‘We Started in Small Office with Big Ambition’: ANSA Search Founders Share the Story Behind the Award-Winning Headhunting Firm

September 28, 20213:30 pm2758 views

Who knows sisterhood can be a strong business foundation? With patience and perseverance, what began as a casual food court conversations can actually turned into an actual enterprise journey. Today, HR in Asia gets a chance to meet Lee Shulin and Helen Ng, Founders of ANSA Search and get inspired from their success story. Read on..

  • Question: Hi Helen and Shulin, thank your for your time. Firstly, could you please elaborate on the highlights and challenges of building your headhunting firm?

Answer: When we first started in March 2016, Shulin and I had a very simple agenda – to focus and do good work. We started in a small-serviced office with no windows, two desks and a big ambition. Whilst we had a head full of big dreams, our initial strategy was to just focus on Legal and Compliance recruitment and stay small i.e. just the 2 co-founders.

To say the first year was intense, is an understatement because many were not keen to work with a local new start-up even though we had worked with them for many years before. We initially faced issues attracting suitable talent to grow, as understandably, most prefer to join established firms. Over the years, both Shulin and I had invested time and continuously create a culture of trust, engagement, and a high level of integrity. Now that we have a stronger brand presence in the market, we have had less of an issue in recruiting.

This year is Ansa’s 5th year milestone! Our vision and strategy have evolved considerably, and we now have an office with 10 headcounts and growing! We are very thankful to have just moved into a much bigger office, with an amazing view of the Marina Bay Sands.

As the Co-founders, both Shulin and I are female founders of a domestic and home-grown Recruitment Specialist Agency; this has become a strong Unique Selling Point (“USP”) and a competitive advantage for Ansa. We bring a different perspective to the table as a female-led firm, we are uniquely placed to assist clients, who prioritize achieving diversity in their hiring of Legal and Compliance talent.

  • Question: What are key challenges you’ve faced during your tenure as a recruiter when headhunting for legal, compliance and risk roles?

Answer: In the specialist recruitment model, there is always a severe lack of candidates with the requisite experience in the market. It is a candidate’s market, as such, there is a need to be more than just a recruiter. We work by giving consultation and insights to our clients about the market, all while managing their expectations.

There has been an increase in work and business growth, and the demand for talent has outstripped supply over the years. We need to invest more time in managing a complex process as it is common for a candidate to have 2 or 3 offers on hand at the same time. The talent shortage within the industry is that many solicitors and compliance professions become overworked and suffer burnt-out in their jobs. This often results in them looking for other opportunities and seeking a sustainable work/life balance. It is getting harder to find candidates with longer career traction.

With the skills shortage and employers wanting to avoid time and cost in backfilling, candidates are often enticed to accept counteroffers in the form of salary raises and promises of promotion. This has resulted in frustration and the recruitment process becoming protracted. Even if the candidate did not accept a counteroffer, we spend more time following up on the process every other week to ensure that he/she will join the firm at the end of the notice period.

  • Question: In line with previous questions, what are the effective solutions you’ve adopted?

Answer: As a boutique specialist search firm, we are very flexible and nimble in our approach – whether the client requires the talent market to be mapped, due diligence to be conducted before shortlisting candidates for interviews and/or doing an exclusive contingent or retained arrangement. We have consistently made it a point to accommodate our clients’ needs.

We leverage off our consultants’ successful track record in the market, as well as the efforts of building Ansa’s brand name through social media over the last 5 years. It goes without saying that candidates were attracted to our platform due to strong relationships built with clients as we have managed to win highly coveted panel relationships with Banks and Multinationals. With a deep connection and outreach to candidates’ network, we can provide faster and better outcomes for our clients. The key driver behind this was to ensure our clients are well serviced.

To ensure all expectations are met, we encourage all our consultants to take a proactive approach in the process. This means to be comfortable being the messenger of both good and bad news. The clients must be clued in on what needs to be rectified to ensure a smooth and efficient recruitment process.

Our cutting-edge “On-the-Go” recruitment platform, helps facilitate quick response to clients and candidates on the go, and enables our consultants to record information in a timely and fuss-free manner and to ensure candidates are coded accurately and in a much more creative manner.

  • Question: As an experienced leader, can you tell if a candidate is good or bad right away? Are there any specific criteria to measure their quality?

