HR services in China

Podcast transcript #35: Adapted and tailor-made HR services in China

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Find here the China paradigm episode 35. Learn more about optimizing HR services in China and find all the details and additional links below.

Full transcript below:

MATTHIEU DAVID:  Hello, everyone. I am Matthieu David, the founder of Daxue Consulting and its China business podcast, China Paradigm. Today I am with Fabien Guerin. Am I pronouncing it right? I don’t know how to pronounce your name, actually. I am French too, but I think Guerin maybe because the English speakers like to spell. I have seen your company many times in China. I have been in China for 9 years, and I have seen the name of your company because it is a very good name to remember; Talent Fishers. So, Talent Fishers is a search company, but a bit more than this you are supporting HR services in China.  I understood within your scope that also you are doing interim management as well, that you are finding candidates in China for companies, you are supporting companies to organize their HR services in China and setting up their team.

You have had the business since 2007. It is rare to see companies staying that long in the market in China. I guess more in your industry; a bit more of an ordering industry. You may see newcomers and new leavers. So, you have been in the market for a long time, and I’d like to know in this interview as we briefed just before about the differences in China about what you see differences; west and the east and how you grow the business from 2007 until now. So thank you very much for being with us, and my first question is where is Talent fishers now in terms of size, number of offices, number of people. Could you tell us some metrics?   

FABIEN GUERIN:  Okay so Talent Fishers is as you explained it and we are tech research company, so we think it is very important to us because you want to know about what we do and how we do it and also explain the spread that we have. So we do unique offers and related HR services in China, mostly aiming at helping companies finding the right talent for their company. It can be interim solutions. Most of the time, it is permanent and very ready to actually attract and find candidates in China. There comes HR consulting, HR services in China. We can get back to this later on. We mostly focus on finding candidates in China that are mid-level we provide to also help our tee accounts if you talk about better partners in finding low-level as well because in the way we do our business, and basically we help them cover the whole of Asia so we have 6 offices; one in Shanghai Hong Kong, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh, Bangkok, and Mumbai. The idea is actually to keep on growing and keep on spreading the network to be always within the communities of talents on the ground because of cultural reasons. Our team we have got a bit less than 50 people now. Some people leave, and some people join, and that is why as well and basically….

MATTHIEU DAVID:  Sorry, I didn’t get… it can just when you said the numbers; how many people in your team?

FABIEN GUERIN:  A bit less than 50 I would say, now. I don’t have all the… because I gave a little bit of it to each of my country managers. Some of these and this is just our start-up office which is like Mumbai and years ago we sat down and rebuilt from scratch in Mumbai, so it’s actually the one is a very active activity where you make mistakes, you start over again. You are just… basically, the idea or the aim is to have 20 places in the next, like within 4 years to a real footprint on the whole of Asia. We lack a bit of expertise in the north-east of Japan and Korea, and that’s the direction we are going in, and we do more and more business in Indonesia and managed from Singapore, so we want to have a  facility in those two locations as well.

MATTHIEU DAVID:  Okay understood. About opening offices, you talked about the different offices, and I would like to go back to China because we are talking about China Paradigm. Now China as a new paradigm can impact companies in the world whatever the size, but first let’s talk about the new offices as you mentioned. How do you open a new office because you need to… do you send someone? Is there someone you identify? Is it actually open to you by chance? Is it through a plan and then you execute the plan? How have you been able to open so many offices and I am asking these questions because I think in many companies it is very costly. It is very rough on them and very costly. So how have you been managing it? 

FABIEN GUERIN:  So the first rule for me is to make sure it’s not going to be. First of all, I need to confirm with my clients, and on the ground, they are good for us, and they will be able to basically have enough business to provide more business to enable the quality of the service that we deliver in other countries. For the question, I can tell you how you should not open an office because I have done in the wrong way. When we decided to expand from China; that was on the demand of clients. The first office was built in India and Vietnam because clients were very satisfied and we were helping them in China and asked for help in other countries. So the first mistake we made was to actually work with doctors or the kind of franchised approach. We are notified all the search firms who were not doing very good, but were… one in terms of vision and the other of point of service.

The reason of their absence of success was the lack of sales or not enough sales, but very high levels of delivery and we decided actually to build are very franchise with those in those countries and wit didn’t work. It didn’t work because at some point even if you don’t like it very much; your interest goes different ways. So this is something I would not recommend.  The successful offices that we have and all our offices are doing very well and are very profitable. We have very happy people working there. Those who were not happy, we actually asked them to leave, and we onboard new people more aligned with the culture of the organization.

