Ray Zhang knows something about the Chinese talent hunt. The HR director for PepsiCo in China gets calls from headhunters himself almost every other sunrise.
Zhang, speaking at what has been billed as the first-ever U.S.-based conference on HR in China, describes the Chinese workforce as belonging to two groups: “turtles” and “rednecks.”
Turtles are returnees from education abroad; about a million Chinese have gone abroad for education in the last 30 years, and only 30% have come home. The advantages of hiring turtles, he says, are their communication skills, thinking and problem-solving skills, their international view, and their understanding of different cultures. They tend to have strong presentation skills and “high social maturity.”
Chinese managers used to “blindly worship the turtles,” he says, but have since come to their senses.
Rednecks, as he describes himself — and the word comes without the negative connotations as it’s used here — are educated and developed locally. Their strengths, he says, include familiarity with local customs, on-the-ground experience, and a willingness to start at the entry level. They grew up in one or two cities, have “low social maturity,” are used to executing well but not communicating as well, and have worked with a smaller number of people — their classmates. About 20% to 30% can’t find jobs upon graduation.
If a turtle expects a $10,000 to $15,000 salary, Zhang says, a redneck expects $5,000 to $10,000.
Zhang describes one multinational that recruited a “turtle” from Harvard, and soon lost him. It recruited another grad from a top university, and lost her. The legal director at the multinational then threw in the towel and stopped recruiting from top colleges. The corporation, Zhang says, focused too much on recruiting and not enough on such things as providing growth opportunities and to accurately portraying the work experience. Candidates are probably expecting too much.
All in all, he says, turtles should play a role in “leading organizational culture transitions” while rednecks will “ensure your execution quality and mid-level communication.”
Four Traits Employers Want
Chinese employers look for four things in candidates, Zhang says:
- A good academic record
- Commitment to work
- Strong communication skills
- Willingness to cooperate with others
The biggest difference between this and what American employers want, Zhang says, is that U.S. managers value experience more.
Article Continues Below
“We need more time to grow our global leaders,” Zhang says. Leadership is not a trait as coveted in China as in the United States., he says. Chinese managers aren’t eager to point people out as different and are more likely to value people who will work hard and “follow the leader.”
Also, proficiency in English is important for those seeking a promotion at a large Chinese company, though it certainly doesn’t guarantee a move up. Perfect grammar, he says, is less important than whether people can understand you. For the VP level, he says, English is essential. Below that, it depends who the employee needs to communicate with.
His estimates of recruiting costs for a Chinese employee:
- Campus recruiting: $200-$500
- Newspaper/Web: $100-$1,000
- Headhunter: $3,000-5000
Top 10 Reasons for Turnover
Zhang provides the 10 most common reasons people are quitting jobs in China:
- Try new opportunities to build new capability
- Unsatisfied with salary
- Lack of learning environment
- Work isn’t what they expected
- Bad relationship with a manager
- The work is boring
- Need a rest
- Unsatisfied with benefits (satisfaction is higher in the U.S.)
- Lack of belief in the company’s culture
Zhang manages the west and central region of China at PepsiCo Beverages International. Before that, he at various times managed benefits, training, and recruiting at Procter & Gamble in China.