For the past five years or so, headhunters have been calling me quite regularly.
Typically, they begin by introducing themselves and their search firm. They then ask if this is a convenient time to talk (they know that you might be in your office area with your boss or colleagues nearby).
If convenient, they say that they have an interesting job opportunity and could they please have a minute to tell you about it.
Next comes a quick rundown on the JD ("job description") - the role, the responsibilities, the required experience, the reporting line and so on.
At this stage, they won't reveal their client's name, but they will give a general description - for example, "one of the biggest UK banks" - which, coupled with the JD, is often enough for you to make a good guess.
If you say you're not interested, they'll ask you why. If your reason is not particularly compelling, they'll persuade you to reconsider.
If your reason is compelling, and furthermore conveyed in a firm, no-nonsense tone, they will say,''Okay, fine then. But do you happen to know anyone else who might be suitable for the role?".
Here you have a choice. Either you can curtly say, 'No, I do not' and hang up, or you can try to be helpful. I always opt to be helpful. If I know of people whom I think could be suitable and interested, I pass their names on to the headhunter.
It is a good idea to be nice to headhunters, because you never know when you might want or need their help in finding a new job.
Just last Friday I had lunch with a headhunter. We have lunch every few months or so.
We have known each other from uni days, so we are also old friends. However, I shall be frank - if I were not currently in the banking sector, and he were not currently a banking headhunter, we would not have bothered to keep in touch with each other.
As usual, our lunchtime conversation was mostly me telling him what I know about who works where now doing what kind of work, and him telling me which kind of banks are interested in hiring what kind of people in the foreseeable future.
It is important for me to get regular updates on such market conditions. If there are really significantly superior opportunities elsewhere, it would be foolish not to try for them.
By "superior opportunities", I don't mean just money (although that is definitely very important) but the total package of all relevant factors. For example, these factors would include the opportunity to learn new skills, join a top brand name, move up the management ladder, join a place with better working culture, and so on.
Contrary to what Minister Lim Swee Say recently said, job-hopping is neither necessarily greedy nor necessarily short-sighted. In fact, it is the far-sighted people who would regularly review their career plans, options and strategies.
Many parts of the banking industry have done very well in the past few years. However, some parts of the banking industry have been doing very badly in the past few months. That's all thanks to the US subprime crisis, and the spillover effects.
As a result, a significant number of very high-flying banking professionals overseas have suddenly lost their jobs. They include no less than Chuck Prince and Stan O'Neal, the now ex-Chief Executives of Citigroup and Merrill Lynch respectively.
And of course, many others lower down the food chain.
So the question is how long the subprime crisis will last; how bad the spillover effects will be; and how severely Asia will be affected.
And whether, say, sometime in 2008, banking professionals in Singapore specialising in certain types of banking work (CDOs; structured finance; credit derivatives; debt capital markets; perhaps even IPO work) will also start losing their jobs or suffering drastic pay cuts.
Of course I hope the answer is no, but at this point in time, well, who can say for sure. So I'm looking ahead, getting news from my headhunter friend, finding out the trends in the banks' hiring plans for 2008.
If I suddenly have to move, at least I have a few backup ideas and I have got some sense of which areas still have demand and where I can quickly try to move to. In other words, I won't be caught off-guard and wrong-footed.