Monthly Update: June 2011

Market News

The Chinese government this month announced the long discussed expansion of Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi province, with the aim to turn the city into an international metropolis. The development of Xi’an is seen as a key process in the overall development of Western China.

Xi'an City Wallphoto © 2009 Will Clayton | more info (via: Wylio)

The Beijing to Shanghai high speed rail is ready to launch on July 1st and this month carried it’s first passengers. Travellers can expect to find aircraft style lie flat business class seats as well as journey times of around 5 hours – around half the current train travel times. It is hoped the rail link will attract passengers who usually opt to fly between the cities.

Honqiao Railway Stationphoto © 2010 Drew | more info (via: Wylio)

China’s fast growing love for luxury retail products is causing some headaches for luxury brands. Demand for prime retail locations is so high that many companies are having to wait for more than a year before getting the sites they want. In addition, there has been a growing caution by brands to locate themselves in second tier cities where they are finding the spending power of individuals is perhaps not yet as high as anticipated.

Louis Vuitton, Hong Kongphoto © 2006 Kent Wang | more info (via: Wylio)

In Hong Kong, a house on the Peak sold for a city record $800 million Hong Kong Dollars. At $96,362 HKD per square foot, the sale blows away the old record from March this year of $62,000 HKD per square foot for a property on Stanley Beach Road. Property prices in Hong Kong continue to rise causing some to worry whether a bubble is forming and about to burst.

Singapore has overtaken Hong Kong and becomes the third most expensive place for expats to live in the world. Tokyo remains the most expensive location and the top three cities have seen inflation creep up impacting on the costs of basic daily items.

Singapore River where it all © 2011 William Cho | more info (via: Wylio)

Finally, little known Kunming has been earmarked as a future regional air hub in Southwest China as part of plans to open up this region to more trade and tourism. With links to Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand it is hoped that a new airport will be in operation by the end of 2011 becoming China’s fourth largest regional hub after Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Poll Result

This month we have had a focus on Graduates in the design industry. Our June poll asked design graduates to tell us what they would look for when selecting their first position. We allowed people to make a selection of their top 3 choices and the results can be seen below:

Over 1/4 of all voters wanted to work for a company that supports further studies or registration. This is perhaps not surprising with a large proportion of fresh graduates looking to gain experience that gives them extra qualifications or the necessary experience to become registered. It seems that the next most popular choices were the opportunity to work on large projects (11.33%) within a large company (11.33%). That said, an almost equal number of votes were cast to work within smaller companies on smaller schemes. It seems that there is a pretty even spread of opinion between working within larger and smaller organisations. Quite a high proportion of you felt that working within a “Design Name” would be an important factor. Interestingly, more people felt that gaining technical experience took precedence over getting conceptual design experience – perhaps this is to do with gaining relevant experience for future registration? Very few people looked for a high starting salary as a graduate which is a clear sign that people coming out of design school really do take a look at the opportunity rather than the financial benefits available. This certainly reflects what we experience when talking to design graduates who are often very unconcerned about their potential earnings at the start of their careers.

The response this month was phenomenal and we’re keen to keep getting your views. There will be another poll to vote on in July so remember to check back soon and we’ll announce things on Twitter/LinkedIn.

What’s Hot

We have had an extremely busy June particularly with the developers ramping up growth within their teams in mainland China.

A lot of our clients are looking for Project Management staff to be stationed (as always) on their new projects on the mainland. Architecturally trained candidates remain the most in demand although a growing need for civil and structurally trained candidates has become apparent. Some developers are also looking at opportunities in Hong Kong so we have seen a slight increase in demand for staff to be based here and to work on projects here. However, if you are flexible on location and open to working on some amazing projects in slightly unusual places, we have a large number of roles we can talk to you about!

Within architecture and design, the most pressing needs are for architects with around 7-10 years experience. Clients are really prioritising candidates with solid prior Asia experience and it is becoming more difficult to secure opportunities without fluency in Mandarin. Candidates with transportation and retail experience seem most in demand and clients are reluctant to interview people based overseas – there is a real push to meet candidates face-to-face who have made the commitment to travelling to Asia in order to secure something – whilst there is no guarantee that this will get you a job, it is deemed a suitable risk to many in order to work within the Asia market. A range of opportunities exist for candidates in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing and we are keen to speak to design candidates who wish to work on some fantastic projects in China.

