top of page

Successful Careers are by Design not by Accident: How the decisions you make today

Updated: Sep 6, 2022

will shape your career tomorrow

Our Very First Podcast Guesting on Career, Hiring, Women Leadership and everything in between.

Listen to the full episode on Spotify

Listen to the full episode on Apple

Watch the full episode on Youtube

Enough said, here you go with the full transcript of 49 minutes of our podcast guesting. More is coming!

Graham: [00:00:05]

Hi, this is Graham Brown, and welcome to the XL podcast. The XL podcast is a platform for the bigger conversations about leadership and the 2020s. Who's leading, how are they leading? And what stories do they have to share? Through the stories of leaders will address the big challe

nges of our times from the era of AI to the Asian century, to nurturing a new generation of entrepreneurs? If you're enjoying these conversations, subscribe to the podcast at

Hey everybody. This is the XL podcast. Welcome to a new episode. My name is Graham Brown. Now XL is all about leadership and that comes in many different for

ms. It's what is leadership, but also how is the world for leaders changing? A big part of that obviously works. How is the world of work changing for leaders? Everything from working [00:01:00] in remote teams to how do I, as a leader, be a better leader all the way down to how do I find the kind of work that I really want to do? These are the kind of questions people are asking. Now there's a lot of change. As you know, in the last couple of years, we've been disrupted. There's a lot of transformation. Things are happening at speed. So it's easy to get left behind. So we need people to help us understand what's going on in the world of leadership and people [00:01:30] importantly, whether that's leading people, managing people, or hiring people, it all comes down to people at the end of the day. So let's bring in an expert in the world of people I'm joined by Larraine Chang, from Ascension Associates. Larraine, welcome to the show.

Meet Our Guest on This Episode

Larraine: [00:01:47]

Thanks, Graham. Thanks for having me.

Graham: [00:01:49]

Joining us from Hong Kong. You're Hong Kong, born and bred. What's the story there?

Larraine: [00:01:54]

Yeah. Hongkongers through and through. Surprised quite a number of people whenever I meet new guys, I don't know why.

Graham: [00:02:00]

We like surprises.

Larraine: [00:02:05]

Yeah. Anyway.

Graham: [00:02:06]

I know your background, part of what you do... A big part of what you do is headhunting, but it's not all of what you do. How would you describe yourself? Everyone was to ask you that cocktail party question. What do you do? How do you describe yourself?

Larraine: [00:02:21]

Oh, nowadays I'm just like straight into that 20 seconds opener. Oh, I'm a three-in-one. I'm a facilitator, [00:02:30] coach, and a head hunter. So I do three things all at the same time.

Graham: [00:02:35]

It's interesting, isn't it? That world of hiring and headhunting has kind of evolved that you're not just placing people anymore. We'll talk about this. Obviously, the skills that you need mean that not only are you placing people, you're almost having to coach people and also potential hirers as well, like advising them on strategy when it comes to hiring, because it's no longer simply putting, as they say in the old world, bums on seats, [00:03:00] now you have to think about what actually people want, strategy, skills, even as well. So all of that's changing and it seems that with that the head hunters have to evolve as well. So maybe we can talk, Larraine, about some of the trends at the moment that are happening, from your perspective, from your vantage point based in Hong Kong, but you see across a very wide region, all of Asia and beyond as well.

So people are moving. I'll give you an example. I have friends [00:03:30] just this week, one is moving from Hong Kong to Dubai, a country manager, and then one is moving from Dubai to Singapore. So I'm waiting for another one to move from Singapore to Dubai to Hong Kong, to make the full circuit. There's a lot of movement right now. There seems to be... Three, four years ago, people wouldn't be making these decisions. It seems like the inertia has gone. People are asking different kinds of questions. What are you seeing? What kind of conversations are happening right now with [00:04:00] top-level talent?

Top-level talent in this changing world

Larraine: [00:04:01]

At the top-level talent, I have to kind of be specific in here because I don't work with all sorts of industries in the entire world. So I particularly focus quite a lot on financial services [00:04:15] in particular, with insurance. A lot of top-level talents these days, they still want upward mobility. They still want to have a job that could actually give them more purpose, that actually they come [00:04:30] in to make an impact and not just another like paycheck, of course, everybody wants an upside, but they want something that is a little bit more tangible in terms of the purpose. And what's the real reason why I'm doing what I'm doing? And kind of in response to your people moving around, and people have been moving around for years, but it's just that nowadays after probably like [00:05:00] two years of COVID, people have bit more... You know what, let's just like go out there and try something new.