For each of those offices actually, I personally go and spend time on the market at the privilege of having great country managers run each of the offices, so I am not based… I am virtually based in Shanghai because that’s where I have been for the past 16 years, but basically, I don’t belong to any office. I run the organization and when I once opened a new office I just got there and confirmed the trends and the market research we’d been working on of the weeks before and then the first thing I do is I try to find somebody who is able to build the business being trained by me and the country managers to ensure that we are in harmony of service with people who belong to the Talent Fishers culture, basically. So the right person probably 

MATTHIEU DAVID:  Interesting.

FABIEN GUERIN:  And then we train them.

MATTHIEU DAVID:  Actually it is a case 3. It’s a case 3 for you on business first. Do you get local people or do you send people from your main office from Shanghai and secondly how do you interact with them at a distance? Like you say you have great country managers, but do you know they are great before they join you, or do you know they are great when you work with them? Actually, what are the parameters you have in mind for country managers; local or non-local, already experienced with you in your main office? What are the parameters you look at to make sure they are good for Talent Fishers is kept in the new office?

FABIEN GUERIN:  Okay so that’s a… I am not hiring people for skills, but really for their attitude for this rule specifically. Now that the thing is I have 7 actually because I also have a South-Asia managing director to monitor harmony of the activity in those regions, basically. I have a good idea of getting the right Talent Fishers. It is more difficult because I had to do the work of defining precisely what is our vision, why we do this job, how we want to do it and what are the regions we expect and based on this, I could identify and that is our job so we could find the right profile of attitude to actually be able to onboard on this and deliver the message. Local for us is not very important. What is really important for us is that if it is a local person we have great people in Thailand and India and Singapore who are local people.

They have a cultural background. They have been living and have grown, and they have been very open-minded, and they understand what the clients being based in the US, is based in Australia, is based in Europe means beyond the words. It is very difficult to actually understand what a client wants because most of the time they are not really sure what they want or they don’t know how to express it, and that’s very important. Once we have the right person being from whatever background, we spend a lot of time together to ensure we are in line in terms of our user metrics and that is also very involved because when you use this a few thousand kilometers away, you put a lot of trust in these people. 

MATTHIEU DAVID:  Exactly. How can you spend time with them because you are so far away?

FABIEN GUERIN:  Well, at the very beginning I spend a lot of time.

MATTHIEU DAVID:  Like, a call?

FABIEN GUERIN:  Nope. We sit together. I go there, we spend time together, and we debrief every single meeting we have and track and sign of misalignments. Of course, I take everything we can bring in the culture as well because the culture is a single thing. So, one of them actually helped build the culture, but we need to be sure and align the use and the role of clients especially in meetings or interacting with other people, and we hire staff who we can tell these people are aligned or not.

One thing that is extremely important as well is that I never look for copycats of my personality. I want somebody very different from me because I am a developer. I am not a farmer. At some point, the country manager needs to prefer to be a good hunter and also a good farmer and a good manager and a good coach, and that’s what we want as well. I have to admit I am not the best manager in the world. One one-to-one I am okay and as for the rest, again build with daily tracking measuring and so on. So I think people actually can fit in the dual and we exchange a lot. We exchange a lot over the phone, over WeChat, we share a lot, and we build a trust relationship so basically somebody who is never asking questions, somebody who is never asking for opinions from my side. For me, I am not the right person to work with this and the other way around. When I have an idea, I test the idea with them.

When I have a doubt, I check my doubts with them, but we build a relationship. I make sure that they spell it out and have a meeting together, so we have… we build a stem and a process where we basically encourage cooperation between the offices, and that’s where all the successful aspects of our business… a lot of business comes from Singapore to India. India to Thailand and Thailand to Vietnam and so on and I report that a lot. We need to talk to each other, and they cannot feel isolated, and you need to leverage your presence on these markets, and finally, we have a regular call altogether to inform about what we are doing.

Obviously, everything is centralized in the system. We have the same tools to actually monitor the activities, but mostly the success that we have within the searches, but we also talk and report and explain and discuss regularly on the phone and Zoom, and so on and finally, we meet twice a year. We have this where we sit in the bunker for 3 or 4 days altogether from 9-6 where we update the terms of our contract and everything, and we spend a lot of time together on team building, and today we have managed to build something which is quite consistent and quite fun. I make sure everybody has fun as well.    

MATTHIEU DAVID:  There is a lot to talk about in everything you have said just now. One of the things I’d like to know more is to be more specific on how do you make interactions work? You say you are regularly in contact with them. Is it every week, every month, is it every day? Do you have patterns; specific buttons or it’s a bit random and depending on the level of comfort you have with the person who is a bit more comfortable or checking in more with someone who… do you have patterns already or it is more intuitive?   

