextWave, Vinny Chan is a trailblazer of her own. In this interview, she tells us more about her journey into Data recruitment in Singapore and her growth into a manager.
What led you into the world of recruitment?
Vinny: Like most people, I got into recruitment by chance. I had a university classmate who told me about it but it didn't interest me back then. I took a position as an HR generalist but I came to a point where I felt like I had completed the journey and I was keen to look into recruitment as well as training and development. So I decided to trust my friend and work with a boutique recruitment agency. I was lucky enough to have a trusting manager who has really invested me and took a leap of faith with a fresh graduate. She truly changed my mind about recruitment and opened up a whole new world about what it meant to be a market specialist consultant.
Why specialise in Data? What was the strategic decision behind it?
Vinny: I was first supposed to focus on Creative and Digital Marketing, but throughout the hiring process it was rather apparent that I was a very analytical person. So we quickly decided that I should focus on Digital Marketing Planning and Analytics.
Back then I was working with a lot of agencies that were looking into Digital Analytics to attract value for Marketing results. One of my clients turned into a mentor and asked me to look into Data Science, talking with Ph.D. candidates. I started looking into it and my interest piqued. It wasn't the easiest because I had to break down a lot of complex concepts I wasn't familiar with, but talking with professionals in the field, I ended up falling in love with that space.
Comparing the early stages to nowadays, what were the benefits and challenges of choosing a Data specialisation from a recruiter's point of view?
Vinny: When I first started, most recruitment agencies where considering Analytics as a subset. I was working on a Digital and Marketing Analytics role with McDonald's and I ended up competing with a Managing Director of a competitor. It was a tough challenge but exciting to be working on such a big role. It was such a small niche at the time, not many recruitment consultants were looking at it and I was up against some big dogs. Data Science was a pretty green field. It only started getting more buzz when the Singapore Government announced the Smart Nation Initiative, which led to universities offering degrees in Data Analytics. My direct competitors in Data Science were in the States or in the UK, so being a local expert gave me a significant competitive edge - I could find local and expat candidates for challenging roles establishing my name on the market.
Right now, there are a lot more recruiters in Data Science and a lot of noise in the market also from the candidate side. A lot of smart candidates know the right keywords to attract attention, so my job has shifted into deciphering who is the true blue Data Scientist and who has the right skillset for an analyst role. On the other hand, a lot of companies know AI is the future so they are trying to hire in this area but whether they know what they need, if they have the right platform and infrastructure to support data science development, that is another story. This space is definitely booming, it has changed a lot over the past 5 years and there are always new things coming out, new things to learn. Data Scientists are always working towards solving a problem with different stories, so it's impossible to get tired of it.
How has it changed your approach to Data recruitment?
Vinny: For myself and my team, I've always put the emphasis on quality, high standards and taking the time to provide a specialist consultative approach. I conduct a thorough career profiling session with candidates, to create a clear understanding of their skills, motivations, and aspirations to provide the best advice on role compatibilities. Our initial phone calls can take up to an hour at times usually followed by a face to face meeting to get to know the candidates better. I'll also carry feedback sessions with all the parties involved in the hiring process - candidate and client - to allow a smooth onboarding.
When talking about recruiting for Data, we have to know how to probe the candidates correctly to go beyond the keywords on the CV and establish the accuracy of their skills. For example, knowing if they use a programming language for web scraping, for modeling or simply for self-learning projects will be key for me to advise a candidate on roles and recommend them to roles.
As a manager at Nextwave, how has your career progression developed?
Vinny: I am managing a team of 4 including myself now and I have learned a lot from my direct reports. I always go with the mindset of teaching my team to be a better recruiter than me and surpass my achievements. This is a concept I took from a previous client - Eugene Yan - who told me he was looking to hire people better than him to eventually take over. This philosophy has helped me a lot in pushing my direct reports to excel and it's truly heartwarming to see them make a name for themselves in the industry.
How has your female point of view shaped your outlook on management?
Vinny: I think females can come across as more emotional and often it stems from caring a lot and wanting to carry out high standards. I've worked a lot on how I can effectively communicate and remain factual; I will always make sure I have strong reasoning to support something I am passionate about.
In my professional experiences, it just so happen that the managerial team was always more male-dominated, often with a 5:1 ratio. Initially, I was afraid to get drowned by louder voices and characters. But I realised that it is about having the confidence to put your message across over trying to be loud. I always commit myself to have a constructive approach to my meetings to provide valuable input, making sure we don't leave stones unturned just because they weren't loud enough and I hold my team to the same standards.
What are you personally enthusiastic about your position as a manager?
Vinny: For me, seeing how my team members are growing in their careers and how they stretch themselves to reach milestones that above targets and were once unimaginable for them. Because I have been through that journey, I had the chance to be guided by great managers myself to realise my potential and now I want to be that kind of manager for my team.
What advice would you give an ambitious recruiter in the Tech market?
Vinny: Join NextWave Partners?! More seriously, to any recruiters - technology-specific or not- I would advise being very clear of your why for recruitment and what do you want to get out of it. Personally, I believe you need to have an interest in the industry you are recruiting for because it will make it that much easier for you to be proactive and build a strong brand in the market. Find an industry that you are inquisitive about, become a recruitment expert in that field and you'll have most of the tools for the consistent growth of your desk.