Let's just not get locked down by all these travel restrictions and viruses and whatever. But the moving around has been happening and it's happening, like you noticed, more frequent than before. I have seen quite a number of cross-country transfers. And these top level talent, they don't want to be just restricted [00:05:30] by one location. Some of them are very mobile. Some of them can be just working in Vietnam. Next day, they'll be in Indonesia, next they're going to be in Hong Kong. Next day they're going to be in Dubai. So there's a lot of movements. And if you're talking about technical people, in particular, for example, insurance, we talk about actuaries, any people right now, like a data scientist and a data analytics folks, if they're really good with numbers, they can move to US, they can move to UK, whenever there's [00:06:00] an opportunity. As long as they're good with it, as long as their family allow for it, they will go for it.

The last thing that I want to mention, it's... Some of the top-level people that I've been dealing with, they want to see more real things getting done rather than just going into another organization where there's just a lot of talk and press conferences [00:06:30] and shows and whatever, but never get real progress. So, that's a change.

Graham: [00:06:38]

They are a lot fussier now. When did that change happen? Was it COVID that has really sped up that change? Was it always there? Was it ongoing? At what point could you say, if you look back over the last 10 years, can you say at this point, these things really started to matter because? Purpose, I imagined for an actuary purpose, wasn't really high on the agenda, was it?, until [00:07:00] recently? At what point did that happen? Full respect to actuaries by the way, but I'm just saying.

When did the change happen

Larraine: [00:07:08]

We're respecting them. We're just respecting them. Yeah. You're like... Yeah, you're absolutely right. I mean, some of them, they still are doing what they're doing, but not all of them are like that right now. I would say from my own observation, it's just... Again, my own observations, because respecting there are other head hunters out there who have been doing this longer than I do. [00:07:30] The change that I started to see was around actually four or five years ago, right about when I was going to go out there and set up on my own. You know, because the thing is with these industries that have been highly regulated by government, by regulatory bodies and they are like strategic industries of the nations, kind of like their national power, [00:08:00] right, you know, finance and everything, they've been kind of really like just sit back and observe all these changes and be really resisting to change for a lot of them.

But, you know, the millennial demand, the millennials customers experience, and their expectation, and essentially, you know, our generation and the people younger than me, who put a lot more emphasis on [00:08:30] purpose, on ESG, on the social responsibility of these corporates, slowly have actually made an impact on these giants. So to speak, you know. Because in the old days they really don't need to change. I mean, when was the last time you expect insurance company to change the entire operations, right? I mean, just renew your policy and then it just be the same old, same old. But right now people are buying differently and things just happen differently as well, you know. You have different sorts of accidents, for example, COVID, is something that a lot of insurers [00:09:00] never expected.

So how are you going to balance the profits and actually, you know, all the claims, right? and also be responsible and kind of answering your customer's demands? Like, you know, one of the conversations I had recently, you know, we are dealing with customers who are born in this century. It's just kind of like the biggest change already, right? I mean, if you're born in 2000, you're right about kind of like leaving college by now. You know, like, right, So how they expect [00:09:30] their employers to behave and how they expect their peers to behave, it's just an entire kind of paradigm shift from before. I don't like to use the word paradigm shift, but that is what it's right now.

Graham: [00:09:42]

You've used it. Yeah. But it is a shift. How do they express that though? Do they come to you and say, "Yes, I want a good job, but I want to do meaningful work" Are these the words that they use, do they say purpose? Do they say ESG? Because [00:10:00] I imagine hirers, you know, talent managers, leaders of the hirers would know this, but does the talent, the people you deal, with actually express it in that way? Or how do they talk about these things? Because there is sort of soft aspects of hiring and headhunting, aren't they, which you don't necessarily fill a box with? How does that manifest?

Young generations in recruitment

Larraine: [00:10:24]

A lot of my candidates... [00:10:30] Now, although I focus more on the senior level people now, it doesn't mean that I'm not aware of the fact that the younger folks these days, they would actually do a lot of research online and kind of within their peers, on actually how the company is doing on different aspects. When you're talking about ESG, then the DEI also comes into place, right? Diversity, equity, and inclusion. How are they doing as an employer to include certain communities? [00:11:00] Are they really doing what they're doing? Am I seeing what they posted on social media really in line with actually what they do in reality? Now there are... This interesting observation, there are two kinds of... Almost two camps sometimes.

There are people out there who say, "You know what, even though that I'm young, I don't really care. I just need a paycheck," but then you have more younger people who care about these things and they want employees to be accountable. And there are some of them who are like, "You know what, I get [00:11:30] it. This is corporate." They just actually take some pictures, post it on social media and that's it. They're not really doing the real deal. But then there are people out there who say, "No, you know what? I would rather to work for a company that really like to walk the talk."

