Hiring in China – Opportunities in the Asia-Pacific Region


For this article, I interviewed two executives from HR Partners, Monicca Yan, CEO and Senior Consulting Director Asia Pacific, and KT Goh, Managing Director for China.  HR Partners is an established executive search company primarily focusing on Asia Pacific, and is the premier partner for the IRC network.  They conduct exclusively retained searches in various industries including industrials, electronics, healthcare, chemicals, supply chain and FMCG/services, and maintain offices in key Asian cities including Singapore (headquarters), Shanghai (China), Hong Kong and Taipei (Taiwan).

Question:  What kinds of positions and people does your company specialize in matching?

Answer:  Generally, as we only do retained searches, most of our clients hire us for Senior Manager, Director and General Manager-level assignments. We also help our clients with niche or specialty jobs where a standard search may not yield results as a more strategic and creative approach may be required.

Often times we engage with our clients as they enter into the high growth Asia Pacific markets (where they may not have any presence or are just starting to build up serious growth centers).

Question:  What sorts of positions are currently available in China?

Answer:  China is obviously a high growth area and attracts all manners of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), so virtually all major companies in any industry are present. In this respect, you will expect vacancies in almost all functions and industries.

Question:  For what type of individual are you looking?  Are there specific skills, or personality characteristics, that make a potential  employee more valuable?

Answer:  In China and probably for all high growth areas in Asia Pacific (arguably similar to anywhere else globally), we look for candidates who have a proven track record of growing businesses profitably, understanding the local markets and their peculiarities / customs, improving operational efficiencies and effectiveness, reducing costs including supply chain and world class purchasing, supporting good HR practices to enable talent growth and replenishment and good governance (Finance, Legal, Compliance, Risk etc).

Also very important, we look for candidates that have superior leadership skills, autonomous in their dealings, able to communicate and present effectively (including in local languages, example Mandarin in China), and possess generally good energy to simply make things happen. In senior positions, of course some trade-offs are considered such as lack of local language capability vs. proven track record of growing business in new countries.

Candidates should also understand very quickly that what could have worked in developed countries may only attain limited success in developing countries, so the ability to marry best practices elsewhere should complement understanding of new market conditions.

For example, a simple suggestion would be for the new global generation to learn Mandarin. These additional skills, in addition of  English would already accord the incumbent a very powerful advantage in the coming years.

Question:  Are jobs primarily for Chinese expatriates returning to  China, or are there possibilities for US citizens?

The possibilities are numerous for various types of candidates. It is not a given that a returning Chinese expatriate is more effective if  they could not adapt to their original countries (simply because they have been away far too long), they carry a larger baggage as they would be viewed even more severely than say an American who has no prior knowledge of the new country, as the former category could be viewed as someone who has ‘lost their roots’. The latter are most often times, ‘forgiven’.

Question:  How would someone in the US find out about these jobs? Should they approach a recruiting firm like yours and indicate their interest in moving overseas?

Answer:  There is no one good and only method. We can offer some suggestions:

1) Do research and approach a few known headhunters, call them and have a discussion if possible. And for those the candidates trust [areas of interest match, they respect confidentiality, no fees to candidates, etc.], they can send their resumes.

2) Note that for retained search, the resume may sit in database until a suitable opportunity arises. The headhunter may call for a cursory understanding of the candidates but this obviously differs from one company to another.

3) Approach country Chamber of Commerce or groupings in the country they wish to look for the next career opportunity like AmCham.

4) Have a  clear career search strategy: identify which industries, which companies and study them and their career websites. Call the HR folks or drop resumes into company websites.

In short, be proactive.  A retained headhunter is useful as they will interview the candidate and would already have done their assessment.

Question:  Is there anything candidates can/should do to make themselves more attractive for these types of positions?

Answer:  Depending on the position that is being applied for, the resume may have to be modified to highlight relevant experience, key achievements and very importantly, how these achievements were gotten and could they be repeated in a new company, new environment, new industry etc ….

Question:  Do you see mainly permanent positions in China, or do candidates work  there for a few years and then return to their home country?

Answer:  For non-Mandarin speaking candidates, it would be highly likely that the position will be replaced by a local, unless there is  some very specific or niche talent and experience. Cost is also a  factor if they expect or are on expatriate package. As in everything else, work experience, relevance and specialty will determine negotiations on how ‘permanent’ a job will be.

Question:  What trends do you see for the future of employment within China, and in the chemistry market overall?

Answer:  China today is probably at only the start of the first wave of their “Industrialization Era” as US and Europe experienced many tens of years ago. This, coupled with a local culture that prizes education and excellence, should stand China in good stead for many years to come, assuming that the political and social environment remains stable. China is also a vast market with 1st tier cities extending to 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th tier cities that could be developed from labor and land standpoint to maintain their competitiveness. These factors are not always available to other countries. So the future is very bright indeed for China.

And as China grows, so will the rest of Asia Pacific and the world as the economies are increasingly inter-dependent, as much as currently Asia Pacific depends so heavily on USA, Europe and Japan today.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2007).

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