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Recruitipedia: Insights into recruitment in China

Welcome to the first issue of Recruitipedia: ExecutiveSurf’s occasional review of the talent landscape around the world. This month, we will feature China. China is old news when it comes to macro-economic expansion. Tales of impending potentially catastrophic, sub 7% GDP growth figures have been circulating for a while too – although so far, this has been averted. Not bad for a country that continues to drive through the most ambitious business transformation program in human history. What remains in a state of great flux is the war for talent there. What does it all mean from an HR perspective? You will find Recruitipedia of interest if you are hiring talent in China, checking out demand for your expertise in the Chinese recruitment market, or if you are simply interested in better understanding the talent market there.

China’s rapid economic growth has resulted in an increasingly individualistic society. Traditional values are still at the core of Chinese culture, but personal ambition and aspirations are starting to affect behaviour, particularly among the younger generations. This means foreign companies can face difficulties recruiting and retaining staff in the country.

It is becoming the norm for Chinese employees to change jobs every year or two. Younger Chinese are increasingly competitive and are looking for consistent career progression in the global market and so they embrace headhunters and the chance to field a better offer. It is true that talent is readily available, with the right contacts, but it remains a real challenge for employers to retain that talent.


Economy of a powerhouse

Salaries in China are becoming more competitive and in the major cities they are approaching levels of most western countries, where they are generally steady, if not stagnating.

Chinese economic reform in 1978 resulted in hugely improved educational standards, leading to a great disparity in knowledge and capabilities between the young and old, especially with regards to competency levels in English. This means that managerial and higher positions are increasingly held by young professionals and many company directors are in their early 30s.

Employers seeking talent for key positions might want to look for passively available ones, who are highly capable and not threatened by the idea of retrenchment. Active job seekers may have been retrenched because of performance-related issues and so professional recruiters should try to source and recruit quality candidates from other companies.

There still exist huge disparities in English competency levels and candidates strong at English can easily command premium salaries, because they are in demand from multi-nationals.


Cultural diferences

Face-to-face meetings may seem obvious, but we recommend not depending solely on phone interviews when hiring even the more junior roles, as it has been known for a stand-in to be used. We also recommend not negotiating directly with candidates if you are unfamiliar with their culture – use an intermediary. Differences in expression can lead to miscommunications, so salaries and other sensitive issues should be conducted via those experienced in local culture.  They also recommend keeping in touch with selected candidates, as Chinese workers have a strong desire to succeed in the global economy and it is not unusual for them to continue searching for another job, after having already accepted one.

It may not sound politically correct, but there are first, second and third tier cities in China and if your office is located in a 2nd or 3rd tier city, it is best to hire from the vicinity. Foreign SMEs have found they prefer candidates from 1st tier cities, but such candidates often find it difficult to adapt to the lower standard of living in the lower tiered cities, leading to higher turnover rates.

They also recommend placing greater emphasis on core competencies in 2nd and 3rd tier cities, as it may be hard to find candidates with the relevant English skills and these competencies. It is possible to hire English majors and train them in the necessary skills, or hire, based on the key competencies and leave the linguistic requirements to a specialised role within the company.

Employers are advised to engage the services of professional recruiters when looking to fill important positions; they can help ensure the timely arrival of suitable candidates who committed to pursue the opportunity.

Probably the key factor between a professional and an amateur lies in the methodology adopted in their search for candidates. Professional recruiters control the whole process, understand their clients’ needs and can identify the best candidates in the shortest period of time. Amateurs, however, tend to rely on the quality of the CVs they receive and probably find unfamiliar industries tricky to deal with.



Effective recruiters require a set of good soft-skills. A recruiter’s network is obviously important, as this will dictate the range of coverage in an executive search service. Not that a wider search is always better, as greater coverage may compromise an in-depth knowledge of a specific labour market, so the suitability of a recruiter’s network depends on the job requirements and where the best candidates can be found.

The best candidates may well be passively-available, rather than being actively engaged in job-hunting, meaning they are currently employed and will probably need quite some persuasion to leave an established role. A recruiter’s ability to inspire a candidate to explore new opportunities and the way an offer is positioned in terms of career development are important last steps in the process. It is important to use a capable recruiter to avoid mismatches that waste the time of everyone involved.

According to SocialBakers, In 2013 there were 4 million Linkedin users in China, which represents 0,29% of the population and 0.81% of the online population. Facebook only has 515,380 registered users due to censorship by the government, evidence, if it were needed, that China requires different channels and a different approach.

Maximum is an employer branding and recruitment advertising agency and has recently published a survey of HR professionals in China, to research attitudes and practices to social recruiting and employer branding in the region.

The executive summary says: “The research revealed that 51% of the survey participants have been using social networking sites for employer branding and recruitment since 2010. While Qzone appears to be the largest online SNS in China, Renren and micro-blog Sina Weibo are, in fact, the most utilised SNS for employer branding and recruitment purposes at the moment. The majority of HR professionals see social networks as the most important channel to invest in for employer branding and recruitment purposes in the near future, whereas print media and mobile marketing are being considered as the least important channels to invest in.”

China is an extremely important player in the world market, knowing the key differences can be crucial in approaching the market. Insight into the Chinese business environment is essential to a new business venture. Your knowledge will be your differentiating strength in working in China.

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