FABIEN GUERIN:  We have patterns, and we have set dates. I think one of the things that are very promising is what to think of the other people, not the country managers, but the others in the offices need to know what is going on as well. So we need to make sure that everybody is informing everybody about our successes so that they can share with their team and that they know they belong to a group. So we have region communications every week about what we are doing. We share everything; the news, good news, birthdays, or whatever activity. We ensure that together on WeChat groups that we have. We have a Mandarin group, we have a country group, and we have groups, and we also have somebody here dedicated to external and internal marketing in China who is actually sharing information with me on the social; networks and again WeChat because it is a personal tool.

Sending messages that we call Motivational Monday’s where we share good vibrations, and we make sure that everybody likes and shares this information. We do a lot of communications to cross measure anything we can actually remind everyone about it and the reasons why we do this job, which is very important to us. We have a very specific pattern about defining how we work, and that’s also for the staff. One of our mottos is that we believe and we are sure of it because we have proved this.

What we do can be either the most boring job in the world because you key in a few words, you print a resume and send it to the clients. It is a very depressing job. I wouldn’t go to the company if that was my job or we do believe that what we do is extremely important. We are not doctors, we are not lawyers, but it is important because if we do the job correctly, there is a chance to change people’s lives. Somebody is bored, unhappy and doesn’t like what he does, but when Talent Fishers is finding candidates in China for this position and this person, they actually go in an environment where it is going to be extremely motivated; the level of the skills can work well and learn.

You can have an impact on everything in his life; in his family, in his friends and at the end of the day the company was happy in delivering HR services in China and helping people in the quality that we do it. So we work a lot on making sure that everybody is aligned on that. Why do we do this job and that means it goes to how we do it, which is very different from the usual you know, talent factories.

We focus on consulting in China. So we communicate a lot internally and externally on tools for use and why and then have this processing tool and when we sense that somebody lacks a bit of motivation sometimes we go… that’s the instinct thought, and we go and spend time together either four physically or over the phone or we send others to discuss with them to ensure there is not a big issue and to re-motivate them. So, the process factor; daily WeChat communication, weekly communication internal marketing in China, and monthly team meetings online and at least twice a year altogether face-to-face working and having fun together.

MATTHIEU DAVID:  I see. It is interesting to see that WeChat is being used in companies as well in groups and so on and sharing it with a personal WeChat… which is certainly a big topic to talk about.  You said that you have internal marketing in China, and you said you have values. Will you like to mention the values because you talk about the mission which is changing lives. Would you mind talking more about the values within your company and your way of leveraging them into the internal market or what you include in internal marketing in China? Maybe it is more than values.

FABIEN GUERIN:  Again as I explained if we believe that what we do has an impact, then we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and we are not surgeons, but we cannot take our job lightly. It is very important. Clients pay us for that, and they spend a lot of time with us for that, so we need to make sure that we pay that positively in people’s lives by finding the right job and training companies to train the right people and help them to grow towards whatever ambitions they have.

So basically to do that, but it also comes the sense of responsibility. You cannot do it lightly. If you want to do it properly then you need to make sure that you care and that is one of the values and you need to demonstrate to the clients that you care by looking up actively, by demonstrating that you understand what the need is, what profiles they should look and every often part of the consulting is to help clients understand that what they think they need is not what they need or who they need.

Then often different options; you know the name Talent Fishers. That is the origin of the company. I got the name and thought, “That’s a good name.” So the name deserves a company, and then we had the work progress as well, and of course, it was an altogether type of thing. Basically, we hate to go and find the direct competitor and the sales manager in the right competition. We do it sometimes because that is what clients want and we are in the service business, delivering HR services in China, but what we love is when the clients say and we had this case again last week where the client calls me and says, “Fabien, I am looking for someone, I cannot give you a title because I am not exactly sure what the title is and the scope of the job is not exactly clear. This is what this person should do,” and then we build the job together. That is amazing, and we get strong advice and share experiences without defining the need and so brainstorming, sharing experiences a bit extremely transparent.

A lot of clients actually don’t know very well their company, and that is normal and what the market says about their company and what we call their in-shop brand. If you have a bad reputation for whatever reason you need to know, so one of our values is actually to be extremely transparent and tell the client, “This is what the market says. Based on this situation, it is going to be difficult to find the person you want.” So how do we address that?  How do we solve this issue so that we can actually find the right people to get back on our feet and actually grow the business? So the values are again, each company is different; the job is different. Being caring and being fairly reliable on the timing of the commission and the process and the deliveries that we commit to provide and the transparency; we don’t poach people from our clients.

