The challenges of coming home

Updated: 2013-04-26 09:04

By John Benson (China Daily)

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Returning from overseas attractive for chinese job hunters, but it is not all plain sailing

There are two types of returnees - those who are forced to return having failed to find a job abroad, and those choosing to return for a better career, and this split may well explain the often-opposing opinions that one hears from recruiters and HR managers about returnees.

As the China market plays an increasingly important role in the strategy of most multinational companies, we see more and more overseas Chinese professionals actively looking for career opportunities in their home country. The reason is simple - where revenue growth is generated, there will clearly be more development potential within firms with a global strategy.

Talented haigui graduates quickly realize that their advantages in the Chinese job market could help boost their career. China is becoming more internationalized while local companies are seeking more overseas expansion. The global vision and familiarity with the business culture of developed countries makes returnees the ideal candidates for employers in China, which is especially the case for multinationals looking for access to the China market as well as local firms trying to grow their international branches.

But in addition to this pull factor, of better professional prospects that China's macro-economic situation may bring, there is also quite a considerable professional push factor. Reports and rumors are rife among haigui graduates in the West of the not inconsiderable differences between Eastern and Western cultures that hold many overseas Chinese back in their careers in the West. Such is the extent of this culture clash that it has even spawned its own name, the cultural glass ceiling. mainly looks at the two most "popular" or "in demand" sectors among overseas Chinese professionals, finance and technology, and we see a lot of candidates who are keen to return and work in China. But their return journey brings both challenges and opportunities.

Take the finance sector as the first example. While job cuts in investment banks have swept developed markets such as Europe and the US, the China market remains relatively unscathed. But the competition for jobs - and the criteria you will need to meet to fill them - is definitely tightening. In Hong Kong, for example, candidates who speak English alone are being swept aside by candidates who can bring both English and Mandarin to the table, as more attention is paid to Chinese clients who prefer Mandarin speakers. This is pretty much the same in China's financial services firms who deal increasingly with international clients.

But the challenges those returnees will face cannot be overlooked. The financial system in China is highly regulated, and adapting to the uniqueness of the local market takes some time and effort on the part of returnees.

IT professionals, meanwhile, face their own pros and cons when returning. Equipped with the most advanced technology, which is not yet available in China, they are the most sought-after talent in the eyes of IT firms in China. Quick promotion to management level from engineer positions may be offered in exchange for returning, and the prospects on offer for the average engineer are rather greater than for their counterparts in the US. Also attracting them is the opportunity to be able to put their innovative ideas into practice.

We have seen a lot of top-notch IT professionals from America go this route but it could be harder than any of them imagine. Even those who have managed staff overseas could face difficulties as a result of different management styles in China and the US. And for those who return as start-up entrepreneurs to make their dream of having their own businesses come true, the intense competition in the local market could frustrate them.

Last but not least of all the factors that hold both sets of haigui back is the salary gap between China and developed countries. In the long term, the opportunities may be greater, and the prospects brighter in China but the immediate effect of local pay is still making many overseas Chinese think twice about returning.

The author is the founder of, an overseas Chinese professional community site.

(China Daily 04/26/2013 page7)