So the walk the talk demand has increased more than before. So, you know you have companies out there who actually take an extra mile and say, "Let me go hire someone with disability. And for real, put them in meaningful [00:12:00] positions, not just ask them to do something like a munal kind of work, you know". And when you say, do I have people coming to say meaningful? Yes. I've been hearing this actually for 10 years, across actually many different industries, across actually not just the technical positions. There are people out there who would say, "I've been doing this for three years and I don't really see the point of doing it." Actually sometimes even for actuaries, because they'd be like... There were a million different ways to calculate [00:12:30] things. Do we need to actually go into that deep? Are we actually doing the work that really mean... What does it mean for the entire company? And then you will see these people kind of like, drifted and leave eventually.

Graham: [00:12:57]

Do you think they're making economic decisions about that? So, you know, let's do it in US dollar terms, for example, let's say I'm earning, you know, maybe $200,000 a year in this role.

Larraine: [00:12:58]


Graham: [00:12:59]

And there's this company [00:13:00] which has much better track record with D, E and I, ESG, but the pay's less, let's say it's $150,000, which is not a lot for an actuary, to be honest, but let's just say, would they make an economic decision about that? Or is it negotiable? Or is it, No, I would never go to a company that didn't have these values and this purpose?

The biggest change in people

Larraine: [00:13:23]

I wouldn't necessarily say that extreme. I wouldn't say that extreme, but [00:13:30] people out there, they will still make the decision based on, you know, number one, the room for career growth, the boss they'll be working with, the pay. But on top of that, they are also asking for more, you know, is this company aligning with the values that I treasure. Now, again, not everyone is like that, but there is increasing group of people who want to have that. And [00:14:00] another thing is actually not just about the ESG or the DEI, that's just part of it. The biggest change is actually people, they want to be satisfied in terms of learning and growing much faster than before. So that's why some of my clients will say, "Oh my God, actually, all these young people, they are hopping jobs real quick." And this is actually not in 2022. This has happened for many years. But like, you konw, with the younger generation, [00:14:30] they've seen that the rate has actually gone much quicker. It just gone up. So what are we doing a deal with it?. Now, again, there's always outliers. I have a friend of mine, the same age as me, guess actually, how long has been she's staying with her current company?

Graham: [00:14:51]

Surprised me.

Larraine: [00:14:52]

10 years.

Graham: [00:14:53]

Yeah. That's an outlier.

Larraine: [00:14:54]

My age, 10 years. But what has made her stay in the company is because [00:15:00] she has been constantly promoted and move around and do different things. So what I've seen is that do what you want to stay, kind of retain somebody, it's the same old thing, do you give them room to grow? You know, do you actually give them something valuable to do? And is it kind of in line virtually what they want out of their career. All I'm saying is the career conversations have gone different from before. Now, in the past, it's like that performance [00:15:30] appraisal... You remember Graham right? Once a year performance appraisal. And that's it. But right now it's ongoing conversations.

Graham: [00:15:36]

Yeah. It's harder now to gamify or cheat this reward or career progression for employees. If you go back some years, Larraine, if you think about... There was a lot of talk about gameifying careers or salary, or the whole progression, and [00:16:00] you would have employers create these environments for their people where you'd have the ball pit you'd have free beer. It would be a cool office and games. You have the football table and stuff like that because that's what they thought would make people happy at work. But-

Graham: [00:16:23]

Exactly. The meaning part is actually people are seeking out meaning and personal development, like, "Will this be a place that [00:16:30] I can grow and will the people I work with support me in this as well?" And that you can't cheat. You can't fake that. That Comes out. Doesn't it? That's the DNA of the organization. And no matter how much of a spin you put on it, that's who people really are. So I think this is come... This is where we are right now is that people can actually see this and make decisions about these organizations and cultures and see them for what they really are.

Larraine: [00:16:55]

Yeah. Because if you are not paying people on time, [00:17:00] if you are giving me all these ping pong balls and everything, but then your next day, you announce a massive redundancy without any kind of previous warning, that's just not going anywhere. And plus, even if you give me a ping pong table, do you really allow your staff to play with it? That's another thing right?

Graham: [00:17:18]

Only on recruitment days, maybe.

The core behind the "gamification" of working environment

Larraine: [00:17:22]

Right. So I think what you're saying is so spot on ground, because basically the thing is the [00:17:30] fact that you have beer days, you have happy hours of the ping pong, whatever, is to create the environment where people can relax, can mingle and they can advance off ideas outside of their desk, which is actually literally good for your physical wellbeing. Now that we're in COVID, we're working from home now that we miss, "Oh, you know what, actually taking a walk is really, really good." A simple thing can do wonders for our brain. It was exactly for that purpose. But if you think that, oh, that's just simple, right? I mean, [00:18:00] put on something fancy out there, gamification, whatever, give you like a ping pong and a free beer and that would help me to engage the young folks.

