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Headhunting the Wright way

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When asked to describe himself, Michael Wright doesn’t skip a beat. “Endlessly curious,” he says with a grin like a Cheshire cat. “And blunt.”

Sitting on the roof of GroupM’s offices on Scotts Road, the head of talent acquisition for APAC is dressed comfortably in a blue shirt, blazer and tailored pants.

He’s laid back and relaxed, smoking a cigarette, and has the air of someone who has been around the block.

“My family always took vacations to faraway exotic places like Africa and Australia,” he says (although Australia was probably only exotic to a young boy growing up in Nottingham).

Although Wright goes by the moniker “The Blunter Headhunter”, on first impressions this man doesn’t appear to fit the typical headhunter stereotype.

“Well, you know, I’m actually quite introverted. There is nothing I like better than staying at home, playing video games and hanging out with my girlfriend,” he says, as he heads back into the spacious and open GroupM offi ces. But behind his desk and over the phone, “The Blunter Headhunter” slowly emerges, as Wright spends an estimated one third of his day sourcing potential candidates for the agencies he works with and connecting with future employees.

Direct and candid, but with genuine humanity, Wright and his team of two spend a huge percentage of their time on the phone, typing notes furiously on their laptops as they follow up on candidate interviews.

“I’d be lying if I said it was easy, but it helps that I’m passionate about it and my team’s passionate about it. There’s never a dull moment,” he says, letting loose a deep guffaw that punctuates most of his sentences. His cluttered desk has books he’s read but admits are only there to “give the impression I’m studious”.

Peppering his conversation are pings from his laptop, which go off every few minutes signalling a new email. “I get hundreds of emails every day, and I usually try to stay on top of it,” he says. It is barely 11am and already he has 154 unread emails.

However, one thing Wright and his team pride themselves on is their ability to personally respond to every email that comes through, especially if it is from a candidate.

“So many companies’ recruitment processes are like a black hole. A candidate will send in a resume and then never hear back,” Wright griped (as he typed a rejection letter to a candidate).

Peering over his shoulder, it’s clear the email reads well and is personalised. It states that while a position suitable for the candidate’s skills is not available, they will be kept on a close watch should something pop up. In fact, it also added recommendations of what sort of function within the agency would be best suited for the job seeker, so their next attempt  it employment with GroupM would be more tailored.

“The candidate experience is very important to us, and we’ll never know when we’ll have something for them,” Wright says.

We’re very big on respect for the individual, and that’s something that’s important, not just with candidates, but with our own employees as well.

Keeping that core value at the forefront may seem tough for such a competitive and highly strung industry, but Wright’s team, nestled in a corner office with huge glass windows, seems to manage it perfectly.

Wright, who “flirted” with music while living in Beijing for four years (“did you know I DJ’d at the New Year’s countdown party in China two years ago?”), had his start in recruitment with a small boutique IT recruitment firm in the late 1990s.

Although his foray into recruitment pre-dated emails and the internet, his reliance on social media now is enormous. “The days of putting up a job posting and waiting for candidates to come in are gone,” Wright says, as he nimbly navigates the dozens of emails and website tabs on his computer. “The formality in the process is gone.”

GroupM is an active user of social networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook – where it managed to secure more than 38,000 fans in less than a year. One of the things Wright’s extremely proud of is a Twitter hashtag he created: #TalentWatch. He uses the tag to keep tabs on people he thinks are a good fi t for the company.

“Besides, it’s always an ego boost for someone when you tweet about them, and again, that leads back to the candidate experience.”

But the influx of communication and social media has also forced Wright to learn to be a better listener. “When I was younger, I was very good at talking and extremely poor at listening. But the fact is if you’re in talent acquisition and you don’t listen, you’ll end up with a whole bunch of problems,” he says.

So how did he manage to turn it around and be a better active listener? One word: Feedback.

“I’ve been lucky enough to work with people who share my passion for candour. I’ve been told throughout my adult life I need to brush up on my listening skills, and for my team, by making it clear right at the outset one of the most important skills they must have is the ability to listen intently helps.”

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