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Auction work requires high stamina and knack for entertaining
Published on Thursday, 09 Jun 2011
Illustration: Bay Leung

If you are wondering why you can't find a job opening for auctioneers in Hong Kong, that's because they are employed by auction houses in other positions before they pick up auctioning duties.

Auctioneers sell different kinds of property at public sales. The most common items are jewelleries, watches, wines and art pieces. Sales may be held for businesses or for individuals who approach an auction house to sell their holdings. Others auction off items after a divorce or death in the family. In Hong Kong, May and November are the peak months for auctions.

"To be an auctioneer, the first step is to find a job in an auction house. I am in charge of business development, but when there is an auction, I become an auctioneer," says Elaine Kwok, the business manager at Christie's, an international auction house. "In our company, auctioneers come from different departments. Staff generally need three to four years of experience to receive training.

"The trainer is constantly correcting our mistakes, things like the way we talk and our gestures. I think it is good to start young as it is easier for young people to take criticisms. There is no standard duration for training. You are not ready until the trainer thinks you are. Generally, it takes two to three years," she adds.

In some cases, auctioneers themselves carry items onto the stage and try to get the audience's attention. "Sometimes, the items can be heavy, and you need to be strong enough to hold them. I have to speak dramatically and rapidly to get the audience excited. It is very exhausting to speak like that and sometimes I get sick of hearing my own voice. You have to be attentive and able to multitask as you receive bids from the audience, over the phone and on the internet - all at the same time," Kwok says.

The job is so demanding that auctioneers take turns, especially for long auctions that last six to eight hours. As they become more experienced, auctioneers are assigned to handle more valuable items, such as antique ceramics or porcelain.

Auctioneers do not get paid a commission but receive a generous bonus if a merchandise is sold at a high price. They work on weekends when most auctions take place. Wong Yat-hei


Auctioneer's checklist  

  • Public speaking skills
  • Talent for entertaining
  • Organisational skills