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Inside View: Direct HR China

China will sweep you off your feet but communicate with care, says headhunter who recently ran an event for 250 MBAs and 100 recruiters in Shanghai

This week Inside View brings you the buzzing recruitment scene in China. Michael Maeder, Practice Leader at Direct HR China, tells us what it takes to make it in China's booming economy as a foreigner.

Direct HR is a China-focused recruitment firm with 70 professionals across seven offices. Their expertise is in placing multi-lingual professionals with technical and process management backgrounds, plus the requisite soft skills, in the best suited positions in the Chinese market.

Direct HR specializes in nine industries, namely Aerospace, Automotive, Energy, Industrial, IT, Life Science, Railway, Supply Chain and Telecommunication. They’ve placed candidates in roles at Volkswagen, BMW, Alstom, Philips, Schneider Electric, Legrand, Schaeffler, Neusoft and many more.

What differentiates Direct HR from other recruitment firms in China?
Direct HR is focused on multi-lingual professionals with a technical background and soft skills. In China, candidates with both hard and soft skills are a rare find. We have learnt that this is the type of employee our clients are looking for.

As most of our clients are Western companies looking to grow existing business or set up in China, we have a strong multi-national team with employees fluent in English, Chinese, Dutch, German, French and many more. This enables us to communicate with candidates and clients from all backgrounds clearly and efficiently.

Direct HR places a strong emphasis on technology and process management. We have a full internal IT team constantly working to develop in-house software that will facilitate better services for our candidates and clients.

For example, one of our recently developed programs enables clients to track real-time updates of our recruitment progress from their mobile devices and provide feedback at any point in time. We believe that the right technology will increase the efficiency and transparency of our business and inspire greater trust in our candidates and clients.

How often do you deal with MBA candidates? And what kinds of roles have they filled?
We have close ties to selected business schools in China. For example, we recently organises a Meet & Match event with CEIBS in Shanghai, where candidates from the MBA program could meet hiring managers and HR managers from our client organizations in efficient 30-minute rotation interviews within an exclusive setting.

During our last event we facilitated interviews between 250 MBA students and graduates and 100 company representatives with a main focus on technology industries such as Automotive, Industrial,Chemicals, IT and Telecom.

Are there particular cities or industries in China that have higher levels of recruitment?
First-tier cities such as Shanghai and Beijing definitely have higher demand for professionals as there are many more companies in existence. Also, most foreign-owned enterprises have their headquarters in these tier 1 cities and therefore recruit more people there than in their representative offices in other parts of China.

What is the recruitment process for candidates?
Candidates are identified and contacted via competitor screening, data mining, search engine optimization, online promotion, network referrals and offline promotion. We then select the best-suited ones through CV screenings, telephone interviews, face-to-face interviews and other modular assessment methods.

These shortlisted candidates then go through interviews with the clients. The final selection of the candidate to fill the available position rests on the client, with Direct HR on hand to offer consultation.

What are some of the challenges of integrating candidates in the workforce in China?
China’s working environment is said to be tougher and less flexible than those of other countries. Employees work hard with long hours. Also, the workplace environment tends to be rather strict with much adherence to the management hierarchy.

Furthermore, foreigners often struggle with the cultural differences between China and their home country. Chinese people tend to be more reserved and indirect compared to foreigners.

They take time to warm up and build a relationship with you before they feel comfortable enough to be honest. Also, their concept of "saving face" makes it a struggle to understand their true intentions at times. These differences can create frustrating and time-consuming interactions for foreigners.

Any advice (Dos and Don'ts) for BusinessBecause readers who'd like to work in China?!
China is an exciting and fast-developing country that will sweep you off your feet. Do come with an open mind and be prepared to take in different experiences every day. It is best to do ample research on China’s culture and practices to avoid falling into the 'big traps'. Be polite and respectful when meeting Chinese business partners, treating them on an "eye-to-eye" level.

It is important to humbly offer compliments and never let them ‘lose face’. Also, it would be helpful to learn at least a few Chinese phrases before your arrival and try to pick up more along the way. Don’t expect everyone to speak English: Chinese is the main language of communication and a necessity to survive in your everyday life.

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