Most Urgent Requirements

We have outlined below the urgent vacancies we have had through from clients over the last month.

  • Senior Project Managers – Hong Kong and China – multiple needs from Top Tier Developers
  • Senior Architect with Retail experience – Hong Kong – fantastic international architecture practice
  • Senior Interior Designer – Hong Kong – great boutique retail design firm
  • Construction Manager Piling – Hong Kong – to work with a top developer
  • Senior Estimator – Hong Kong – a key role within an iconic developer
  • Project Director – China – 2 or 3 positions for a Top Developer to be based on landmark schemes in China
  • Project Architects – Shanghai – multiple roles within a growing award winning design firm. Bilingual candidates only
  • Senior Landscape Architect – Hong Kong – for a leading developer
  • Senior Architects – China – Mandarin speakers needed for a variety of top design names

We also have many, many more roles posted on our website and these are only an overview of our top positions at this time. Please check back regularly. The easiest way to stay up to date with our latest positions is to follow us on Twitter.

Please visit our website for more information on the above roles and our other vacancies:

If you wish to enquire about a position please send an email and your CV to

Follow us on Twitter here: Please also subscribe to our blog by filling in the email subscription form on the right to stay up to date with our latest posts, updates and information.


Chinese City Fact: Fuzhou

There are actually two cities in China named Fuzhou. This week’s facts refers to the capital of Fujian Province in Eastern China which is an important cultural city of around 7 million people.

Aug 2009 Alissa in Fuzhouphoto © 2009 Jack Parkinson | more info (via: Wylio)

The city’s history dates back a long way past 202BC when the first walled city of Fuzhou was built. Since then the city has changed names many times but has never been destroyed by natural disasters or wars since it’s construction in 202BC. In the 19th Century, Fuzhou became one of the 5 treaty ports following the Opium Wars and was opened up completely to foreign trade and commerce.

Aug 2009 Alissa in Fuzhouphoto © 2009 Jack Parkinson | more info (via: Wylio)

Today Fuzhou is an important industrial city specialising in textiles, wood products, food processing and chemicals. It was declared an “Open City” in 1984 and has since invited a lot of foreign investment. A high speed rail line was completed in 2010 and a metro underground line will be completed in 2014. Fuzhou continues to develop rapidly and is currently ranked 21st in terms of GDP across cities in China.

Fuzhou shopping 1photo © 2005 Jack Parkinson | more info (via: Wylio)

For more on Fuzhou please visit:

Architecture and Design Graduates – How to Secure Your First Position – Part 3

In the final part of our Graduate Advice blog I look at how to interview successfully and then how to handle your first offer. You can read Part 1 by clicking here and Part 2 by clicking here. From the feedback we have been receiving it seems that a lot of you have found this article to really helpful – we hope you enjoy Part 3 below and look forward to receiving more of your comments.

Interviewing Successfully

Having applied to positions you should hopefully start to hear back from companies and some may request that you come along to attend an interview. Depending on location this could be a telephone or video conference interview initially but I will focus the advice below assuming a face-to-face interview at the offices of the company. (for more information on the other forms of interview please refer to the “Interviewing Basics” and “Telephone/Video Interview guides Part 1 and Part 2“). As a graduate this may well be your first interview so it’s perfectly natural to be nervous. This guide should help keep the nerves at a minimum.

Essentially an interview is your opportunity to prove to a company that you can firstly do the job and that secondly you want the job. It is about giving the interviewer confidence in your ability whilst demonstrating enthusiasm in the role and company. What you may lack in experience you make up for by showing you are prepared and know about the company and position, demonstrating enthusiasm.

As a graduate it is likely that you won’t have lots of professional experience to talk through so you should make sure you are fully prepared for the interview and show real enthusiasm. This means researching everything you can about the company. Of course visit their website but go further – look up conferences where employees have spoken, understand their history, look at their corporate information (financials etc) and take the time to read up on key personnel. You want to walk into the office on the interview day feeling confident you can cover most of the questions they may ask you about their company.

