Learning about recruitment in China and the Chinese labour market

Simon Raeside, Employer and Alumni Engagement Adviser, recently visited China to learn more about the Chinese labour market.

If I’d returned to China after a couple of weeks absence, a few new buildings would have sprung up roundabout. But Edinburgh was easily recognisable, even down to the sleet that greets and the dusting of freeze on the street.

I know China is big, but it’s difficult to appreciate how big without jostling your wChina street scene at nightay through it for a few days, and even then only a fraction within a fraction. Guangzhou and Shenzhen are two massive cities that could almost be missed within the largest conurbation on earth that is the Pearl River Delta (or PRD to those in the know) and home to around 60 million people.

I spent a week here, meeting Chinese companies and sharing and learning with HR and careers professionals to better understand the labour market and how we can support Chinese overseas students more effectively.

Never mind the careers fair, employer visits or conference; simply China skyline at nightgetting around was an education. Feeling both outside it all, an observer, witness to the immensity of sheer effort that’s enabled the scale and pace of progress, as well as being utterly and mindlessly absorbed by it, subject to the restless and innumerate scurry everywhere that makes it possible. I was buzzing about consumer goods, the air, apps, bankers, dumplings, the motor industry, retail, real estate development, hotpot, PhD students, tech, WeChat, potholes, production line robots, the 4th industrial revolution, puffed tofu, bicycles, smart systems, design thinking, sub-tropical plants, the first 88” curved display panel, life by mobile, the marvel of clean water flowing through millions of pipes, gesture controlled drones, obsolescence, youthful exuberance, fermented black bean curd, the future, the possible, our inevitable irrelevance, collectivism, crime, camaraderie, noodles, Mandarin, media, money, translation… And always the amazing food. All of it. Everywhere.

But here are a few messages I’d like to share from HR professionals who have experience working with Chinese overseas returnees and Chinese employers, ranging from tech start-ups to state owned enterprises and multinationals:

  • English Confidence in English is crucial. Many applicants will have similar abilities on paper, but it is the added value of your lived experience that will set you apart if it is evident.
  • Attitude Your ability to adapt to your new environment and (re)learn the culture is very important; eg, management levels, getting used to hierarchies etc. Try not to make assumptions, keep an open mind. Humility, loyalty and commitment are valued. Demonstrate willingness to start at the bottom. Acknowledge that work life balance may be hard to find, especially at the beginning and particularly in some settings, like start-ups, but progression can be very fast after proving yourself.
  • Adaptability Planning and preparedness is important, but more important is your flexibility to change plans, ability to adapt quickly and respond appropriately as the situation demands.
  • Salary Have realistic salary expectations. Don’t fixate on a number, consider the bigger picture and embedded opportunities or benefits. Focus on the company itself and remember why you want to be a part of it.
  • Practice Domestic students will have had a lot of practice, perhaps 30 interviews before their first offer! Do not underestimate the work involved.
  • Timing Often, by the time Chinese students have adapted to life and studies overseas, they have missed the best time for job hunting, which is Autumn the year before you graduate. For example if graduating in November 2019, the time to focus on this is Autumn 2018!

Avoid these negative behaviours:

  • Show offs, aggressive, domineering behaviour
  • Looking down on domestic students
  • Wanting to work in ‘strategy’ but not willing to start or learn from lower positions
  • Refusing to do overtime
  • Too easily find problems with companies, but not working/knowing how to solve
  • Being fickle

I was surprised that so many of the people I met had heard of us! Some had applied themselves but not been accepted, many have friends who studied here and visited our wonderful city. So it is reassuring to see the reputation of Edinburgh reflected back at us.

I hope this is useful when thinking about your next steps, and please come and talk to us about them.


Read more about understanding the Chinese job market.


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