City Beat

Hong Kong companies adopt Shenzhen interview tactic

It may be to check if a job applicant is on a mainland blacklist for political reasons

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 December, 2015, 12:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 March, 2016, 12:58pm

If you are a fresh graduate looking for a job, are you willing to cross the border for an interview first if the company, like many others in Hong Kong, has a business arm on the mainland?

Recently, I was invited to a lunch by a university president together with other media representatives, and he told us an interesting story. Many Hong Kong companies have lately adopted a new hiring rule: fresh graduates need to go to Shenzhen first to see their human resources people.

Some of us concluded that it must be a way for employers to test the willingness of locals to work on the mainland, as surveys over the years have shown a lack of interest among the city's youth to leave Hong Kong for career development. But the president gave us a very interesting answer: it's more than that; it has another specific purpose - to see if any applicant will be banned from crossing the border!

We were all wowed by this example of killing two birds with one stone. But we also realised that such an idea in fact serves two purposes for the employers: it helps to eliminate job seekers who are not interested in working on the mainland and it can help to find out who is "blacklisted" by Beijing so as to avoid possible future problems for the company.

After last year's 79-day Occupy protests, besides major student leaders, certain second- or third-tier activists have also been barred from crossing the border. But what many people are not aware of is the ban has reminded certain employers to set a new hiring condition.

The university president, who preferred not to be named, said he therefore felt obliged to remind students to bear in mind possible consequences in their future development due to their political stand or participation in protests at a time when society, including campuses, are getting more politicised.

The president acknowledged that there were students who considered it more important to stick to what they strongly believed in. Whether that would scare away future employers was not their major concern, he said. "I then tell them to go ahead and chase your dreams if you don't mind the possible consequences, but be well prepared to pay a price."

Fair enough - any gain comes with a price; the willingness to pay this depends on one's values and judgment. We then asked the president if any of his students had ever had this type of cross-border interview experience, or been denied entry. Interestingly, he said so far no such case had been reported.

The introduction of this "Shenzhen interview" model says a lot - in Hong Kong today, companies of many kinds do China-related business in one way or another, and would seem unlikely to welcome applicants who have no interest in the mainland or are too enthusiastic about politics.

But Beijing's ban also reveals the dilemma it faces in dealing with the city's younger generation because it is a double-edged sword: while it can very well isolate the few who are very critical of Beijing, it may also drive their sympathetic peers to the opposition side.

There is a saying that a 20-year-old will do what a 20-year-old likes to do, then do what a 50-year-old does upon turning 50. How Hong Kong's young people will shape their future is a big issue of concern to all. Maybe only time can tell what our young people will be, but a travel ban is unlikely to be the solution.