We never lie. We believe the reason is that we listen to them. If there is a tight point in your resume, that’s a responsible candidate. We don’t poach the candidate as well. We explain to them what the job is about. We listen to them, and then we make sure that if we present the candidate, we believe he is a good candidate anyway. There is no such thing at the perfect candidate, but we present only the good candidates to stay in the long term. So based on these values, it is all about caring, transparency, ethics and that is how we communicate, and that is what we find candidates in China, our clients, and our staff, and we built a process based on that.  We make sure that we are basically… we sustain the commitment.

So we communicate every week; every Wednesday before 6 pm or if it is not before 6 pm we will be at the office, but every single week we have done it in the week for the search. Everything went well. We communicate face-to-face and the ideas we have so it’s really a popular ship where we communicate and ask questions and remind the client about what we’re supposed to do.

Again, because we don’t do this alone, we do this together. We don’t do this alone.  We need them. We need their activity, we also need to make sure they listen to what we have to reflect from the market, and everything is built internally, and we remind this… you use the tool, but you don’t know why you use the tool then it doesn’t make any sense, so we work a lot on this internally through the communication that we have, and we highlight very highly the successes is the internal newsletters, internal marketing in China. We solved it because of this, and this and we are in the right direction. This is a good example of why we do this; success and celebration and then the next one.

MATTHIEU DAVID:  Okay talking about your clients, how do you charge your clients? I feel there are some standard industries which are like 25/30% of the annual salary and here is about the region and so on. Do you have a similar way of charging? Is it different for you? How do you charge your clients?

FABIEN GUERIN:  We do research, so we offer tailor-made solutions, HR services in China so that it can be based on differences in cases, but we belong to the retained part of the basics. The reason is that we invest measurable time and energy in consulting them. Those who actually just print the resume and send it to you. We believe that what we do is very expensive and we believe that what we do is actually quite reasonable and we charge the same; 25%, 23% depending on the market. The other difference is that we ask clients to invest a little bit in us to ensure we can finish the job properly to ensure that they are included in the process and at the end of the day they have the prices which are the same.

So that is the difference between retaining and contingency and set costs, but not the same approach and not the same investment on the search provider part and that also explains why very simply the contingency search firms; they usually close between 15 and 30% of the cases they work on. We close 100% of the cases except if the client decides to stop or if the client finds candidates in China by themselves, the right candidate. Otherwise, we commit to keeping on searching. Sometimes it takes 10 days. Sometimes it takes 4 weeks. Sometimes it takes 9 months. We have a case lately where it lasted very long actually where we found the right candidate after 2 weeks.

The client made an offer, and they accepted the offer and the same day… it was this lady; this lady was asked if the company is interested and she said, “I cannot leave my company. It is too unstable.” The client wanted this. Can he stop that or always compared every single candidate to her. She was gone. She was not there anymore. It took us 9 months to find the right person. We kept working on it. The client said they have never worked with a search firm that has been so faithful to the commitment they have. They keep working with us for all things now, so that’s also, of course, we prefer to be faster, but it takes what it takes, and we keep going until we find the right people and this deserves a little bit of investment by the client to make sure that we have a partnership rather than just email resumes.

MATTHIEU DAVID:  When you say investment, is it a retainer investment or multi-retainer right that you can maybe take that from the commission or no it’s not?

FABIEN GUERIN:  That is a one-time retained.

MATTHIEU DAVID:  Okay, even if it’s lasting 9 months?

FABIEN GUERIN:  Yeah actually it is part of them… there is a bit of re-defining the research, and again most of the time it doesn’t take 9 months. It takes a very reasonable time. Not very fast, though. If it is too fast, then you don’t have to make all the quality and safety check to ensure that you actually have the reason person and there is no hidden issue. So the ideal process for us is 4-6 weeks between the moment we start and the moment we assign the candidate, but sometimes it goes much faster. Sometimes we already have a candidate in our mind when we actually sign the deal with the client because of the brainstorming and so on which is placed and sealed and went to the meeting with the resume and then we confirm with the client if they are the right profile and so 20 minutes and this is from knowing your market and advising the client.

So this one-time retainer deducted from the final fee. In some countries, actually, we do that in China, Vietnam, and India so far. We also help some of our clients in building larger teams. This is what we call recruitment process outsourcing, so basically a client either a new branch or division or new factory and they need someone who is actually acting as their staffing manager to basically run the projects from every single side and HR consulting, HR services in China, and interim planning in some ways and basically we work with them for 3 months or 6 months and then it’s a months’ period because it’s consulting fees and it’s very, very low hiring fee. So we are very flexible with some of our clients and client s also ask us to look for their Asia sales director or… they have a need. They want to work with us. We are very confident to help them then we work together, and we find a way. 