No, because you can have it anywhere you want. And it's not that expensive either, but it's about actually what goes behind giving out these free perks. What do you do? And people can feel your motivation and your purpose. And I remember, you know, a few months ago [00:18:30] I was working on this head of HR and I asked the candidate, "What is kind of motivating you to come talk to me if you are happy with where you are?" Because in my experience, if you're completely happy where you are, you wouldn't even pick up my phone, you wouldn't even respond to my messages. And she's like, "Oh my God, you are the first head hunter to have ever asked me motivation." I'm like, "seriously?"

Graham: [00:18:52]


Larraine: [00:18:54]


Graham: [00:18:55]

I would've [00:19:00] thought that being. Why don't they ask that?

Meaning of satisfaction to younger generations

Larraine: [00:18:58]

I don't know. I don't know. And I'm like, ask them why don't they ask you this? I'd be interested to know. But the thing is it's about that, you know, going back to almost the really good boring academic stuff, it still works. The kind of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Why are you doing this? Are you doing this for a show? Or are you doing this really because you want to, you know, care about employee wellbeing? And one [00:19:30] thing probably before we go cover the topics is I think the biggest problem is, and I have empathy with all these decision-makers because I see that a lot of these decision-makers they're still baby boomers, or maybe Gen X, they really grow up in the different socioeconomic and cultural context from where we are. Getting satisfaction in terms of the job and economic satisfaction was really simple for them, [00:20:00] right?

You get a big paycheck, you get a big bonus, you buy a big house, buy nice cars, anywhere in Asia, you are good, you're deemed successful. But right now, for my generation and people younger are than me, and because actually I'm starting to work with a lot more younger people on my own team as well, I see that it's not that they don't care about the paycheck, it's not that they don't care about your working environment, but they really want to know why [00:20:30] you are doing this. That simple question, going back to the purpose thing. And it's more about the self-actualization sometimes. And then when I'm trying to get this across to the hirer, in some of the older generations, they can't really get it yet. That's why you see why they're doing all these gamifications and putting our free beer pong, they thought they have done it. Tick the box, but they don't really get what's actually driving us behind. So that's the thing.

Challenges for decision-makers

[00:21:00] Another thing is sometimes when people hear all these free perks and really goofy working culture, especially from American tech firms, they only take that surface part without really understanding the entire systematic structure and the build out of it. For example, I was sharing with this leadership principal over my [00:21:30] wellbeing webinars earlier this year, why do we see the traditional American tech firms, even offer you washing machine. And get you, you know like space to do yoga whenever you want to, it's because, you know, they really need you to work on a lot of squeezing out of your brain juice, product projects and innovations and whatever and research. And we are human beings. We can only stay focused... Laser focus for a certain amount of time [00:22:00] during a day. And afterward you do need to get some rest.

That's why they let you to do it. That's why they're like, "You know what? This is good for the company. I'll let you do whatever you do. And then you come back." The engineers, you can come back and work on your own thing. So for the other side of the hirers, what I see is they didn't understand this part. They didn't understand why they're doing this. So that's why they either reject the idea totally. Or they just like, "Oh Graham, [00:22:30] this is another yoga class. This is another well-being webinar. This is going to be good for you." And then you'll be like... If you kind of take it out the context, this is the thing. If you take it out the context you are not doing any good for your employees, actually, you're doing harm.

Graham: [00:22:47]

Yeah. Very insightful. We've talked about the decision makers, the hirers who... Maybe there's some generational challenges there as well. The ones that don't get it, but obviously there are ones that do get it as well and an increasing number, [00:23:00] as I suppose, younger people move up into those positions as well. Let's talk about the decisions on the other side, which are as important. That's the decisions made by the hired the head-hunted. There's a lot going on there, which as well, we're having to adapt. We're having to evolve. You talk about, for example, the decision-making for hiring for the hirer was very simple for generations. It was offer a good package, [00:23:30] salary, stable job, perks, insurance, et cetera. And yet now for the hired, there is a change. So many of them, probably, are still approaching the process as they would've done years ago.

So if you're a top-level talent and you are interested in moving, you're interested in swapping up, moving to a company with more purpose or something that makes you feel more rewarded [00:24:00] or a higher salary, whatever it may be, whatever your goals are, your motivations. It's no use simply doing what we used to do 10, 20 years ago in the job search. So we need to know what's changed. And maybe we can talk about what's the old-fashioned way of doing the job search from the talent side traditionally, what would they do? And then why that doesn't work anymore?

