Is Hong Kong's job market now a "buyer's market" or a "seller's market"?
Most people would answer by complaining about how hard it is to find a good job in the city. But once you speak to human resources experts, you find the reality may not be so simple.
In financial services, one of the city's most important sectors, 95 per cent of employers say it is still challenging to find skilled professionals, a new survey has found.
How challenging? At least 6 percentage points more than the global average, the survey by global human resources consultancy Robert Half shows.
"Competition for the industry's top talent has intensified, particularly risk and compliance professionals, who continue to be in high demand as companies navigate unprecedented regulatory shifts locally and globally while growing their core business," said Pallavi Anand, director for Robert Half in Hong Kong.
Not just hiring but also keeping your best-performing employees is tough. In Hong Kong, 93 per cent of financial institutions that responded to the survey said they were concerned about losing their top performers. This figure is 10 percentage points higher than the global average.
It's no surprise to experienced hirers and good performers who know their market value and how to get it to appreciate further.
Some global banks, when hiring senior executives from rival firms, will make the candidates pledges such as a guarantee of one or two years' salary in case they are laid off within that period. Also seen are guaranteed annual bonus amounts no matter how good or bad the market environment is.
You may argue that the findings mentioned above apply only to experienced professionals. What about fresh graduates?
At about the same time, the University of Hong Kong issued a report about the job market for last year's graduates. It said the average salary of HKU graduates rose 6.8 per cent to HK$19,598 from 2011 and that 99.7 per cent of the graduates found jobs.
The sectors with the biggest increases in salaries included insurance (14.6 per cent), trading, marketing and retail (9.1 per cent) and construction (8 per cent). Salaries also rose for professional services: quantity surveying (9.4 per cent), architecture (4.3 per cent) and law (3.2 per cent).
Industry watchers said privately that the reason some students and fresh graduates still complain online about the job market in Hong Kong is that they have higher salary expectations than what employers feel comfortable offering to people with little work experience.
Earning about HK$20,000 a month won't allow you to buy a nice apartment any time soon, but the money may be more than enough for young people to take care of themselves on the first step of their career path.
Behind the two surveys - one about experienced professionals and the other about fresh graduates - is one truth that applies to all: when you enter the job market, it's more about how good you are than how good the job opportunities are. If you are better than your hirers expect, you can always find a nice job in any market, good or bad.
That's what competition means.
George Chen is the Post's financial services editor. Mr. Shangkong appears every Monday in the print version of the SCMP. Like it? Visit facebook.com/mrshangkong