December 13, 2015

How to Profile Candidates in China

By Miriam Wickertsheim

5 min

How-To GuideMulti-IndustryRecruitment

The cultural and experience gaps between Chinese and foreign managers often results in conflicting assumptions with regards to job content and candidate qualification criteria during the hiring process. A well-executed profiling exercise will serve to bridge these gaps.

The profiling stage is a critical planning phase in the recruitment process to develop a fast and effective approach to ensure the suitability of a new hire within an organization.

Throughout the profiling stage the HR representative should maintain close contact with the hiring manager, as strong communication is necessary when specifying the company needs, job content, job title, candidate profile and compensation details. Especially when the HR manager and hiring manager have different cultural backgrounds, good communication ensures that assumptions for the position are aligned and complications throughout the recruitment process are minimized.


Analyze Company Needs

In order to assess a company’s recruitment demands, an inventory has to be conducted of the functional areas which need to be covered. The defined functional areas are then broken down into specific job content. Clusters of job content are then categorized into distinct positions. Finally, the number of professionals needed is determined by the output required on the demand side as well as the market availability of professionals with the skill sets to cover areas of the pre-defined job content.

In China, companies have resorted to hiring more staff to counter high fluctuation of employees. Additionally, a prevailing scarcity exists of Chinese professionals with the necessary skill sets to fill senior technical and management roles. Accordingly, companies have been observed to hire a larger number of employees to fill such positions as compared to other more mature markets such as the United States and Europe. For example, a German engineering manager tends to have more years of experience; is more versatile and able to handle a larger variety of tasks compared to a Chinese equivalent. This often results in a company separating what would be done by one manager in other markets into two or more distinct positions in China.


Specify Job Content & Job Title

Job content should include the job’s objectives, responsibilities and duties. Due to the scarcity of all-around Chinese professionals, it is common in China for the originally defined job content to be adjusted after having reviewed the availability of skill sets in the labor market.

Defining the right job title will have a significant impact on how well a company will be able to attract qualified candidates. For instance a multi-national company in China might be restrained by their internal policies to design a job title as a “team leader” or “senior engineer” which would otherwise be designated as a “manager” at a local Chinese company. A problem arises when candidates who would have considered the job opportunity for its content and compensation would decline it simply because they would have to downgrade themselves from a “manager” to a “non-manager” title. Many international companies have therefore implemented a unique system for job titles in China, in which the title “manager” is integrated in more positions and even new “job titles” are created, which do not exist in any other country.

Generally candidates in China experience high and increasing performance pressure and expectations by their partner, parents and their extended family, so they expect faster promotions. Therefore, to facilitate this demand a company might consider adding more intermediate hierarchical levels. For example, whereas a company’s home market may only have “Account Managers”, this role could be split into “Junior Account Managers” and “Account Managers” in China. In China, a lower level of standardization exists when it comes to job titles and their related job content. This provides a certain flexibility for defining job titles within an organization.


Define Candidate Profile

It is common that companies in China employ a mix of local and foreign staff for reasons such as communication, managerial experience and trust. The right mix of employees can positively enhance efficiency and create a better working environment. A general categorization will help employers in China to come up with the optimal mix for their workforce. For orientation purposes and at the risk of incurring in generalizations we have segmented the types of candidates for roles in China in the table below.


Type of Employees in China |


At present, many foreign companies in China are forced to hire professionals with less practical working experience and lower technical qualification compared to employees in their home country who fulfill the same role. The solution implemented by numerous foreign companies in China lies in hiring comparatively younger high-potentials who are able to handle a steep learning curve and eventually undertake the required responsibility on their own while initially receiving guidance from a more experienced foreign professional.


“Generally candidates in China experience high and increasing performance pressure and expectations by their partner, parents and their extended family, so they expect faster promotions”


Besides listing candidate qualification criteria for a vacancy in an ideal candidate profile, it is advisable to scrutinize each qualification criteria by asking the following two questions:


  1. Is the qualification criteria kick-out, required or preferred?

Kick-out criteria = candidate should no longer be considered if any 1 is not fulfilled

Required criteria = candidate may still be considered if only 1 or 2 are not fulfilled

Preferred criteria = candidate will still be considered even if criteria is not fulfilled

  1. What is the relative importance of the qualification criterion compared to other criteria?


These additional qualifying questions will provide a clearer picture of the vacancy internally and through-out the selection process. A key benefit is that individuals responsible for the selection of suitable candidates will have a clearer framework within which they can assess candidates.

Below you will see an example of a candidate profile for a Senior Quality Engineer in which the two above mentioned candidate qualifying questions have been integrated.


Candidate Profile Example |


Research Compensation Details

Conducting research on compensation in China will allow a company to more effectively attract the best talents in the market. This can be done by engaging professional service providers. External data on compensation is also available on various job web sites or from comprehensive salary surveys which can be used as a reference to track main trends in the Chinese market.


Compensation Details Research Channels |




The basic steps to ensure a proper profiling can be boiled down to the following:

Conduct an inventory of the functional areas that need to be covered and break them down into job content. Bear in mind higher fluctuation rates of candidates in China when assessing the final number of positions to fill.

Specify job content & define job title, considering for the latter whether you need a tailored approach for China based on the reasons already exposed in this guide.

Define the candidate profile, and establish kick-out, required or preferred criteria to offer guidance to all parts involved in the selection stage. Consider hiring younger high-potentials with a steeper learning curves if your inventory results in the need of less available professionals in the Chinese labor market such as those with higher technical qualification or managerial experience.


Note from the Editor: this practical guide was originally published as part of the Human Resources and Payroll in China book in collaboration with Dezan Shira & Associates. You can download the third edition here, or have access to the fourth edition here.


Miriam Wickertsheim

Director at Direct HR

L: German, English, Chinese

T: +86 21 6010 5000