Expats in top demand for Chinese state-owned enterprises

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There has been a significant increase in the demand for foreign professionals to represent Chinese state-owned enterprises abroad as the nation gears up its global commercial activities and plans listings of its domestic companies on international bourses.

Robert Parkinson, founder and CEO of RMG Selection, an international recruitment firm with offices in the China, says that the job market started picking up in the second half of 2013, and ended the year with strong indications of good hiring activity continuing into 2014 on the back of growing optimism and confidence. One the areas that is seen robust recruiting is for foreigners who can represent Chinese interests abroad, and have specific knowledge of capital markets and listings regimes.

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RMG recently published the results of a survey of the China job market, done in conjunction with academics from the University of Nottingham. The research report, 2013 China Talent-flow Survey Report 2, tracked several trends such as the rate of 'job-hopping' in various industries, including financial services and professional services.

Of the 4,000 participants in the survey, more than a quarter had changed jobs in the previous 12 months compared to about a fifth in the previous survey period (end 2012/early 2013). Parkinson says candidates demand - and get - increases varying from 20% to 50% each time they move.

Most of the 'job-hopping' activity was concentrated among candidates who earned 50,000 RMB (over US$8,000 per month), while the age demographic most likely to change jobs was the so-called "millennials" - candidates born in the early 1990s - with 43% reporting they had changed employer in 2013.

"Many Chinese graduates will take pretty much any job they can find because the job market is so competitive. But once they have settled, and a better offer comes along, they will move quickly."

RMG is seeing a flood of ethnic Chinese to China - either nationals who have worked abroad moving home, or people with Chinese ancestry and family connections wanting to seek opportunities in what Parkinson described as a very 'hot' market.

But Chinese companies were also seeking out foreigners who could represent their interests abroad - especially people with a strong understanding of and experience in international capital markets - skills that many Chinese nationals currently lack due to the country's historically closed economy.

But for expats, finding a job in China and even looking for another role when already working in the country is challenging. Many channels available to finance professionals in other parts of the world, such as company recruitment portals, job boards, newspaper listings, and internet sites are practically non-existent.

One of the reasons, says Parkinson, is cultural. "Candidates, especially senior people, regard it as beneath them to look for jobs - they expect employers and headhunters to come to them."

This supports one of the key findings for the research: that using headhunters is still the preferred channel for Chinese companies to find candidates. In the recent survey, the researchers found that the percentage of Chinese companies using headhunters had increased from 35% to 57% in the past year.