Problem of old fashioned way of job searching

Larraine: [00:24:26]

Yeah. This is a very good question because... And I shared [00:24:30] this in my own videos recently as well, a lot of candidates that come to me and ask me, "I was applying jobs on social media platforms. I was applying jobs on different job search sites and I got no results. It's been very poor." And then the obvious answer is because you are just one out of the many in the entire pool. So, how do you stand out [00:25:00] in such a crowded space? Especially for regular corporate functions, like HR and marketing and IT, because if you are a technical person, like an actuary for insurance companies, engineers for a power plant, that's a different story, right? But if you are just like, you are in a regular corporate function, then you're just like any other person in another industry, you're competing with them.

So a lot of these folks, what I see is that when they reach [00:25:30] to a certain level, they are still using the same mentality and approach when they were searching 10 years ago or 20 years ago when they were younger. So in one side, they know that their mindset have to be changed and have to be adapted to the latest technological changes and hiring practices, whatever. They're willing to adapt, they're willing to use it for example, but when it comes to their own job search, interestingly, they're still using the same old method. [00:26:00] So obviously you're not going to get any results because the world has changed and you're still using the way that you used to do things 10 years ago.

Now, the reason, one of the reasons why they're doing this is a lot of them... Very common reason is they've been staying in the company for too long, that's very obvious because they don't need to find a job. The second is some of these people when they change jobs is [00:26:30] mostly by referral. So they got a job because they know someone else, that the previous boss asked them to join them. So they don't even need to go search on their own. So when you ask them to build something on their own, they're like clueless. They don't know what to do.

Graham: [00:26:44]

No experience.

Larraine: [00:26:45]

They're like... Yeah, no experience. They're just like casting a wide net. But these [00:27:00] things is about being focused and being niche and understanding what you can bring to the table and what you cannot bring to the table.

Graham: [00:26:56]

Just, before you talk about... What is that? What would they do? Would they write their CV resume, then contact a hundred people on LinkedIn, send it to them, wait for a response? Is that what the old approach would've been? Or is it different?

Senior "freshman" in job searching

Larraine: [00:27:11]

Yeah. It would've been that way. And then I still constantly receive random messages and connection requests out of no where and say, "Oh, I want to change. I want to move to another country." And then I'll be like, "Okay, so what are your credentials? What is your background? What's your experience? [00:27:30] What makes other people want to hire you in the first place?" And just because you have 20 years under your belt, doesn't necessarily guarantee you anything because there are a hundred people out there who also have 20 years under the belt and who might have actually bigger exposure. So what makes you special? So a lot of the people, they forgot to kind of pave their own way. The phrase that come to my mind is they actually don't know. And Graham, this might be a surprise to you. They actually don't know how [00:28:00] to manage the career move by design.

They are managing their entire career by default. Oh, I was made redundant. Oh, I got a new boss I don't like. Oh, I didn't get the promotion. Let me go find a hundred head hunters and find me the next... See whatever old job that I want to get. And then I'll be like, "Well, you're looking for a C-suite kind of role. How many a C-suite kind of role is going to be out there?" You kind of... You got to actually be strategic about the whole thing. You're not hiring, you're not looking for another manager [00:28:30] level position.

So this is actually the problem. A lot of people they're just waiting for things to happen. You know, call head hunters, if Larraine doesn't have anything, call another one. Oh, I bet if I call five or six, down the line, I'm going to get something. But really in these days, it's just something that is really kind of coming your way. This is something that should really... [ 00:28:54] by you is a really good platform, is a really good choice. So I see that a lot of people, they were [00:29:00] climbing uphill from 20, 22 to 35 and then they reach a plateau and they just stay there and even go downhill. They either work for smaller and smaller corporates of, let's say tier three, tier four, no longer at tier one, tier two that they work for before. Or they just not really learning anything new in the current role.

They might have a very big title, very big paycheck, but if you drill deep and if you ask anyone in [00:29:30] the industry, they would know that actually the job duties is actually not that amazing. So how can you actually enhance, you know, your hiring ability, right? In terms of other people eyes, because when you reach certain level of salary, you need to manage people's perception. That's why you need to manage your entire career move by design and not by default. And then some of the things is that actually, if you don't want to climb up the ladder, to use the metaphor [00:30:00] used by Sheryl Sandberg, you are climbing the jungle gym. You can go horizontal. You don't need to go by vertical. And I always like to ask my candidates, "Hey, if you actually cannot get that top job in your organization, what's next for you?" And then you'd be surprised, nine out of ten, they cannot answer me. "Oh, I just find another organization then." But what if actually just... They're all healthy. They're not moving anywhere. [00:30:30] What are you going to do if you really want to be where you want to be? Never thought about it.