MATTHIEU DAVID:  Okay. Talking about finding candidates in China and assessing candidates; could you tell us how you run an interview? It could be for your own company. It could be for assessing a candidate for one of your clients. Do you have a process running interview? Do you go through the full resume from the time he started? Did you focus on the last experience? Do you also contact past employers to do a background check? Could you tell us more about how you assess and how you run an interview? 

FABIEN GUERIN:  I cannot tell you all. I cannot tell you everything. That is part of the multi-city that we built and the process that we built over time. Basically, different things; first of all, the attitude, what the person attended this is something that we assess very quickly in the first couple of minutes, and then we check and confirm over the interview and then you have the skills and the skills growth, you have to run through it to actually ensure that the candidate is not pretending to be able or having experience.

So basically there are a number of things, and then we ensure later on remembering the names of the authors of the books to consider and if it is inconsistent in talking about the experience you know the skills that you want to assess, and you turn around an experience, questioning about how it went, who did what, the result, the failures, the process and so on based on one experience to apply a couple of skills that you want to really assess. So it’s interviewing based on competencies through experiences, and that’s extremely strong. I never question by myself. I always have at least two of my teammates country managers to interview the candidate as well and again; the most important for me is the attitude for the client is a little bit different and also advice at least for 2 years.

MATTHIEU DAVID:  Does that mean you have 2 people interviewing one person? It is not 1 to 1. Is it from 2 to 1? 

FABIEN GUERIN:  It can be 2 to 1 or 1 to 1, but anyway I want to have at least 2 to 3 interviews with the people with different approaches. I am in favor of being very generous in dealing from ourselves in the interview. I believe that being nice and being honest and being yourself as an interviewer and as a candidate is actually the best way to actually show you who you are. You are going to hire the person for who he/she is. Not for what he/she pretends to be. So be yourself, be relaxed. That’s the main advice that I can give to the candidates; be yourself. Be yourself, tell the truth and find out if it is the right job for you as well, but one thing as well to be very nice is that the nicer you are and the better climate or the atmosphere you develop in the interview and the more relaxed people are and the more visual their flows as well. So you have everything to gain in building nice and relaxed relationships.

Of course, we need to sell the job to them. One of the biggest issues that we have had with people are talking about the finding candidates in China, but if we don’t sell the company. Good candidates have a lot of opportunities. So why should this opportunity, your company, and this job be the right job for this person and of course again, the same advice applies. Be honest, don’t oversell the company because if you are selling one place and the big and then realize that it’s actually old faith. This person is going to leave so you have wasted a lot of time, energy and money. So that is what we try to do; to make sure that the consideration is there, the transparency is there and that people choose them for the right reasons and then if you have all these ingredients, normally the candidate is going to stay for quite some time, and that’s our aim as well. We don’t want to place somebody for 6 months.    

MATTHIEU DAVID:  What is quite some time for you?

FABIEN GUERIN:  It differs in the country obviously, and that’s the culture, and it is changing. In 2007 when I started, I would have said that 2 years was a good score for China. Now I would say we are aiming for this at 3 to 5 or 2-4 years, sorry for this market because of the market evolved a lot. The candidates evolved, and that is good because China evolved basically and finding candidates in China now; what they want is, of course, good pay. In 2007 they wanted good pay, better pay and that’s normal because their pay wasn’t so very high so you cannot just grow from wanting more money. Now they want more money which is normal; they want a good job where he can have fun, where they can grow, a company they can be proud of and then a job they can be proud of, in a reasonable distance from home or basically they are normal people.

The French are the same; the Germans are the same; US citizens are the same. They want a good job, healthy, well-paid, and where they can grow, and that is why you need to build and you need to build a good value proposition for your candidates as well. A lot of clients say, “Well, nobody wants to work for me.” Of course, they don’t because they have to drive 2 hours to get there and things like health when you are right on the factory, the canteen is terrible; it’s dirty. No, you have to work… you need to be a better employer to attract people, and that’s the deal. It is a win-win proposition. You need to make sure that you respect the candidates if you want them to actually commit to helping grow your organization. 

MATTHIEU DAVID:   I’d like to actually talk more about it and before we do that, would you mind sharing a couple of questions you usually ask a candidate wither to start the interview or either to end the interview or one question you always ask or something you always do with a candidate, checking out employers or anything you always do? 

FABIEN GUERIN:  Okay. It’s not one answer. Each interview is different. There is no… each interview is, and that is why it’s fun as well.

MATTHIEU DAVID:  Perhaps scripts?

