• Asia Career Management

The chances of landing a job as an expatriate middle manager in Malaysia

Between 2016-2017 Thomas spent 18 months in a European company, in Malaysia, as Marketing Manager. At 27 years old, he was responsible for implementing a new system to handle various digital marketing campaigns with two local colleagues. After finishing his contract he returned to France, but in late 2020 his company shut down. Instead of looking for another job in France, he decided to strengthen his Asian exposure and started his job search in the region while still based in France. Thomas knew that job market trends in Malaysia, and Asia have always been volatile with localisation of expatriates, for cost cutting, and leadership acceleration for local managers being common trends in most Asian countries.

Factors driving increases in local hires

The Covid 19 epidemic has led to border closures making it more difficult, or even impossible, for some expatriates to enter, or re-enter, Malaysia for work purposes. In January 2021, a new job portal was launched to facilitate job matching based on multiple factors; job title, education level, skills and work experience, professional certifications, salary range, and office location. Anyone, including a foreigner, can submit their application online. However, for any job offer with a monthly salary below 15,000 RM (around USD 3,700), an application from a foreigner will be subject to approval by the Malaysian authorities. The packages of the middle management typically vary from 8,000 up to 15,000 RM. So, what would be the chances of Thomas with his six years of experience of landing a job as Marketing manager leading a new team of five?

Will Malaysian middle managers fill the gaps?

Many Malaysians who were working in Singapore, or other countries, lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and many have already returned to Malaysia. International exposure through overseas work experience, and study, has value addition in many sectors. In many foreign companies in Asia, the middle managers need to demonstrate performance that is holistic and comparable with international benchmarks. Proving competence in strategy and execution is demanded by many employers but planning too much, without executing the plan is one common trait of local managers. Delivering real results is the bottom line, with less time spent on holding meetings and more time on getting the job done. Recognising potential problems, not ignoring them, and meeting budget expectations are also essential. Creating and protecting value creation means building infrastructure, then being good at maintenance and after service. These are some of the areas and soft skills which are still strongly demanded by employers. The current hiring restrictions on foreign expatriates, particularly for middle management roles, will most likely give the opportunity to many local employees to develop new skills and fill the gaps in the years ahead.

The bottom line for foreign middle managers

So Thomas, how can you circumvent these hurdles? Your previous experience in the region became – more than ever – an asset which you can leverage. Your language skills - other than English - your ability to understand the Global Head Quarter’s strategy, will position you as a key team member to reinforce links between the parent company in Europe and the local organisation. Cross-cultural management and project management are essential if you are going to thrive in the current work environment in Malaysia. Roll up your sleeves, Thomas, and search among your network for companies with an immediate need to build a strong bridge between its different structures and its teams. Before your get started Thomas, remember to be clear about your competencies that you will demonstrate in your track record, at interview and on your CV.

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