Once you have researched the company, make sure you practice the presentation of your experience and portfolio. As mentioned in Part 2 of this article, try to tailor your presentation to the company you are meeting. Don’t just practice reciting the whole portfolio, particularly if it is extensive. You have to keep the interviewer engaged and talking for an hour about every drawing in the portfolio will most likely bore them. As a rough guide, a one hour interview should usually encompass 30-40 minutes of time spent talking through your portfolio so try to prepare for that. Pick out relevant projects which you think the interviewer may find most interesting – they can always ask to see more. Doing this also shows you have done your research and shows them you really want the job. © 2007 Sarah Le Clerc | more info (via: Wylio)

On the interview day, make sure your portfolio is in order, any laptop is charged and that you are presentable. In the design industry it is incredibly hard to advise on dress code. As most of you know, designers can be more casual than corporate so you do need to try and find out if possible what to wear. Ask tutors and fellow students who may have interviewed at the company. If you know someone inside they’re usually the best to ask. As a rule of thumb I would advise erring on the side of caution and wearing a suit although a shirt (no tie), smart trousers and shoes can be ok. Luckily, designers are less likely to judge on this aspect but do make sure you are presentable.

On arrival do all the usual in an interview and outlined in most guides – greet with a smile, firm handshake, maintain eye contact, sit upright and maintain a positive attitude. Most importantly listen to the interviewer. Interview formats will vary greatly from company to company but most will briefly introduce the company before asking you some initial questions about your background (both personal and professional) – this should put you at ease and then the interviewer will start to dig a bit deeper and look through your portfolio. Listen carefully to questions and try to answer slowly and to the point – it’s very easy to waffle on and get sidetracked. Present your portfolio confidently and try to gauge if they would like to see more or less. Ensure you talk about YOUR experience and what YOU have done on projects, both academic and professionally. They will start to build a picture of where you may fit in the company and start to see you can do the job. Do show them what you may consider “boring” details or technical drawings.

The interview will likely come to a close with the interviewer asking if you have any questions. I would always have some prepared in advance and not just generic questions but detailed questions that really show your enthusiasm and interest in the company. Use the opportunity to show off some of your research e.g. “I noticed that you recently opened offices in X, Y and Z – do you have any plans to open up other offices?”.

The interviewer may also ask you about salary here. Now this is incredibly hard to get right. It is easy to overprice yourself or worse, undersell yourself. I often recommend a candidate pleads a little ignorance i.e. you tell the interviewer you’re not certain of your market value but none-the-less are keen to see what they may be able to offer in line with their current graduate intake.

At the end of the interview, again smile, give a firm handshake and ultimately thank the interviewer for their time. Reiterate your interest in the role, even if you have some doubts following the interview. You are much better off getting yourself an offer YOU can decide on rather than dismissing the opportunity at interview. Ultimately let them know you look forward to hearing from them – they may outline the next steps; further interviews, decision dates and the like.

Once home from the interview it is always worth sending the interviewer an email thanking them for their time and again showing your interest and demonstrating your enthusiasm.

Accepting An Offer

By now you should have had an interview or two and start to receive feedback. The ideal scenario is that your interviews have gone well and you now start to have firms contacting you with offers of employment. Some companies may call to verbally offer you a position and talk through the details. Others may email or post you an offer letter. Either way, take the time to understand the information outlined and what you are being offered. Don’t be pushed into accepting a role on the phone if you are called with an offer – be really positive and ask them to forward the offer letter/draft contract for you to review.

An offer should include details on job title, basic salary, any bonuses (discretionary or otherwise), holiday entitlement, probation period and any other benefits (healthcare, insurances etc). It may have a provisional start date which is nothing to be concerned about and can be confirmed or agreed at a later date. Generally speaking a company will send an offer letter, by email or post, rather than a contract – there will usually be somewhere for you to sign your acceptance and then a company would send a contract for you to read/sign or have one ready for you to sign on your first day.

If you are unsure about anything, seek advice either from friends and tutors or don’t be afraid to ask the company for clarification on anything you are unsure of. If you are not certain if the salary is at the right level, again, ask the advice of people you know and try to benchmark where the offer stands in the market in general. If you find it may be lower (and be careful here) you can go back and ask for an increase if you are confident it is undervaluing you. Ideally you will have a couple of offers to consider alongside each other so you can make an informed decision as to the best opportunity.