FABIEN GUERIN:  Repeating the same question over and over again, so each interview is different. Of course, you prepare based on the specific requirements from the client and everything we want to assess.  We like to know the candidate’s background respecting their privacy, but I like to know if they want to talk about it; what can they tell about their personal history and the choices they made and why they made those choices and the lessons they took from each lesson.  I don’t mind people not having a very linear story. Everybody makes mistakes or wrong choices. If you know how to articulate and if you took the lessons, that is fine.

So basically, there is not one single interview which is the same. It needs to be long enough. I don’t think that an interview shorter than 45 minutes is respectful for the person who is coming to visit you. Also it’s not enough to actually get from them actually to share what they have to share to make sure they get what is important for them and o carry on a decision on that and we talk a lot again about what their motivations are, why they wake up in the morning and again it can be… there is no wrong answer. It can be money. Why not? I have 4 girls. I know what it is to have a bit of pressure in building a family. It can be whatever reason. It can be just growing; it can be ambition. We need to know the motivations to ensure again that there is a match and that the person is going to be in the long term deal with our clients. The reference check is very different — the reference check we do automatically. We check past employers.

We have a very strong process to make sure that we talk to the right person and not the person that the candidate wants us to talk to and this is a script because this needs to be clear on facts and figures that are reasons why they left, who decided that this person had to leave, how long this say how much they were earning; the relationship with the employers and with the staff and so on. This is very fixed. For the one, to one interview or for the successful interviews and branding interviews we really make sure that each that we do is different and again that’s also one other thing; what is behind and is based on the values that we have and again understanding what the client wants us to understand. If you have an interview with me or with Matthew in South Asia or Layna or whatever; the interview is going to be different.

The questions are going to be different, and the size is going to be defense because each one is different. What is important is getting the sense that they want when finding candidates in China and making sure as well and making them realize that yes, it is a job for him if he is qualified or no, it is not a job for him. Very often we say you have an amazing resume. What you have done is very impressive, but we don’t believe this job is for you, so we are not going to present you to the client because you are probably over-qualified, for example. An overqualified candidate is not a sustainable solution for the client. So we need to really have the best interest of the candidate and the client at heart and make sure that again, it’s a win-win situation. We can change their life positively. If it’s not this guy, it is going to be the next one, and if it’s not for him, he will find another job. Maybe through us, but maybe through somebody else.     

MATTHIEU DAVID:  So I found always in the recruitment industry is that most recruitment is based on past experience and similar experience. I am recruiting this guy because he has been in telecom and my client is in telecom, but actually not at the motivation of outside the industry. When I talked with a Chinese friend of mine who now she is at the Alibaba Express. She joined when she was a graduate with very little experience; 1 or 2 years actually of experience. They bet on her with very little experience when she was working at Green Energy. How do you react to this? Most of HR director, most of the people working on the corporate side, I think less on research; they actually screen based are you the same as me? Are you the same as all companies? Did you do the same thing? Is it a concern for you as well?

FABIEN GUERIN:  I love this question because that is one of the specifics of Talent fishers. It’s one of the reasons why we are known in most of our markets, and that’s why we have over 70-75% of our business coming from client referral. We like to think out of the box, and we believe that most of the time the best candidates won’t come from the same area. We hate having to find a copy-cat. So, I will give you an example of the organization to understand it. Basically, we have been hired by a well-leading luxury organization to hire their China for e-commerce. Why did they ask us to find this person and not a company that they have actually been interacting with? Because they have heard that we are different and that we love to actually think out of the box and go and get people from other industries who can actually bring best practice in the role.

So, we’ve been there, and we tell them that. We tell them, “If you want us to go and find somebody working within e-commerce from a direct company leader we are not going to do that because it is not a good idea because, to be honest, a couple of exceptions; they are not very good. We are going to go to industries; to leading industries where e-commerce became the destructive challenge for the industry, and we are going to have to really adjust at that process to actually maintain the alignment with the core mission of the organization, but through another way.” That’s when our business gets further, and I am going to give you one of the little secrets that we have here, and I hope the company leaders are not listening too actively, but basically for each search that we have we gather the whole office in the room and again, a little bit like a bunker.

We have the person who has got the search or who is going to lead the project with the pen and the bolt, and then this person has to explain the job. Then we shoot as many questions as possible to make sure that he covered the whole process. Once this is done, each one of us for 15 minutes sends as many crazy ideas as we can. We can go into this hospitality, luxury, beauty cosmetics. What about health and we write everything down and then we reflect with it. “This is a bad idea. This is a good idea because of this and this and this.” Then we go and talk to people, and we find out who can actually bring added value to our clients and who can actually integrate or a little bit the interests and the right attitude to actually join the luxury industry. So that’s why it is difficult, that is why it is fun, that’s why we love our job because we talk to people from different backgrounds every day and we have to use our brains and scratch our heads on a daily basis.

