Saving Face

Understanding the concept of “face” in Asian culture is very important to doing business successfully. It can be a complex and difficult concept to get to grips with so this article looks to point you in the right direction. We will provide a little information on our experiences in addition to some useful links which can give you some further pointers.

It’s worth noting that “face” and the term “guanxi” ( are quite similar concepts and the understanding of one can lead to the benefit of the other. In essence we would describe “face” as being the respect you gain or impart in dealing with other individuals – this can be both on a personal level and professional level. “Guanxi” is more about your standing as an individual within a network and tends to be more aligned with professional prestige. Obviously the better you are at “saving face” or “giving face” the more successful your network or “guanxi” will become.

We have personally experienced the concept of “face” through working in Hong Kong and China and have found it to be at times a useful tool and at other times extremely frustrating. Very simply, we find that the majority of “face” situations encountered are to do with people not wishing to say no. By saying no the individual can feel that they are making you “lose face” so would prefer for you to go away with a positive impression even if it turns out nothing will come of it.

In a recruitment capacity this can obviously be a bit of a minefield. We have experienced clients providing positive feedback on candidates following interviews, some even indicating they will be taking that person on. Only through a lengthy process can it be determined that actually the “position is on hold” or “they are having to think things through regarding the position”. It’s very easy to get angry and frustrated about this but you have to be careful – allowing frustration to come through in this situation can in turn cause a “loss of face” to the client. You will find that in Asian culture people will actively look to avoid situations that can lead to a potential conflict. You can make things doubly worse if you show anger to a person thereby causing them to “lose face” whilst at the same time “losing face” yourself by displaying the anger in the first place! As you can see, it can be quite a task to get this right and people unfamiliar with the concept often feel they are tiptoeing around situations they would normal be assertive in.

“Face” can also be an extremely positive thing when doing business. The concept of “giving face” we would describe as a situation where someone gives another person a certain raised level of respect. This can be very simple to do – for example you could research a company and person before a meeting and then compliment that individual on a particular project or success that you were impressed by from your research. Another simple trick is to “give face” by taking along a senior team of staff with you – you are showing the other person you take them seriously. It’s not uncommon for meetings in Asia to have quite large teams of people on either side competing to give the other the most “face”. Sending gifts to clients at the appropriate festival time of year is another way to gain marks.

So “saving face” and “giving face” are concepts which can both hinder or benefit a given business situation. It is much more complex than this though and we could continue to write an extensive article about all the experiences we have had. We will leave you with one further well used example that we have come across which we have found nearly always impossible to get right. If you are having dinner out with a client or individual, when it comes to settling the bill you are in for a treat. Each party is expected to “give” and “save” a little “face” with each side insisting they pay for the meal. There are various opinions on who should ultimately end up paying the tab – some say that you should refuse to let the other party pay 3 times before allowing them to pay. There are others that say that if it’s your client then you should continue to try to pay until the other party backs down (this can go back and forth endlessly through gritted teeth as each party looks to avoid losing face). We tend to go with a gut instinct and “give” enough “face” to be respectful without then causing them to “lose” face by over-insisting to pay (thereby implying they are not capable of doing so)…

Ultimately, don’t be intimidated by the concept. Have fun with it and just think about being polite in most situations and you will be fine.

Some links to articles which we found interesting on the subject:

And a great book that we have read which explains the concept of Guanxi also in more detail – we particularly like the story of McDonald’s first foray into China opening a restaurant in Beijing:

 “China Uncovered: What You Need to Know to Do Business in China (Financial Times Series)” by Professor Jonathan Story.

Link on Amazon:



“Naked” Resignations On The Rise

An interesting article was posted recently in the China Daily which looks at the rise in the number of people who are resigning from their jobs in China before having secured something new – the so called “naked” resignation. As a recruitment business we do see instances of this when speaking to candidates – we wouldn’t say it is commonplace but we do find that a lot of people are more prepared to wait for a perfect opportunity rather than base their next move on salary/title increases – if this means they resign and spend some time full-time to search for work, then some seem happy to do so. We would be interested to hear your thoughts – would you resign before securing something new? Would the importance of finding the perfect job take precedence over having a secure position? Let us know. Article text below:

Increasing numbers of workers are leaving jobs with nothing new to go to as attitudes change

by Wang Wen, China Daily, Jan 2012

When Song Lin submitted her resignation on New Year’s Eve her boss asked whether she had received a job offering better pay.

