China's Job Market Gets Tougher to Crack, not Easier

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Asia directors at some of the top investment banking firms say competition for entry-level spots with European, U.S. and Chinese banks in Beijing or Shanghai is becoming increasingly brutal.

Competition to get into - and excel at - Chinese universities in China is extremely tough, and banking executives attending a recent Harvard University conference on China's new economy say that hiring out of Chinese universities for in-country investment banking jobs is the dominant hiring trend.

The best of the best students are getting easier to find locally, they say, and at far lower wages compared to the U.S. or Europe.

Fred Hu, managing director of Goldman Sachs Asia, says, "In China, if you're at the top, you truly are one in a million, or one in 5 million.'

William Stacey, head of Asia research for Credit Suisse First Boston, agrees. "Ten to 15 years ago, if you were a Chinese with a western education and spoke English well, you were rare. That's not the case anymore.' Stacey says it's harder for students and young professionals living in the United States to find a way into the top jobs in China.

It's true that Goldman, Morgan Stanley, CSFB and other top investment banks are still recruiting from top U.S. universities. What's new is that they're doing less of that recruiting from U.S. schools and more and more of it from the top universities in Beijing and Shanghai. 'It's a very tough market,' Stacey says.

Still want to work in China, you say? Goldman's Hu says the bank plans to hire aggressively in Asia over the next two years, chiefly in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing. 'Being fluent in Mandarin, Taiwanese and Korean is still an advantage,' he says. But other factors will be important also as China's economy develops over the next three years - such as expertise in financial accounting, management and financial negotiation.

'If you want to work in China, work at an accounting firm or get financial accounting skills, which are very rare in China right now,' Stacey at CSFB says. With the international call for banking reforms in China, as well as a need for greater transparency of company operations, demand for accountants, managers and analysts to conduct due diligence amid an absence of transparency will turn increasingly critical.

Frank Dubas, a managing partner of Deloitte & Touche LLP, says: "In banks, the huge focus now is on audits and putting things into international accounting standards. And the biggest problem now is that once you get this information, China managers don't know what to do with the information.'

Dubas and Stacey say the need for researchers, financial accountants, managers and financial lawyers will continue to increase as Chinese firms begin to mature and ready themselves for global competition. 'Banking reform is a top priority for China,' says Goldman's Hu. 'That's where some of the best-paying top jobs will be, and these types of professionals are in demand and are still rare in China.'

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