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Team Spotlight: Denise Tan Smith – C.O.I.’s APAC Business Partner

Denise Tan Smith, C.O.I’s APAC Business Partner, was born and raised in Singapore and educated in Australia and the US. Denise commenced her career in communications & public relations before developing a passion for talent management and recruiting. Denise pursued her MBA and joined C.O.I. in 2012. Consistently a top performer, Denise is C.O.I’s specialist in executive recruitment for the Asia Pacific region.

Q: What attracted you to public relations, and how did that lead to a career in executive recruitment?

A: Public relations was a very hot topic during my years at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). I found the case studies extremely interesting – in particular the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Prince William Sound in Canada. It showed how important communication was during a crisis. When senior management shy away from the public and refuse to comment or address the issue, it has tremendous implications on the company and its future. Executive recruitment is very similar to public relations. I enjoy engaging and learning from people. And it’s always very satisfying when you are able to place someone in a role where they can develop and add value.

Q: What challenges have you faced in moving across the globe and what tips would you give people who are planning to live and work in a different country and culture?

A: My biggest challenge is being away from my family and close friends. Although I return to Singapore often in my role here at C.O.I., it is very difficult when I leave Singapore and come back to the U.S. I would advise anyone who is moving to weigh the pros and cons. If it’s for a job, it’s only temporary. But if it’s for personal reasons, make sure you have the support of your family and a good network you can rely on.

Q: What piece of career advice did you receive early in your professional life that has impacted you the most and why?

A: Early on, the best career advice I have been given is keep pushing forward no matter what set backs you face. At the end of the day, you will have no regrets because you gave it your best. There will be no “what ifs”.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about global recruitment and what drives you?

A: Learning about people’s background, career development, experience and what pushes them to succeed drives me. You can learn a lot from such a conversation. You can also learn to hone in on certain skills sets to develop yourself professionally. I learned how to slow down when I speak, pause and pace myself in my early days as a recruiter. It is easy to tell someone how to do it, but in practice, it’s a lot harder.

Q: What are the main differences in culture that affect how you approach recruitment in the Asia Pacific region?

A: In Asia, respect for your elders is very important. If I am meeting with someone older than myself, I always show him that respect. It is always important to listen to what is not being said. Asians are not as direct as Westerners. You have to be able to pick up on cues such as very mild excuses – most of the time, the other party has already made up his or her mind but does not want to come across as rude by turning down a request. Relationships are not built overnight. It takes time and commitment. Trust is very important.

Q: Could you share an experience during your recruiting career that made a big impression on you, and why?

During an interview, after the first 15 minutes, both the candidate and I concluded that the position was not the best fit for her. As I was about to wrap the conversation up, we started talking about how she had moved from China to Switzerland and how much she missed her family, etc. I shared my experience with her and we went on to speak for another hour. We connected at a personal level, discussed how we had to assimilate into a very different culture, work in a different environment with varying work styles and had to push forward in spite of obstacles. She shared some names of her colleagues who might be interested in the role. Although she wasn’t a good fit for the position, we established a great connection and left the door open for future opportunities or collaboration. There will always be potential opportunities on the horizon, even if they are not ones you expected or predicted.