Are you prepared for China’s white-hot job market?

China is not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Competition is rife, but for a well prepared professional with patience, it is still the place to be for opportunity and excitement.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 March, 2013, 10:23am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 March, 2013, 10:23am

China’s corporate job market has never been so attractive and yet so competitive.

Boosted by steady economic growth in the country and across the region, many multinational companies are starting or dramatically increasing their operations here. Despite health concerns arising from pollution and food safety issues, foreign nationals are still transferring into China. Meanwhile, better education and international company exposure have also made the local workforce much more competitive. This perfect storm now poses a tough question to job seekers in 2013: how do you stand out  among this fierce international competition?

To those based outside China, this could be quite a surprising read. It is common knowledge that there are plenty of jobs across many industries in China. However, recent graduates might be shocked to learn that companies just aren’t interesting in education anymore: they are looking for real practical experiences. Below are some factors working against different types of job-hunters:

-- The number of Chinese graduates with rich internship experiences is traditionally low compared to the West. Multinationals also find many local graduates not “international” enough for them, or their language and communication skills not up to standard.

-- On the other hand, the sheer volume of Chinese graduates returning home with shiny diplomas from prestigious foreign universities has unfortunately diluted the value of, even created a slight distrust in, such degrees. State media have reported that nearly half of all Chinese returnees earn no higher than 5,000 yuan (HK$6,000) a month.

-- Finally, foreigners job-hunting in China can be considered expensive and potentially unstable, merely looking for another two to three years of employment in China while maintaining their expat benefits. Companies are also looking to reduce the number of foreign senior managers and replace them with local professionals to localise their business, so the smaller number of roles open with this expat capacity is fiercely contested.

Recruitment companies themselves are actually an excellent barometer for the local recruitment market. These companies, such as Antal International where I work, tend to focus on hiring their own staff based around their clients’ needs. If we are to work with a client, it makes sense that the consultants would be familiar with that industry and company style. At the moment, we will hire local professionals with international experience, good English-language skills and with strong technical understanding of an industry. This is because the majority of positions clients ask us to assist with require those skills too.

When a job market is aggressive and competitive like China, it is more important to stand out from the crowd. Here are some ways job seekers can ensure that:

For a recent graduate, the best way to get into the largest firms is via internships. They offer very little risk to a company, and a young professional can get to know an industry by actively participating in company projects. Even if that training does not result in a full-time employment opportunity, other companies will be more impressed for future opportunities. Also the level of risk is diminished for companies with someone who has working experience.

For the more seasoned professional, it is incredibly important to research the market, to check – for example, on websites like LinkedIn or – which job titles are in demand in the industry, and what are the requirements of a job description. Gone are the days when a sales manager of a competitor company could simply walk into another role in the same industry and be hired.

As the market matures, more strategy and more prudence are required. Look at today’s job interviews – they are much longer and stricter than a few years back. A candidate has to stand out by using previous experiences of management, difficult situation resolution and tenure to look like a valuable addition to a team.

In short, China is not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Competition is rife, but for a well prepared professional with patience, it is still the place to be for opportunity and excitement.

The author is a partner at recruitment firm Antal International (China)