As a graduate it is unlikely there will be a great deal of information about the position you will take. This is simply down to workloads being flexible and graduate candidates generally being assigned where needed on projects. Therefore don’t be surprised if, when you receive an offer, the company is unable to go into detail regarding the projects or team you may be joining. This is nothing to worry about and perfectly normal in the design industry and most companies will quickly see where your strengths lie and position you accordingly.

Antique-Architects-Folding-Rule-02D1208_3-2400photo © 2011 Garrett Wade | more info (via: Wylio)

When considering an offer, take some time if you need to but not too long. Don’t forget there are generally another 5-10 people in consideration for a graduate role, ready to step in if you decide to go elsewhere or take too long deciding. If you are happy with a company and an offer by all means accept on the spot. If you need to take a couple of days to make sure that you have all the offers available to you then do so.

Take into consideration the company and opportunity you are being offered. You may have an offer from a big name design firm but think carefully about the type of experience you may get. Sometimes (although certainly not always) you may take on a smaller role in a bigger design name. If you have offers which you think may give you greater hands on exposure and learning potential but are not with a recognised name, do seriously consider them as you can often develop through the next stages in your career more quickly when compared to your peers. If you see the chance to work on a project from early concept right through to completion then this is also very valuable graduate level experience to gain and will stand you in good stead in the future.

Ultimately go with the option that feels right to you. Sometimes the place you enjoyed interviewing the most may not have the biggest salary or best package but may be the place you’ll ultimately enjoy working at the most, and this is equally important. Make the most of the first opportunity – there will be many further career decisions to take in the future but everyone remembers their first job so enjoy it, celebrate getting a new position and know that you have done extremely well to receive an offer/s of employment.

Chinese City Fact: Shantou

Shantou is a city in Guangdong province with a population of nearly 5 million people. It was one of the treaty ports in the 19th-century established for Western trade but has not developed as quickly as some other cities in the region (Shenzhen and Zhuhai) since becoming a Special Economic Zone in the 1980’s.

IMG_1818photo © 2010 wl | more info (via: Wylio)

In 1922 the population of 65,000 was decimated by a huge typhoon which killed 50,000 of the inhabitants and recovery was slow. In recent years the city has become a major manufacturing centre and is particularly well know for it’s toy production.

IMG_1882photo © 2010 wl | more info (via: Wylio)

It is also said that Shantou people drink more tea than anyone else in China each year.

For more on Shantou please visit:

Architecture and Design Graduates – How to Secure Your First Position – Part 2

Continuing our Graduate Theme in June, we now focus on Part 2 of our article for Architecture and Design Graduates. Part 1 can be read by clicking here. This week I describe the best way to put together your portfolio and then make your applications to companies. Part 3 will follow next week focusing on interviews and accepting offers.

Assembling a Portfolio

In this section I will focus on putting together a portfolio. As a graduate, this is likely to be made up of around 90% university/education work and 10% practical experience. I think it’s important to keep the practical and academic experience separated with the focus being on the work that YOU have undertaken as a designer. As your career develops, the percentage of the portfolio that is academic based should decrease as the practical/professional experience takes precedence.

Your university portfolio is in essence what shows a potential employer how you approach a design problem and the design solution you come up with. Therefore it should be fairly detailed including work from earliest design briefs and sketches through to more detailed drawings and any models constructed. It should tell the story of a project and be easy to follow and most importantly show the employer your strengths and what you could bring to their company. A lot of design portfolios simply include pretty 3D renderings of the final design. These are important but only show a small part of the process you have completed. If you have spent a year working on a design project, show a year’s worth of work. Compile the portfolio in reverse chronological order starting with your most recent work first and working backwards. Include some written descriptions if necessary but remember this is a visual tool. Also make sure you include any drawings you have done with specialist software to reaffirm the information on your CV (e.g. Rhino, Maya, 3D Max, Environmental Modelling Software)

A lot of people ask me here how big their portfolio should be in terms of amount of content. I am of the opinion that you should almost take along too much work and then from your research prior to interview (and feeling at interview) decide which parts of the portfolio you will spend most time on – if you take a large portfolio, remember you don’t need to go through all of it, allow the interviewer to feedback and guide you if you are unsure. I will go into more detail on presenting the portfolio during the Interviewing Successfully part of this article to follow next week.

