December 20, 2015

Six Most Common Recruitment Challenges in China

By Michael Maeder

3 min


Due to China’s record of rapid economic and social development, general managers, country heads and HR directors encounter a unique set of challenges when seeking to recruit professionals in China. The following are the most common challenges according to our experience.

Challenge #1: Hard-to-fill Positions

High demand for skilled labor, a more demanding business environment, skills mismatch, difference in expectations and deficiencies in tertiary education have resulted in a more competitive market environment and in a shortfall in supply of professionals who possess the following skill set: multiple language ability, in-depth technical and industry know-how, international exposure, and familiarity with global best practices. In particular higher salaries in commercial roles, such as sales and purchasing positions, have contributed to create a shortage of technical professionals.


Challenge #2: High Personnel Turn-over and Recruitment Uncertainty

Professionals move quickly between jobs, particularly in first-tier cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou. Due to this common job-hopping trend coupled with high drop-out rates during the on-boarding process, continuous recruitment planning is a challenge.


“Frequent job changes of candidates are often interpreted by companies as a sign of immaturity. From the candidate’s perspective, changing jobs it’s been considered as a way to rapidly gain experience and to speed-up professional growth”


Challenge #3: Low Mobility of Staff

There is a general reluctance for professionals to move for relocate within China or to accept a longer commute to the work place. Therefore, location is a particularly important factor to take into consideration when choosing to establish a branch location and attracting potential employees. Another element that impacts mobility is the “hukou” or household registration system, which determines a citizen’s entitlement to social welfare and benefits depending on area of residency (read more on that at our how to select candidates in China piece).


Challenge #4: Misinterpretation of Candidate Credentials, Profiles and Presentations

Personality characteristics, such as being straight-forward, which might be favorable from a Western perspective, or language skills, such as the ability to communicate fluently in English, are often misinterpreted or over-emphasized in the search for suitable candidates. Furthermore, academic credentials are often over-valued. The Chinese education system still emphasizes learning facts by heart rather than developing independent thinking and problem solving skills. Additionally, the frequent job changes of candidates are often incorrectly interpreted by companies as a sign of immaturity. From the perspective of the candidate, changing jobs has been considered for many years to be a means to rapidly gain experience and to speed-up professional growth.


Challenge #5: CV and Credentials Fraud

Falsifying credentials is a problem which recruiters face in China more often than in other geographies. Particularly when CVs are provided by applicants in other languages than Chinese, these ‘translation mistakes’ are a convenient means to ‘upgrade’ titles or certificates. Accordingly the employment risk is amplified and appropriate actions have to be taken to minimize these risks.


Challenge #6: Lacking Calibration of Title and Salary

Job titles have a different prestige status than in other cultures. Particularly being a ‘Manager’ or to work in a commercial function are linked to social status. Furthermore, finding the right salary level linked to a job and its title is a challenge. This problem is amplified by the lack of detailed market data and unrealistic expectations by candidates. Companies tend to over-emphasize the starting salary, however a clear growth perspective with respect to salary development is often more important to candidates than the starting salary per se.



One golden bullet to overcome all these challenges does not exist. However, taking a generic global understanding of recruitment as a basis, we have put together a series of practical guides to provide you with China-specific insights into the different stages of the recruitment process (profiling, attraction, search, selection and on-boarding of candidates for open positions) with the hopes they will help your organization better navigate these waters.

Additionally you can also download our Human Resources & Payroll in China book, written in association with Dezan Shira & Associates, covering the most critical issues with regards managing a Chinese workforce.


Michael Maeder

Managing Partner at Ward Howell International

L: German, English, Dutch, Chinese

T: +86 21 6010 5000