TO HEAR LAWRENCE Wang tell it, headhunters can see them coming: a long line of candidates who claim in their e-mail and cover letters to have a deep desire to live and work in China but who have no understanding of the country. Many do have top qualifications, at least on paper, but these are not always what they seem. 'It is those folks you have to watch out for,' said Mr Wang, managing director of Wang and Li Asia Resources, a headhunting firm with offices in Beijing and Shanghai. 'They can have expectations entirely out of line with reality. In today's market, no one is begging people to come to China. It is not seen as a hardship posting any longer.' Mr Wang and his colleagues are cautious about working with candidates who have no clear sense of what is required to succeed. They meet individuals who expect to move to China and have a big house, two cars and the same amenities they have back in California or Canada. In most cases that is just not possible. 'When we hear benefit requests like that, which specify the kind of house they want, it only reduces their desirability as potential managers or employees,' he said. 'It turns our clients off because multinational companies operating in China do not want to get involved in such complexities.' In fact, most high-end compensation packages now offer a lump sum for housing and associated needs. Appointees can then decide on their own accommodation, whether a modest rental apartment downtown or a luxurious villa on the outskirts of the city. 'The more complicated a candidate makes it, the more difficult it is even to attract the interest of a potential employer,' said Mr Wang, who has been in the industry for 11 years. Once they have a brief outline of someone's requirements, Mr Wang's team of consultants can quickly gauge a prospect's working knowledge of China. A few simple questions about overall expectations can reveal a great deal. 'You can get a sense of where they may be on the learning curve or just how green they really are,' he said. He added that a good headhunter still had to spend a lot of time explaining to candidates that China was a unique environment for developing a professional career. If the realities of the situation ended up discouraging some people, so be it, he said. With China's ongoing reforms, especially in the banking and financial sector and industries most affected by accession to the WTO, up-to-date expertise is essential. However, managers also need the energy and perseverance to see projects through to completion. 'People should understand how hands-on and entrepreneurial you must be to get things done here,' Mr Wang said. 'You cannot just delegate and assume things will take care of themselves. You have got to educate, engage and supervise closely, otherwise work may not get done.' He stressed that, unless incoming executives were ready to take this approach, they would fail to meet their targets. Irene Ho, human resources principal for KPMG in Hong Kong, noted that flexibility was a key factor for success in the area of finance. 'You have got to be able to turn on your heels,' Ms Ho said. 'Markets are changing so quickly that there is also a great need for resilience.' Whether working as a qualified accountant or as a professional in insurance or banking, individuals must have a great sense of integrity and be particularly good at adapting, said Ms Ho, who has been recruiting for KPMG for the past decade. According to Mr Wang, a key part of fitting into a new role in China is being able to communicate well and understand diversity. Various studies have shown that people who arrive poorly prepared and do not adjust to Chinese ways will experience high levels of frustration. What has been envisaged as an adventure and a life-altering challenge can easily turn into disappointment and failure. As the author of two books on the unique human resource needs of the mainland market, Mr Wang has broken down the essentials of success into a handful of key attributes: high professional calibre, bilingual skills, international orientation, realistic expectations and a track record of getting results in China. Newly minted MBA graduates have to make some difficult personal adjustments. Fresh from two-year programmes in which they have analysed case studies, they arrive with all guns blazing, believing that they can change the world. 'They soon find out that the ability to provide analysis and strategic thinking is fine, but international companies in China still require very hands-on managers,' Mr Wang said. As a result, most firms were looking for recruits who could adjust to a steep learning curve or, preferably, already had some experience getting results in China. Get realistic Professionals moving to China should have realistic expectations. Remuneration packages are unlikely to include hardship allowances. Candidates are attracted by the chance to gain experience in a fast-paced market. Employers especially need staff who are bilingual and have a good track record in China.