That is why it is successful because a lot of clients are usually a bit concerned and say, “Why do you send this guy?” Trust me and meet with him and you will see. Of course, we have a briefing. Many clients need a briefing anyway.  They just call and see why. They meet with this person and either they say, “He is not the right guy, but I understand why you sent this person. It is very interesting.” Or, “Yes, amazing. I want this guy.” Now, we need to make sure this guy wants to work with them, but again this bliss briefing approach that we have is actually very powerful, and we love to move people from one industry to another. That is also one of the reasons why we are not only specialized in only one industry but HR services in China in general.  I studied running brands specialized luxury, fashion, and duty, but you always talk to the same people, and one doesn’t want to think out of the box too much because that’s how it’s done in the industry. It is turning now, but basically, our journey is actually to have these people find jobs in other industries and the other way around, and that is why it is cool, that is why it is fun, that’s why we sometimes find candidates in other countries.

In India, we have been finding candidates in the Middle East or Singapore. We also move people from one location to the other. Search is deserved a specific strategy scratching our heads, convincing the client and then once we find the candidate convincing the candidate that it is the right to move for them and further we even offer, but that is why it is fun and why we are proud of what we do. 

MATTHIEU DAVID:  I think the advantage of you talking about e-commerce and technology to ask you what technology did you use? My understanding is that LinkedIn has just the information in the industry of search and HR services in China. Glasgow is still trending the reputation of companies, and I know that some search companies are buying databases pretty much on Excel and CSV. I am not sure actually if it’s very compliant with policy now, but I know this kind of thing is existing. What is your technology, and what do you use in order to build up your resources?  

FABIEN GUERIN:  Okay the main technology to actually find people is trust and friendship, so it’s not answering your question directly, but the relationship that we build with people in their industries help these people refer candidates to us. We contact the candidate and say, “We have a job for you or we have a job that’s not for you,” but you might know somebody who is matching what we are looking for because we believe that good candidates present good candidates. So that’s the main one, but this being said, I am not sure about the technology.

Technology is evolving a lot in our industry and there are many ways of sourcing candidates depending on the country. In a couple of countries, our teams use Day Book. Usually, to find candidates in China, we don’t do that, but we use LinkedIn a lot. LinkedIn is very powerful to actually find the people you want to find. I believe that AI is going to help us shortly in pre-qualifying people.

MATTHIEU DAVID:  Do you have any existing examples? I know some companies using it.

FABIEN GUERIN:  Some companies exist, but some companies have been using it, and again I am not going to name names, but to give you an idea; we had a lot of friends not so long ago when the company specialized in this; aligned with AI recruitment asked us to find their billing director which means that… but I believe in our product, and I believe in what they do. We should not mistake what is being for this technology. To us honestly and we are very trustworthy with our clients. Finding candidates in China is not difficult. We are in 2019. Finding candidates in China is not difficult if you know how to use the search for any kind of search engine. You don’t even need LinkedIn. You just need to know the grammar of the search engine, and you are going to find anyone, you’re going to find there -mail address, you can probably find their phone number.

We are very good at searching on the web, but the question is, what do you search for and who do you search for? That is the difficult part. We have the basis that we pay for to access to people. We use a social network. We have our own tools where we recall and research and what’s important is, “Remember when we looked for this company, and we met this guy, and he was not right for them, but if I remember correctly, he is very good for this organization. What is his name again?” Then we go through everything we organized, we find in our own system all the candidates who applied, what they did and so on and the report and so on, but again sourcing; LinkedIn is very useful, and also it is very annoying because there are just so many candidates. You don’t know where to start.

So again first, who do I want to approach? What kind of profile and what kind of background and what they do and so on? Once you do that then you build it, and you go and dig in LinkedIn, Facebook or whatever tool; Internet and we have tons of professional events and directories, SIDL; the industry in Shanghai… if I am looking for people with a background in the food and beverage industry I would be a fool not having the SAL directory with me, but for people listening to us SAL is an exhibition for food and beverage in Shanghai I think every year, but typically it is physically situated in Shanghai around this month of May.

It is very interesting to go and meet. We go and meet with people, we spend time there, and we discuss and get the clients from the industry, we get to know who is actually hiring as well and that’s how we get in as well, so there are many ways being on the ground, but again we have millions and tens of millions of profiles, so the AI will help us refine a little bit in the future the pool. At the end of the day, our real job is not to get 20 resumes. It is to talk to these people and to make sure they are the right people for this specific client, for this specific project and that this project is actually the right project for this specific candidate. We welcome technology as much as we can to make our sourcing life easier, but before that strategy and after that and that’s the main part of the search job so I believe a lot of volume keyword search companies are going to die because many people can do it by themselves.  

