China·Public Relations

Starting from the inside – PR and recruitment

by Yang Bo

It is a strange phenomenon that while companies are complaining about a lack of talents, candidates in the labor market are also grumbling about a lack of employment opportunities. In recent days, this phenomenon is becoming quite rampant. As a consequence, getting in touch with the suitable talents has become one of the most salient problems encountered by both large and medium-sized companies based in China. Where are the talents and the know-how you need? How can you best get in contact with them? How can you position your company as a top employer in China? Experts from China and Germany discussed these key points and approached the hot topic Human Resources from a communication perspective at the 10th Sino-German Communication Forum in Beijing in May 2012. The event with about 40 participants was initiated by Storymaker and organized in cooperation with the German Centre Beijing and the German Chamber of Commerce in Beijing.

According to a survey carried out in 2011 by the German Chamber of Commerce in China, China is among the Top 3 priorities in the company’s global investment plans for 78% of the respondents. This implies that the demand of foreign companies for talents in the China market will increase continuously. With no sign showing that the number of fresh graduates will rise, a heavier competition in recruitment among companies in China is expected. At the same time, the rise of Chinese companies and their growing focus on recruitment is another challenge foreign companies face. A drastic change can be seen from 2006 to 2010 in the human resources market, emphasized Miriam Wickertsheim, Regional Director North China, Direct HR China: “In 2010, out of the top 10 companies that fresh graduates from Chinese universities want to work for, only 2 are still international.”

Why is that? One of the main factors is that Chinese companies understand better to adapt to the change in the mindset of the workforce. In recent years there has been a shift of the workforce from generation X born before 1980 to generation Y, who are born between 1980 and 1990. The mindset of generation Y completely differs from that of generation X. To those post-80s, a job is an opportunity to make a difference. Flexibility and job mix are especially important. “They do not want to be doing the same work in a dark office every day” explained Ms. Wickertsheim. Fully understanding these changes leads to a different messaging when approaching talents in this target group. For them an attractive message might be “You and your peers can help turn the corporate world around” or“Your work will be challenging and meaningful”.

Shi Na, Senior Manager of Talent Acquisition at the Lenovo Group confirmed the competitive labor market in China. “Each year, our recruiters are challenged” she said regarding the current situation. Besides outsourcing to a hiring company, Lenovo therefore adopts multiple recruiting channels – be it job boards, university recruiting and job fairs or social media platform that are becoming more and more important. Experience shows that the choice of the channel also depends on the targeted group: Freshly graduated talents are looking for employment via new media like Job Box or even Weibo, while senior qualified talents usually prefer conventional ones like recruitment advertising. However, the most important hiring channel used by Lenovo is internal referral. The company has an attractive reference policy to encourage the employees to introduce their acquaintances.

How important a company’s employees are for HR marketing was also pointed out by Matthias Zeuch, Vice President of Human Resources, Sales & Financial Services, Daimler Northeast Asia Ltd. It is nothing more than an illusion that talents looking out for a job will only read the messages posted on the corporate web pages or sent out by the PR department. People will do their own research, for example go to forums on the internet, check on the micro-blogging sites or ask their personal contacts. The Social Media image a company has – in general as well as being an employer – is not only based on the company’s messaging itself, but also on what employees themselves say. Their multiplier effect shouldn’t be underestimated. The conclusion is that “as a company to be attractive to the outside, you have to start from the inside”. The golden PR rule that the messages you send out have to match with reality, also applies in the HR field and becomes even more important in the social media age.

Besides also targeting internal employees for HR marketing, other factors were discussed being essential for employer branding in China. It starts with finding out which advantages one already has – and communicating them. But even before that it means to not “picking a horribly translated Chinese name”. This actually is part of one of the key challenges in all parts of communication for multinationals in China. HR departments of bigger companies as well often have to translate and adapt messages and measurements they get from their headquarters. “Our HQ in America can give us some guidance on employer branding, but finally in China, especially in terms of hiring, we have to change it some way or another so the Chinese target groups understand”, says Shi Na. And Matthias Zeuch added an experience Daimler made just recently. Not long before the company had made a short video clip about integrity with employees in Germany. To localize it for China, they recorded employees in the middle kingdom answering the same questions. It turned out that the result was completely different. While Germans had answered short and catchy, Chinese employees referred to Buddhism or Confucius and other Chinese thinkers and answered much longer. In the end it shows once more that for different places, different measures must be taken to catch the soul of the local people.

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