I am also asked how big physically the portfolio should be. I would say that 90% of the portfolios I see are A3 size. This is usually the easiest size to transport to and from interviews and is usually enough to present a high enough level of detail. The best portfolios are those that are presented in a binder/folder and can be flicked through like a book during interview. Take the time to organise the portfolio in a folder or bind it – there is nothing worse than someone scrabbling through loose sheets of paper trying to find a drawing. And then you have to reorganise it for every interview.

Portfolio Workphoto © 2010 Matt Eckelberg | more info (via: Wylio)

This leads on to whether you should show a hard copy (paper) portfolio or an electronic (PDF/Power Point/etc) portfolio. I think that most companies still prefer to see hard copy printed portfolios. However, in the age of more specialist software tools and 3D renderings it can be useful to have an electronic copy as well. If you do take along an electronic portfolio I’d recommend taking your own laptop – an employer may not have the ability to read a CD or USB memory stick in the interview room. Make sure the laptop is fully charged and if necessary turned on when the interview starts. Organise the portfolio efficiently ideally into one presentation file as a PDF or equivalent. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to locate an image in the midst of hundreds of folders – it’s akin to sifting through a pile of loose papers as outlined above. It’s ok to have some separate files to show, just make sure you can access them easily and quickly. For example you may have created a video fly-through to show alongside your image portfolio.

Any work you have done at a design company should also be included in your presentation. After all, this shows a client what you have actually done in a work environment previously. Don’t worry if you don’t have lots to show here, you are not necessarily expected to. However, do make sure that if you have spent 6 months working for someone, you show that work. Any practical design drawings should again tell a story where possible. Don’t just put in pretty 3D renderings of projects or completed photos, include working drawings, technical designs, sketches, details and anything you think relevant. Yes, even include those toilet details. The more you can present, the more the client can see the value you can add to their company.

Finally, once you have completed a portfolio ready to present at an interview, I highly recommend creating a condensed, email-able selection of work samples to send with an initial application. This does not have to be as extensive as the full portfolio but should give a flavour of your design experiences. I think that 10-20 PDF pages/slides is more than sufficient and generally speaking try to keep this file size below 5MB so it can pass through most email systems.

Applying for Positions

Now your CV, cover letter and portfolio are almost ready, it’s time to start applying for positions. The important thing here is to take time to prepare before sending anything out. Make sure you speak to your fellow graduates, tutors or anyone you know in the industry to understand where your skills may fit best and start to decide the type of company you wish to work for. Most graduates I have met are fairly open to options which is fine, but it is still worth generating a list of companies and putting together a plan of how to approach each of them. The key thing about applying for positions is to make the recipient of your application feel like you have specifically targeted them and the company personally over all others. Too many graduates (and candidates in general) send out a load of generic applications hoping that quantity will win out over quality. The truth is there are usually many more graduates looking for work than there are available positions so you have to make your application stand out over all the generic ones. At this stage it is about getting your foot in the door with a company and giving yourself the opportunity to meet someone face-to-face.

Once you have decided on the companies you wish to apply to it’s time to research. You should systematically go through each company and try to find the correct point of contact to get your details across to. This will usually involve going to company websites but information tends to be limited on these (usually to keep us recruiters away!). The most effective way to get information is to call the company and ask for the correct point of contact and their email address. This can be quite daunting but is well worth the effort. And yes, there are some very good gatekeepers out there who will tell you to send your CV to a generic HR inbox – don’t worry, be persistent (not pushy!) and keep researching. If you want to work for a company enough you should be able to reach someone who can point you in the right direction.

Tip: If you can find out just one person’s email address in the company and know the name of the contact you should be applying to, you can sometimes figure out your contacts email address. For example, if you know someone called Joe Blogg’s working at a firm and know their email is, you can quickly see that your contact John Doe’s email is likely to be

The reason for targeting your approach to someone specific is simple: A lot of companies HR inboxes can be like black holes receiving scores of applications daily which are sometimes simply overlooked. The more direct your approach is, the better you can navigate the HR black hole and again, get your foot in the door. In essence, take a proactive approach.

