Introduction to Recruitment Practices in Hong Kong
Having researched Hong Kong's recruitment processes for months, we discovered some interesting conclusions. One of the main conclusions within our research was that the Hong Kongese embrace Western values as well as Asian values. One will also find that the Asian values of mutual respect should always be maintained. Education levels in Hong Kong are high and competition on Hong Kong's market is fierce. Before you start adding extra skills to your resume, you should consider the following information, obtained through our interview with a Hong Kongese human resource professional: “Make sure you do not go overboard, though. Boasting about your abilities will not help you find a job in Hong Kong. There is nothing wrong with overselling a little bit; but if you add skills you don’t have, you will probably get in trouble sooner or later”.
Hong Kong, consists of over two hundred islands and is located on the southern coast of China. The name Hong Kong originates from the Cantonese words Heung Kôong, which means ‘smelly harbour’. The British East India Company first came into contact with Hong Kong in 17th century. After the First Opium War, Hong Kong became a British colony, and in the 20th century, the British buried the hatchet and Hong Kong became an independent nation. Almost all of the Hong Kongese speak Cantonese. However, as Hong Kong was once a British colony, almost half of the Hong Kongese speak English as well.
Hong Kong’s business communication
According to Hofstede’s studies, Hong Kong is considered to be a relatively collectivistic culture, which means that the Hong Kongese are not very individualistic compared to Western culture. Compared to other Asian cultures, however, the Hong Kongese are often thought of as more individualistic. While the Hong Kongese may seem very individualistic and task oriented compared to their Asian brothers, they still hold the Asian values of mutual respect in the concept of ‘face’, or ‘mien’ in Cantonese. Maintaining your reputation is very important, as losing face will bring shame not just upon yourself, but also upon your whole group.
Communication plays a big role when it comes to maintaining your reputation. For instance, directly saying ‘no’ could be understood as offensive and violates the laws of polite communication. It takes some skill to master the rules of this implicit communication style. Appearing calm and in control while listening very carefully is the key to successful communication in Hong Kong.
Trust is important and earned by keeping promises. Face-to-face communication is highly appreciated in Hong Kong, and social meetings are also a priority when trying to maintain a healthy working relationship. Hong Kongese often stand close to one another when speaking, but they rarely touch.
In general, Asian countries rank high in corruption on world surveys, but Hong Kong is relatively low in corruption compared to other Asian countries.
Employability on the Hong Kong’s market
Hong Kong’s application procedure
In Hong Kong, most employers speak English and Standard Cantonese. Always keep in mind when you are expanding your network that the Hong Kongese like to communicate face-to-face, and therefore applications submitted in person have a higher success rate. In Hong Kong, jobs are offered online, on job board sites as well as in newspapers. Networking websites can be used to find local recruiters. The leading job board websites and newspapers can be found in the chapter about recruitment sources.
Letter of application guidelines
The best way to get the attention of an employer is through an excellent application letter. English is mostly used in formal writings and in business communication; however, this can vary depending on the position for which the candidate is applying. English is mostly used for CVs and application letters, but when applying for a job with international prospects it can be beneficial to print your letter in English on one side and Cantonese on the other. Most importantly, do not forget to point out your skills and why you are suitable for the job. Applicants should additionally take care to avoid arrogant or negative words and phrases as this could lead to a negative first impression. Before you send the application, make sure to send it to a specific person, rather than the company in general.
The CV should be organized carefully and presented in a clear and visually attractive format. Your CV should begin with your personal information such as: name, gender, date of birth, marital status, e-mail address and phone details. Your CV should then include your personal skills and work experience. In the section entitled ‘Work experience’ it is important to mention only relevant working experience in reverse chronological order. If there is a gap in work experience on your CV, it is smart to explain the reason for this. It is normal to first state your education if you have recently graduated, and the ‘Education’ section should be followed by part-time work experience or activities that show leadership skills. Other activities, such as volunteer service, should also be included.
Employers often research job applicants before inviting them for an interview, so it is advisable to do the same with them. First of all, you should know who you are dealing with as this could help you make a good first impression. Always remember the laws of communication in Hong Kong and try to stay as calm possible. Do not be surprised if you are presented with a psychometric test during your interview as this has become common practice recently. Additionally, if your CV states that you speak Cantonese or Mandarin, your prospective employer may test this knowledge during the interview. Mandarin or Cantonese are both official languages. Language skills levels may vary as one recruiter explained: “Some candidates hardly speak English. One time I asked a candidate to introduce himself. He just said "My name is..." and wasn't able to continue. He in fact is a holder of Higher Diploma in Business!”
Another survey participant stated the following: “In Hong Kong, most local residents speak Cantonese but some companies may also expect applicants to be Putonghua speaker”.
Interviews in Hong Kong may be held either individually or as part of a group. However, an individual interview is more common.
In Hong Kong, it is a sign of respect when people are dressed appropriately, and therefore appearance during an interview is very important. The dress code is simple and suitable for the job to which you have applied. Dressing too ‘trendy’ and colourful may lead the interviewers to think the applicant is immature. The standard dress for both men and women is a formal, well-tailored, dark-coloured suit.
In Hong Kong, it is normal to contact the potential employer after the interview to ask about the results. However, it is wise to wait for what is considered a reasonable amount of time (usually one week after the interview) and not to call too many times. Furthermore, it is advisable to send a handwritten thank you note or email. Even if the applicant has not been selected, they can take the opportunity to show gratitude to the company for granting an interview.