Answer: As experienced leaders, we often can spot the red flags right away. We are trained to have a sharp eye to size up a candidate fairly quickly. More often than not, we place soft skills above technical knowledge. In finding the right talent for our client, the culture fit is the most crucial piece of the puzzle. A candidate who shows up late for an appointment, without a valid mitigating reason or apologies, is disrespectful. Or worse, disparages their former or current employers, or continues to remain evasive in their answers.

We can connect with a good candidate instantaneously. The candidate speaks well and exudes an air of confidence. We can sense their enthusiasm in their body language and excitement in the voice.  This individual is knowledgeable of the Legal or Compliance discipline he/she is in, demonstrates accountability for their action and takes pride in the work assigned. We recognize that everyone has some flaws and there is no perfect candidate for every role. A good candidate is someone comfortable is sharing his/her areas of weakness or gaps in the position.

  • Question: How does the Covid-19 crisis affect the employment rate in the legal, compliance and risk industry? If the rate is low, how will the industry bounce back?

Answer: The global pandemic placed a temporary dampener on recruitment activities in the first seven to eight months of 2020. Offers were withdrawn, headcounts were frozen and candidates were generally spooked and preferred to stay put in their jobs. Towards the end of Q3 in 2020, we suddenly saw a huge uptick in recruitment activity. And this carried on toward Q1 and Q2 of 2021 – where we have been seeing an unprecedented and perhaps pent-up demand of Legal and Compliance talent.

For Legal and Compliance, we are seeing recruitment across all industries. Particularly, for FinTech, Funds, Private Wealth, as well as Law, Professional and Consultancy firms.

The recruitment sector is busy – there’s a hangover from last year – and as such many companies and law firms are now playing “catch up” and looking to hire to replace people who have left and/or for expansion plans.

  • Question: The business environment is constantly changing, and the role of the risk manager is predicted to rise and evolve. How do you deal with these changing issues?

Answer: With evolving technological advancement, the risk manager would need to be technology-savvy to cope with new business risk models and risk management techniques. There is a growing demand for employers to look at hiring technology-savvy risk talent as companies embark on the digital transformation journey. Given this new development, there remains a small pool of locally-based talent with this skillset. As of now, employers are looking at hiring within the domestic market or looking at returning Singaporeans. However, there might come a time when companies would need to look at hiring foreign talent if they could not find local talent with the skillset. 

  • Question: How does Ansa Search help ameliorate the challenge in the legal, compliance, and risk management industry?

Answer: Ansa Search is a home-grown Legal and Compliance specialized recruitment firm and we are committed to a long-term presence in the Singapore market. As market leaders in the recruitment industry, we provide bespoke and discrete recruitment solutions to employers looking for Legal and Compliance talent in a candidate-short market – which can prove arduous for them. We possess deep sector expertise and with an established candidate network, we have access to talent with niche skillset and would know where the best talent can be located. This could help to avoid a bad hire and save time in the recruitment cycle resulting in cost savings, particularly for hard-to-fill roles.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has taken over big chunks of the recruitment job. Whatever does not require much thought such as the scheduling of interviews, sourcing for resumes using keywords or, doing the first round of screening will and has already been automated by many companies.

At Ansa, we can help to make a real difference and continue to thrive is to bring value something else we can bring to the table, that AI cannot replicate. As deep specialists, we know the pain point of employers’ hiring needs. What we can do is to bring the top candidates with the right culture fit to the table – to interest them in a particular role, inform and educate about the market. We pride ourselves on being able to navigate nuanced situations, provided market trends, salary survey and bring quality candidates to the table – and these are skills which AI is unable to replicate.


Lee Shulin is an Executive Search Consultant, with a speciality in Legal Recruitment. 10 years ago, she made a career switch to the HR industry, after leaving her first job as a lawyer with Allen & Gledhill. Presently, she’s one of the co-founders of ANSA Search – a specialist Search firm. She devotes most of her time to helping her clients (ranging from MNCs, Corporates, Banks, Law Firms and Start-ups) in their talent acquisition strategies and providing advice on how they can best retain their top talent.

When Shulin’s not helping her clients, she speaks at universities, schools and volunteers with associations which are dedicated to the development of the next generation of professionals.

Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Helen Ng is a veteran specialist recruiter with 15 years of recruitment experience. She has carved a niche in advising senior placements up to C-Suite, notably with a strong focus in Compliance and Control discipline. Leveraging on her strong placement track record and deep understanding of the markets she specialises in, Helen is reputed as a trusted recruitment adviser. She enjoys meeting people to build meaningful relationships and valuable connections in the professional circle.

For leisure, Helen enjoys cycling, nature walks and spending time with family.

Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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