Dismal employment prospects in China may be a silver lining for Western negotiators
Recent economic data out of China may be discouraging for young Chinese grads – but it gives Western hiring managers and bosses another chance at executing on their plans for doing business in China.
MNCs were once considered the “gold standard” for ambitious Chinese yuppies on the move, but that all changed when the global markets tanked in 2008. The layoffs and cut-backs that ensued were strange and unwelcome developments for the Chinese business community – which up until then had never known anything but rapid growth and endless expansion. The best and brightest of China’s graduating classes started shunning the unreliable foreign firms and accepting offers at SOEs, government agencies and home-grown corporate giants like Alibaba and Baidu.
But now China’s economy is decelerating and it’s environment deteriorating — and that may be giving international firms another chance. A NY Times report warns that just as Chinese universities cranked out a record 7 million grads, hiring is slower than ever. This is good news – not only for Western hiring managers, but also for strategists and negotiators. HR and personnel management are important sources of power for Western negotiators in China. Unfortunately for many American managers, HR trends had been working against non-Chinese organizations for the last five years – but all that may be about to change.
This is the moment for MNCs and westerners in China to start leveraging their strength in China – but they have to get it right. If global firms can attract and retain the right Chinese candidates, it could significantly alter the balance of power in the battle for Chinese consumers. Here are a few ideas for hiring and holding the best of China’s 2013 graduating class.
- Talk in terms of years – not the moment of getting in. Western hiring managers have gotten used to treating job offers like Willie Wonka’s golden ticket — everyone wants one and will do anything to get it. Getting Chinese grads in the door is one thing – getting them to give 110% is quite another. You are not hiring time-clock punching factory hands. If you want the China market, you need knowledge workers – and you need them to want you to succeed.
- Show them a path upward. Chinese complain that there is no room to advance in Western companies. In the West, we believe that giving new hires the opportunity to succeed is sufficient. In China, you have to give them a path. Old school ideas like “management development programs” and “mentoring” are considered expensive and unnecessary in the US – but they may have value in China.
- Think about retention BEFORE you hire. The average lifespan of a Chinese employee at an international firm used to be about 18 months. Less economic opportunity usually translates into lower turnover, but holding on to high-value hires will always be a challenge in China. Motivating and retaining key people means coming up with a different set of benefits and perks. In China, that may mean additional training, tuition assistance, frequent promotion, and the promise of overseas postings.
Another hint for Western hiring managers and bosses – happy up a little. Since returning to the US after an extended stay in China I’ve noticed just how dark and fatalistic America has become. Ironic as it may seem to you, the American economy is one of the brighter stars in the economic sky. Work it. Smile. Sound like you believe in your firm’s global future and your high-value Chinese candidate will too.
from the NY Times, 6/17/13:
HONG KONG — A record seven million students will graduate from universities and colleges across China in the coming weeks, but their job prospects appear bleak — the latest sign of a troubled Chinese economy. Businesses say they are swamped with job applications but have few positions to offer as economic growth has begun to falter. Twitter-like microblogging sites in China are full of laments from graduates with dim prospects...
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