The reason I have said things are almost ready above is because this is where you need to start personalising things. Once you have a contact, you should personalise the cover letter and ensure the CV and letter are tailored to the company you are applying to. If you are responding to an advert make sure to include any reference numbers and follow instructions on the advert. If it asks you to quote something in the email subject, quote it. If it asks you to submit an application in writing and by post only, post it. If it says to include work samples no bigger than 3MB, don’t send your 5MB attachment. Not following instructions is the easiest way to receive a rejection email or to not be considered.

(89/365) One day this will be extinctphoto © 2009 Sarah | more info (via: Wylio)

Next, apply for the role. If by email, simply write a couple of lines stating you would like to apply for an advertised position (quote reference numbers) or enquire about any available positions. DO NOT just copy your cover letter into your email. It is sometimes ok to substitute your cover letter into a cover email but I think it is best to attach a separate cover letter. Your email should be short and to the point and of course addressed to the recipient. If applying by post, send in an A4 envelope with a signed cover letter and a print out of your work samples.

It’s not quite over yet though. If you are applying to a lot of companies, it will be easy to lose track of what you have done. Therefore I strongly recommend you keep a record of each application you have made and when you made it. Being organised here allows you to complete the final step of the application procedure, the follow up. If you have applied to a company and have not heard anything after a period of time (usually 5-7 days) it can be extremely beneficial to follow up your application. This can be by email but ideally should be by calling the person you applied to. A simple “I wanted to see if you have had the chance to review my application and have any feedback” will suffice and will highlight you as someone who is proactive and enthusiastic. It also allows you to keep track of where your applications are. Remember though, be polite and don’t be pushy. This should just be a quick follow up to put your application on their radar.

What I have outlined so far may sound like a long and complicated process but taking the time now to do things right will give you the best possible chance to secure an interview. I would say that out of every 10 people that apply for a position, only 1 or 2 will make the necessary effort I’ve described. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which of the 10 people will be asked to attend interview!

Part 3 will be posted next week. Remember to check back then!

Chinese City Fact: Taiyuan

Taiyuan is the largest city and capital of Shanxi Province in Northern China with a population of around 4.3 million people. It was an ancient capital of China and a number of famous emperors came from the city, particularly during the Tang Dynasty. It houses a temple building built in 1023 AD and has had a tumultuous history being deliberately flooded a number of times as well as destroyed almost totally in 1125 AD.

Taiyuan taller de artesania Cloisonne China 01photo © 2010 Rafael | more info (via: Wylio)

Since 1949, Taiyuan has been a centre for heavy industry particularly with iron and steel production. As a result, coal production locally is the highest in China feeding the numerous power stations required to keep the mills burning. This hasn’t come without it’s costs and Taiyuan is considered one of the world’s most polluted cities. A recent analysis in 2005 showed that the air quality was only deemed acceptable for 224 days in 2004! A lot is being done to improve this and the government has closed a number of unregulated factories and tried to improve environmental standards.

Taiyuan Roadphoto © 2011 Shaven Green | more info (via: Wylio)

Jin Hua Gong Minephoto © 1999 Peter Van den Bossche | more info (via: Wylio)

For more on Taiyuan please visit:

Opinion Poll: June 2011 (Poll Now Closed)

UPDATE 23rd June 2011 – this poll is now closed. Thank you to all who voted – the results can be seen below – we will be commenting on the results in our Monthly Update to be published on Friday 1st July.

In keeping with our graduate theme in June, we are keen to hear from past or current design graduates (architecture, interiors, landscape or urban design) and what you look for when selecting your first position.

This month we want you to rate your TOP 3 from the selection outlined below – you do not have to rate them in any particular order. Please also feel free to add your own option in “other” if you feel there is something else you would consider/considered when deciding on that first position.

As always, we want to know where our voters are voting from so do vote on both polls below. No information is collected and all votes cast are totally anonymous. Once we have 100 votes (technically 300 for the main poll) we will close the voting and publish the results in our June Monthly Update at the end of the month.

If you are a current graduate, don’t forget you can read Part 1 of our article on how to find that first position. To view the article, please click here.