Graham: [00:30:37]

This is what they've successfully applied in the past by default, isn't it? Because they bumped into something else or they got to call, the ex boss has moved to another company. And you to do... By default, isn't it? You're relying on the inbound. I like this idea of by design, it's a conscious decision, isn't it? And you're talking about more managing perceptions, which [00:31:00] I guess if you are a talented and successful careerist and you've got the experience and you've reached your way to that top of that hill, managing perceptions might be an interesting challenge because you might be good at everything apart from that, you might not have had to do that ever. It's almost like I'm having to sell myself or I'm having to brand myself.

Larraine: [00:31:23]


Graham: [00:31:24]

Normally my companies speak for themselves or my Ph.D., my MBA, Stanford... [00:31:30] These speak for themselves. Now I've got a talk in different terms. What is this about? What is by design and what is the managing perception part?

By design and managing perception

Larraine: [00:31:38]

By design, meaning it doesn't have to be, oh, this is the exact step that I need to take. If I want to get the top job, because we know nowadays, even if I designed the entire menu SOP, you might need to just throw it down the toilet for other reasons. Right. Just looking at what happened to us for the [00:32:00] last three to four years. But what I mean by design is at least be conscious every year, within themselves, what they have actually achieved or learned comparing from last year. And if they want to get to the top job or just stay the same or stay competitive, right, because when we talk about career development here, it's very interesting. Not everybody needs to be the CEO or C -1. They can be the [00:32:30] most... They can be the best senior manager or whatever that is, one level below department head, and they can be successful.

That's fine. But it doesn't mean that they don't need to learn anything new or kind of unlearn something that I've done in the past. Now by design is means be conscious. And I like... Thank you Graham, for using the word conscious, by actually being aware of what you need to unlearn, what you need to relearn, and what you need to learn, [00:33:00] if you want to stay in your current industry in your current job function. And what is actually... One day, you know that somehow you want to leave your current industry and your current organization, you want something new. What is it that you want to do right now that can get you prepared?

Now by design, I like to use a metaphor of Olympic athletes. Well, of course, everyone knows, right? I mean, you cannot guarantee that you're going to a gold medal, but you're going to be designing actually your own exercising routine. [00:33:30] You're going to be fine-tuning your diet and everything so that you can actually stay in the best shape and your top form when you go into the arena. Right. That's my meaning, by design. You don't just go out there and wing it and say, "Oh, I got this perfect batch on my CV. Right? I work for this Fortune 500. It speaks for itself. Everybody should come to hire me." No, it doesn't work like that anymore because what works for this organization, [00:34:00] doesn't work for another one for sure these days.

And people need to be very mindful of the fact that nowadays, for example, I can use the neighbor that I'm having right now across my room. You guys also have Oatly, the oat milk in Singapore, right?

Graham: [00:34:21]


Multiple hats in Oatly

Larraine: [00:34:22]

Guess how many people in Oatly, Hong Kong office, [00:34:30] they have someone come on. Now, they came from Sweden to Hong Kong four years ago, right? Around four people, four years onwards, they are in Starbucks. They are in the Pacific Coffee. I know Bakery Shop, they're using the oat milk to make all the bread and cakes and whatever. Still six or seven people.

Graham: [00:34:51]


Larraine: [00:34:52]

Basically, they are the marketers. They're the designers. They're the partnership. They're the sales. An office [00:35:00] of six or seven people can talk to big corporates. Now a lot of my traditional corporate candidates and clients, they say they don't understand, because especially financial services, it's been very precise. And you have basically someone to do just one job, right? But the world is changing. You have people that can actually wear many hats and guess what? They're not asking for astronomical amount of money. So when [00:35:30] you reach that level, are you that capable? Are you that competitive? What value can you add that these people cannot give? Right?

A lot of these people... A lot of my senior candidates, they're still not really aware of it. They just think like, you know what? Graham, I got 25 years on my CV. I work for this big corp, A, B, C, and D. I should be there. My perfect example is one of my candidates, no kidding, [00:36:00] three months in the job "He's like, this is not something that I need to do. I'm very senior. This is something actually like to piece no for me. Why am I actually need to talk to all these local countries working with them on projects? And then I'm like, no, the more senior you are, the more humble you have to be.

Graham: [00:36:18]

Yeah. That's difficult. right?

Larraine: [00:36:23]

Oh yeah.

Graham: [00:36:24]

I mean, I've heard people say... I've sat with people and in business. And they said, "I didn't do an MBA to [00:36:30] talk to customers" I'm like, wow. That kind of mindset, it's part of the system, isn't it? But that's why you need somebody to poke you, to pull you, to push you a little bit in the skills department, to coach you in a way, and say, look, that's not how it works anymore. The best leaders are out there walking the floor. They're talking to people, they're leading by example, they're getting insights. That's what it is to be a leader now. And I love this idea of being aware [00:37:00] of the learning as well, that... You talk about Oatly as an example, I'm sure that's a huge learning experience for those guys.

