Candidates call the shots
With Chinese companies increasingly seeking to take their place on the international stage, the search for top management talent has become more intense.
Throughout the 1990s and even into the first half of the century's first decade, senior positions for multinationals were filled by people coming from global headquarters or from senior positions in other parts of the world, says Mick McGeehan, managing director of J.M. Gemini, a staffing solutions company.
As the mainland develops, top talent is more frequently coming from within the country. 'Multinationals have scaled back on expats and are developing home-grown talent in their search for localisation,' says James Darlington, head of Asia for Antal, a human resources solutions provider.
Regardless of nationality, top managers share a few sought-after attributes, according to Michelle Hui, senior manager at KPMG China's executive search and selection unit. Companies look for strong business leadership, people-management skills, cultural sensitivity and the right education and experience.
Two of the most attractive skills, according to McGeehan, are the fluency to report back to international headquarters in English and 'the ability to have presence, to be able to stand up and give a presentation to the board of directors'.
These skills are in such demand that it's a candidate-driven market, with top candidates often fielding multiple job offers. 'Often, it's the candidate demanding whom they want to work for,' McGeehan says.
While money is a factor, that sales pitch extends beyond fiscal remuneration. Benefits such as support for overseas residence applications can be a draw, Hui says. Cars and private medical schemes for the entire family are also seen as appealing perks, McGeehan notes.
In return for more generous benefits, companies are building retention incentives into compensation packages. 'Golden handcuffs with payouts occurring after three years are starting to become more common lower in the organisation,' Darlington says.
New hires are more likely to jump ship far earlier than in the past. The biggest cause of replacement searches for staff who leave or quit
in the probation period is a clash of cultures between a company and a newly hired manager.
Company owners can also chafe when working with high-powered top managers. 'We used an agency to hire a CEO, but the relationship quickly broke down,' says the vice-president of human resources for a mid-sized domestic firm. 'The owner wanted all the ideas to flow from him; it became a question of saving face and maintaining status as the king.'
To find a recruitment agency that will minimise those risks, look for the appropriate licences, ask how they screen candidates and find out what experience they have in your field and city, Darlington says.