“I don’t actually know what I will do after quitting,” Song said. “For this reason, I didn’t even tell my parents about my decision. I just know that job was not for me.”Song, who had spent the last two years working for a company based overseas in what was her first job, said she is more interested in organizations rather than business. She is prepared to wait several months for the ideal job to arrive and has savings that will support her for at least a year.

The white-collar worker is not alone in China in quitting a job before getting a new one, according to the latest job-hunting research.

It identified a growing trend for younger people to put their ideals ahead of work as the country undergoes a radical transformation from an export-driven manufacturing economy to a more innovative business model.

Job analysts call the trend “naked” resignation. It started to become common in 2011, according to the annual employment report by 51job Inc, one of the biggest human resource service companies in China.

A more liberal and independent generation of workers, like Song, are less likely to be lured by income. Instead, they want a more rewarding life experience that gives them peace of mind, according to specialist observers.

They are no longer afraid to leave traditional career paths if they find them to be less rewarding than they hoped.

They see abundant opportunities but also less job security. This trend is changing the landscape of China’s job market and making it more favorable for employees.

More than 80 percent of surveyed employees said they wanted to change their current jobs at the end of 2011.

“The young generation seems more distant toward the traditional job market,” said Feng Lijuan, chief human resources consultant at 51job Inc.

“There is a growing trend that jobs are less important in the lives of workers. They seek more equality in the job market and greater job satisfaction, both mentally and materially.”

For Li Chen, managing partner of Apex Recruiter Ltd, a headhunting company in Beijing, about 30 to 40 percent of his candidates resigned “naked”.

“These candidates care about opportunities and career development rather than salary,” said the veteran headhunter.

A growing number of experienced workers are also lured by opportunities outside business capitals such as Beijing and Shanghai, according to the latest analysis. Second- and third-tier cities in China, although less developed than the first tier, offer more freedom for workers who seek to make a bigger difference in their career paths. It is the chance to be a big fish in a smaller pond.

This new generation downplays the importance of work and is acutely aware of the dangers of overwork. A growing number of employment injuries and death caused by working too hard lie behind a desire to play safe and quit jobs with nothing to go to.

“Employers are also paying more attention to their health,” said Xie Zheng, China partner of Antal International, a Britishbased recruitment company.

China’s high inflation rate last year also made life harder for employers, many of whom felt obliged to raise wages to keep staff despite the economic slowdown.

“Some employers raised salaries by up to 30 percent but still couldn’t stop their employees from leaving or attract new recruits,” said Feng Lijuan.

Vacancies in the job market have risen more than 30 percent but the number of applicants is up just 12 percent, according to statistics compiled by, another major human resource service in China.

The current lack of job applicants is forcing employers to be more aggressive in headhunting, analysts said. The first pay rises are often given to shopfloor staff and specialized workers.

The job market in China is also witnessing the first signs of a scaling-back in job recruitment in the face of higher wages in comparison with Southeast Asian countries.

The trend is further transforming China’s job market from a labor-intensive one to a more mature one, analysts said.

Opinion Poll: April 2012

*Poll now closed – thanks for all your votes!*

This month we would like to hear from candidates and clients alike about their company’s plans are for hiring staff over the next 6 months. If possible we would like to keep the focus of this poll Asia based so we can get a feel for the hiring sentiment in the region. Therefore, please remember to tell us where you are voting from. As always, we will post the results of this poll at the end of the month.

Monthly Update: March 2012

Market News

Another month and another opinion has come out regarding a potential property bubble in the markets. This time Hong Kong could be at risk according to the HK Monetary Authority CEO, Norman Chan Tak-lam. He feels that the low mortgage rates in the city mean that the real interest rates are hugely negative. That said he went on to say that strong demand in Hong Kong may lead to interest rates rising thus hopefully preventing a bubble. The thing to perhaps take from this is that we simply don’t know what will happen and that the markets out here are currently really hard to predict!