The kind of things you'd learn with multiple hats, if you like. You'd learn everything about a business and how rewarding and challenging that would be as well. And it's easy to measure salary. It's easy to measure a title. It's easy to measure the size of the budget you control, which in many ways were measures of success, weren't they? That [00:37:30] was a mark of how well you've done, but it's hard to measure learning because it kind of was a thing that happened as a byproduct of all of that. But now what you're saying is you've got to put that front and center and be aware of it, both for the hired and the hirers as well, because that is actually.... Whilst you might not be able to measure it in zeros and ones, like you say, if you look at it year by year, you can measure progression [00:38:00] for sure.

And then going back to this athlete example, like the Olympics, these guys, you know, they train four to six years in cycles, right? They're thinking that far ahead. I'm training four years, it's all planned out and they're mapping it out. And they're thinking about, I need to get to this stage, this stage, this stage. It doesn't happen by default, for sure. It's very much by design. I guess going to... It is challenging. [00:38:30] The challenge is there's a lot to learn. There's a lot to take on board and it can be very overwhelming and confusing for people in this space. And obviously, that's why we need people like you to guide them as well in this process, not just headhunting, but you're also coaching and advising these people on what to do best. I really want to... I'm conscious of the time, there's a question I want to ask you about women and leadership and hiring [00:39:00] and being hired as well.

I'm curious, is this particularly a challenge for women? You know because the... We all know there aren't enough women in leadership roles and it's a lot easier for a man to stand up on stage and personal branding comes a lot easier because when they grow up, they're less likely to be criticized. I'm allowed to sort of play with the [00:39:30] sharp objects if you like, but for women, it's a lot harder. Not saying it should be, but that's how it is. So what's your observation of women candidates as well when it comes to the top levels, do they find it harder to do this? Do they find it harder to manage perceptions or do they naturally find this easier than men?

Women in managing perception

Larraine: [00:39:53]

That's an interesting question. And my answer might surprise a lot of people. I haven't [00:40:00] come across any women telling me that they find it hard to climb to the top, but I can share with you, a lot of them, they still have certain level of insecurity or impressions about how they should behave as a senior corporate executive. Again, it goes back to the generational differences and expectations and everything. And I know that for a certain level of senior women executives, depending on their age group, [00:40:30] they might be very scared of what might comes next, you know, when they get older, right? Because they have worked so hard to climb to the top. So what if they cannot take it any longer because of the physical demands, right? At one point, both men and women... We are going to go into menopause, right? So what's going to happen? So there is still this kind of like fear of uncertainty because I haven't experienced it yet. It then comes with [00:41:00] very personal conversations, but not every single woman is going to be super anxious about this.

What I see is actually a lot more women out there, they are being more outspoken and they are being more assertive and building really meaningful communities so that actually they can help out each other to climb to the top, to overcome any imposter syndrome. Talk about personal branding. There were a lot more workshops [00:41:30] out there. You know over here in Hong Kong, we have women in financial services, #WIFA, we have Women of Hong Kong #WOHK communities that just support one another. And the bonding and energy is just amazing. So there are a lot more people out there who are sort of coming forefront and saying, "Hey we can also do this." And also there are more male allies right now. And like I wrote on [00:42:00] LinkedIn a few months ago, I think in three years time, the conversation should be stopped at female leaders or male allies. It should be just leader and allies.

Graham: [00:42:11]

Hear, hear, yeah, we know when we get to that point, we've done it. But until that point, we still need to talk about it. We're not quite there yet, are we? That's especially generational as well. I imagine, as they become more successful and the older they are, these become more of an issue as well, that [00:42:30] the generational perceptions of women in positions of power or leadership are different. That's changing for the better obviously. But it's not just women. I mean, men as well and across all generations and that's why we need to have these open conversations, Larraine, which hopefully today was, and very frank and helpful as well. I'm sure people will be thinking, after listening to this, is that they will want to message you on LinkedIn and say, "Larraine I want to change," rather than let's have that... Let's kind of [00:43:00] help them help themselves a little bit here.

If I'm thinking I'm in this position, firstly, at what point should I be thinking or having this conversation first because maybe I'm not ready yet. Is there a point at which I'm ready to have this conversation with you? Is it the point where I've had enough or is it the point where I'm just having an idea about maybe something different? Is that a good point? And then also when I get to that point, how do I start that conversation? What do I do? Do I send a [00:43:30] CV or do I pick up the phone? What are the best steps? So let's talk about, at what point should I, as a candidate, as somebody who wants to change, start having the conversation.