Business cards in Hong Kong are extremely important as they are seen as status symbols. All business cards should contain the following information: name, telephone, e-mail address, address, and the logo of the company you work for. Make sure your business card is written in English on one side and Cantonese on the other. The Cantonese side of the business card must make use of the ‘classical’ letters, as this is the style that they are accustomed to in Hong Kong. Receiving and presenting business cards is done with the use of both hands as a sign of mutual respect. If you receive a business card, it is polite to offer one in return, as neglecting to do so is interpreted as either one of two things: that you are disinterested in the person presenting the business card to you, or you do not have any status in your own company. Either way, if you do not return a business card, it is not likely that you will do any business with that person or company in the future, so make sure you have enough business cards with you. Hong Kongese are usually addressed by their title and family name. If someone from Hong Kong does not have a title, it is normal to use the following titles: ‘Mr’, ‘Madam’, ‘Mrs’ or ‘Miss’. In contrast to Western civilizations, the family name comes first, followed by the generation name which in turn is followed by the given name.
Because it was once a British colony, the Hong Kongese are often given English names that Westerners might think strange. Some funny examples are Landrover Lau, Fanny Sit, Devil Law and Ice Wong. These names could give you the impression that the Hong Kongese are crazy, but there are reasons for names like these. Most Chinese names have a meaning, for example naming your child pretty, strong or smart is not that unusual. Li Yong for instance means brave. In the competitive country of Hong Kong, there is a desperate need to be unique, which could explain these strange names.
Figures and dates in Hong Kong are different from those of the US, but they are similar to those in used in England. The most important linguistic conventions can be found in the table below:
Online job sites
Some leading job websites in Hong Kong are:
- ClassifiedPost http://www.classifiedpost.com/hk/
- Jobsdb http://www.jobsdb.com/
- CTgoodjobs http://www.ctgoodjobs.hk/
- Monster http://www.monster.com.hk/
The Economic Daily is a well-known financial newspaper in Hong Kong and is associated with Careertimes.com. Mingpao is also a leading newspaper that details political and economic issues, and the online version of the newspaper contains job advertisement. The Hong Kong Commercial Daily was the first business newspaper in Hong Kong, which nowadays contains a lot of nationalistic news.
- The Economic Daily http://www.careertimes.com.hk/
- Mingpao http://www.mingpao.com/
- The Hong Kong Commercial daily http://www.hkcd.com/
If all of these tactics fail, you can try to contact employers directly. Open applications will show your motivation and is sign of creativity, and some employers will appreciate your initiative.
Recruitment consultants can be handy too.
- Heidrick & Struggles http://www.heidrick.com/
- Michael Page http://www.michaelpage.com.hk
- TL Recruitment & Consultation Service Limited http://www.ctl-rcgroup.com/
Through an interview with the Hong Kongese at Schiphol airport, we maintained some valuable information about recruitment in Hong Kong as well as information about the Hong Kongese in general. Most importantly was the discovery that the Hong Kongese are particularly shy but still friendly after a 12-hour flight. Additionally, one interviewee stated that Hong Kong, the city, is "very busy".
Hong Kong is one of the world's leading financial centres and is home to one of the tallest city in the world. Hong Kong consist of about 262 islands, some of which are uninhabited. It is a country in mini format, where the demanding city is the central heart. However, if you go to Lantau Island or the south side of Hong Kong Island (Repulse Bay, Stanley) for example, you will discover that Hong Kong is more than a collection of skyscrapers, noodle shops and malls. Within this nation, it is important to speak Cantonese as well as English, as one interviewee stated: “In many cases, especially if you want to find a job in Hong Kong with an international company, the interview will be conducted in English too”. But language skills are not the only key to finding a job in Hong Kong. Professional detachment, for instance, should be minimized, and the local Asian value of mutual respect should be followed. Also, keep in mind that the Hong Kongese avoid physical contact and appear calm and in control while listening carefully. If one follows these rules and is trustworthy than Hong Kong is a land full of opportunities.
Extra quotes from our survey respondents:
- First of all, many expats and locals indicated that both English and the local language (Cantonese) are required when applying for jobs in the business sector in Hong Kong.
- One respondent explains: “In Hong Kong, most local residents speak Cantonese but some companies may also expect applicants to be Putonghua speaker”.
- Another aspect of the recruitment process which respondents commented on is the interview. Sometimes the interview is in English instead of Cantonese. However, this should not be expected as not all Hong Kongese speak fluent English.
- One recruiter explains: “Some candidates hardly speak English. One time I asked a candidate to introduce himself. He just said "My name is..." and wasn't able to continue. He in fact is a holder of Higher Diploma in Business!”
- “In many cases, especially if you want to find a job in Hong Kong with an international company, the interview will be conducted in English too”.
- In addition, it is important to note that the Hong Kongese attach great value to achievements and awards which they have earned, and therefore many survey respondents indicated that applicants should mention these on their CVs: “Make sure you do not go overboard, though. Boasting about your abilities will not help you find a job in Hong Kong. There is nothing wrong with overselling a little bit; but if you add skills you don’t have, you will probably get in trouble sooner or later”.
Authors: Jochum Buchener, Roderick Nieuwenhuizen, Geert Bussing & Ambika Jaggan