China’s rail ambitions are still suffering some difficulties. This month it was reported that the plans to link South East Asia to China’s growing high speed rail network were running into issues, this time related to regional political rivalries. Changing governments in the participating countries have decided to reduce China’s participation in some of the projects which could cost Chinese state firms billions of dollars. The uncertainty around the project means that the time-frame for project completion has now doubled to more than 6 years.

Last month in Hong Kong a new Chief Executive was elected who as part of his new role he will look into opening up the market in Hong Kong to more developers. Currently the market is dominated by 4 big developers: Sun Hung Kai, Cheung Kong, Sino Land and Henderson Land. It is hoped that land supply in the next 5 years will be increased and this will draw more newcomers into the market.

The slowdown in China has started to affect one of the biggest cities, Shenzhen. For the last 30 years the city has boomed from being a small fishing village to a metropolis of more than 10 million on the back of factory output and investment in the province. However in the first 2 months of 2012, profit from industrial enterprises has fallen by 3% from a year ago for the first time in a long time perhaps reflecting the downward pressure in growth as described by Premier Wen Jiabao in his government work report.

Poll Result

This month we asked you to tell us what percentage of employers you think understand how to motivate their staff – results below:

The results are pretty telling. Most of you think that only between 10-40% of employers understand how to motivate staff. Nobody thought more than 60% knew which is a startling view. We can only speculate as to the reasons behind this but from a recruitment perspective we find dissatisfaction with a current employer is an increasing reason people look to move jobs – when finding out more, we find a lot of candidates are demotivated and don’t think their companies can offer them the right incentives to succeed. Within the design industry, more and more candidates are telling us they feel they are part of a commercial money making office in Asia rather than a design studio focusing on design quality. As such, staff feel that often their leadership do not care about motivating them and just want to hit monetary targets. What are you views? We would be interested to hear more.

What’s Hot

March has been another busy month for us. We continue to receive new instructions in all sectors.

Within design we are finding ourselves inundated with senior interior design roles in Hong Kong and China. Hotel design experience is most in demand and we have at least 4 different companies looking for team leaders to help develop business for them. We are also looking at retail designers too and of course, strong corporate design staff are always in demand!

I think every month we have highlighted our need for strong Mandarin speaking architects and you’ll all be pleased to hear that things are no different this month! However, clients are increasingly looking for people with more than just the language ability (thankfully) and want to find people that can lead teams and develop business. We have an urgent need in Hong Kong for a Chinese speaking Project Director who can help develop business for a new team.

Within our developer clients we are still in need of Project Managers across all disciplines and with all clients. We have a mix of roles stationed in Hong Kong and China – the Hong Kong roles are in high demand with candidates and clients tend to know this therefore it can be tricky to be considered. People with really strong, proven delivery experience and a knowledge of Hong Kong building regulations will always be considered. Those happy to be stationed in China will have great project opportunities available to them along with extremely strong salary packages.

We are also developing a new area in our business within the Sales and Marketing sectors for property firms across Hong Kong and China. We have a specialist focusing purely in this space and we are currently looking for Senior Leasing Managers with strong retail experience in addition to a number of Marketing and Promotions staff. Keep an eye on our website for the latest vacancies in this area – it looks like we are going to get really busy here in the next month!

Most Urgent Requirements

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

  • Associate Director – Retail Interiors – Exciting Opportunity with one of the Best Firms to work for in Hong Kong
  • Mandarin Speaking Associate/Senior Associate Architects – Hong Kong – Award winning design firm
  • CAD/CAFM Specialist & Occupancy Planner – Beijing – client side role with Top Design Firm.
  • Senior Interior Designers – Hotels – we have needs with many top design firms – team leaders and top designers, all required!
  • Senior Project Manager – Beijing – top tier developer with a luxury hotel project
  • Senior Quantity Surveyor – Beijing – Work within Retail Investment Management with this Top Developer’s fund
  • E&M Project Manager – China – Another top tier developer in Hong Kong looking for a key person on a key project
  • Senior Leasing Manager – Hong Kong – Listed Property Developer looking for Retail Experienced people
  • Promotions Manager – Hong Kong – Listed Property Developer looking for strong PR & Promotions candidates
  • Workplace Team Leader – Hong Kong – a number of opportunities for top corporate interior designers who want to design rather than business develop!

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

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