Know-how to make change

Larraine: [00:43:44]

I would say the number one thing is this person has to believe in self-investment, first and foremost. Self-investment, not just oh, what is the next [00:44:00] Bitcoin to buy, right? Not just which is the next property market to invest in? But investing in yourself because the number one successful trade that I see in all my senior leaders, whether it's the hirers or the candidate, is that they invest a lot in themselves, number one. Number two, they have to realize that they want to change and have the will to change. Because if the will is not there, there's nothing that can be done. [00:44:30] Right? I mean, if you have no will and there's no skill, that's just like, I'm not there for you yet. Right. So you got to have some will, but if you kind of like figure it out, you go back to Skill Will Matrix, right? If you have a high will and no skill, I can help you. If you have a high will and high skill, I can also help you. That's actually when coaching comes in, but if you have no will and no skill, that's something very tricky.

Graham: [00:44:58]

Yeah. Good. That's helpful to know, [00:45:00] that will pre-qualify... I'll scare off a few people, but that's what you want isn't it not everybody values the investment. And we all know this. I mean, especially the older you become, the more you realize, I wish I had invested more in myself when I was younger. Obviously, that's wisdom, isn't it? So that self-investment and understanding that this is part of the journey, not just finding the next job, but the whole process in investing in yourself, managing the perceptions, building your career [00:45:30] by design as well, which you're not doing it for the next year or two. You're doing it for a lifetime effectively. So you are there to help. Where do people reach out to you and what are the best circumstances in which you can help people? So let's talk about where people can find you first, Larraine, where do I go?

Larraine: [00:45:55]

Well, they can find me on LinkedIn, for sure. And then we are launching something big in two weeks, so they can start subscribing to our [00:46:00] insights articles and watch our pre-workshop preparation videos and come to our monthly workshops where the first one is exactly on actually managing your career move by design, not by default. So we are going to talk about differences between let's say, Hong Kong dollars, 1.5 million basic salary, and Hong Kong dollars, 3 million basic salary. What's the difference in that? What's the difference between someone making a Hong Kong dollars, 3 million [00:46:30] technical as subject matter experts and C-suites? What are the differences? What should people be looking for and how should they be prepared? So they can have choices.

Because the key here is choices. They can then also kind of like subscribe to our YouTube channel. We are uploading our new videos. So we've just finished revamping and adding some of the English subtitles to our Cantonese videos. Some of them are in English already. So I'm not worried about [00:47:00] it, but for the Cantonese speaking videos, because we have regional fans who don't speak my language, so I'm adding back the English titles. They can go there. They just need to stay tuned. It's not that difficult to find me, but it's again making that decision of what they actually want out of their life. And are they actually willing to commit?

Graham: [00:47:25]

Yeah. I think if somebody's there, then the best action point for them is to reach out to [00:47:30] you or at least find out what you are doing in terms of workshops and content out there. That's a good... I know you write a lot as well. You put a lot of content out there, the videos as well. Find out a bit more about you and then just reach out, start that process, start that conversation. And you are very generous with your time as well. You're happy to help people, at least point them in the right direction, even if they're not ready yet, or maybe it's not the right time for them yet, or...

Because that process may be a long process for them, right? They may not be wanting to move right here right now, [00:48:00] but they may be on that journey and it may be happening months, maybe even next year. But that process needs to start. So reach out to Larraine and tell her that you heard this conversation as well.

Larraine, really nice speaking to you. Let's give them the website address before you go. We'll put it in the show notes anyway, but for those who are listening only, maybe they want to look you up through that. Do you want to give a shout-out to the website? I know they can find you on LinkedIn obviously, but website as well.

Larraine: [00:48:28]

Sure. [00:48:30] with a hyphen in between Ascension and associates. Simple.

Graham: [00:48:35]

Excellent. Find Larraine Chang on LinkedIn as well. Larraine, very nice speaking to you and very insightful as well. Really interested to hear your thoughts as well about how that market is changing and also what people need to do about themselves. It's great actually, because I think people just kind of get stuck in what has worked for the last 10 years, 20 years. And even though we're very aware of change around us, [00:49:00] actually changing ourselves is probably the hardest part, but today hopefully was a bit of inspiration as well. And hopefully, as you are out there more talking about hiring and talking about leadership and talking about skills and managing those perceptions, people learn a bit more about you as well. So it'd be great to be on that journey with you and sort of discover as you are growing as well, learn a little bit about how you got into this space as well. So I'm sure people are interested in that. So stay tuned for more [00:49:30] from Larraine. Larraine, thank you very much today.

Larraine: [00:49:32]

Sure, Graham, you are the best.

Graham: [00:49:39]

You've been listening to the XL podcast with me, Graham Brown, to subscribe and discover more conversations, go to

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page