What we do takes a bit more of experience strategy process, and again, it takes a lot of time to ensure you are putting in the right one. So, technology yes definitely, and it is going to be amazing. Very soon I am going to be able to interview and find candidates in China who are based in Dubai, but just with the AI or with VR like if we work… and that would be a great improvement as well, but I still have to talk to them. The tool is not going to tell me, “Yes, this is the right candidate, or no, it is not.”

HR services in China

MATTHIEU DAVID:  We talked about technology or databases to source and find candidates in China. What about assessing candidates? You talk about AI which part of it is assessing a couple of… to be more specific, some people have been using writing to analyze the writing of people. I would like to have your opinion. So some people use… I don’t know if you need Creative Index meaning that you actually tell which word corresponds to you in terms of characters and what do you think other people think of you and you click on the word which corresponds best and then they can edit a profile.  In terms of assessing; what do you think about analyzing the writing and what do you think about all the software; specific software’s if you have specific software’s?

FABIEN GUERIN:  Okay, I don’t want to hurt anybody, especially in this kind of industry. I believe it is good at some point. I think analytical writing… I remember having to find somebody by analyzing characters. It was someone in China because that is what the client wanted. What the client wants, we give, we deliver HR services in China, but we make sure that we made our opinion very clear about each candidate before. I believe that all these tools can help with Finding candidates in China and I remember assisting because I am very present in these topics as well and I remember having an event where somebody named something I don’t know if you know? It is extremely interesting because he devoted his life to AI and is building kind of a series or an Excel who is actually sending the information but organizing it.  

MATTHIEU DAVID:  Do you mind spelling his name?

FABIEN GUERIN:  RANB and then HIND, if my memory serves me right. He is a very interesting guy; very enlightened and I believe and I feel like believing in the fact that AI is extremely powerful to actually analyze patterns and you know define profiles, but what is never going to be a tool with the means that we have now is to work on the emotions in a sense of what we need to define and analyze in our job.

So yes, we can use it and we offer the property to our clients to use a couple of tools, profiles and different assessment tools that we always offer on the side and that we don’t manage it because we would be cheating because we actually put a bit of ourselves in explaining why the candidates are good, so that is just a very good way of taking what we say is confirmed by the best in the direction, but at the end of the day I believe that this will help refine the pool, but this will never help decide which one is the right one because again, there is something which is amazing which very often impacts the personal  feats.

“I want to work with you, and I don’t know why, but I am sure we are going to do a great thing together, I trust you. We can build a confident relationship, and thanks to technology, we can do a lot of things. So again moving from 20-3; maybe it was the 3 last ones on the human interactions so far with the help to decide exactly who is the right person. For the right job, for the right company and for the right boss and that is what I think.

MATTHIEU DAVID: So far, what you are saying that technology is not dawning at or is not here yet. You are still talking about the future. It is not yet here.

FABIEN GUERIN: There is some technology that is pretty okay, but not again, perfect.  So if it is not perfect then you cannot let a machine decide for you if the output is not perfect. It’s not yet perfect and it’s not going to be perfect for quite some time because of the energy it would consume to actually even deliver HR services in China. We might get there one day. I don’t think so, but we might get there one day. One thing for sure is that we need to embrace technology to make our lives easier and to make everything which is not extremely the XPI, the high priority activities; we need to outsource this to technology. Sourcing yes, refining the pool yes, providing the company through the web, yes, choosing the right ones; no, definitely not. 

MATTHIEU DAVID:  I see. It is going to be over one hour soon, but I still have two questions I really want to ask you. One question I guess is what is the difference between the west and the east in terms of recruitment; China and the west? I didn’t talk about your past experience before 2007, but I saw in your bio that you have worked in different countries. You have worked in different organizations and different countries as well. What feedback do you have in between recruitment and the difference in recruitment in China and the west? 

FABIEN GUERIN:  First of all I left the west quite some time ago, so the events of the west that I have is mostly when I go back to talk about China and Asia, but I am French as you can hear and we have a  lot of Western clients like American, European and so on. I think that what I love about China is that Chinese people are extremely smart and they evolve very quickly so when you take a generation of 25 years or more in French because of their culture, you will take 3-5 years here and not all organizations are evolving at the same time. So, there is not one China, but many China depending on the location and also of the generation we are addressing and the market as well or innovating markets. The main difference is that although Shanghai has a huge market with a huge market of people things have been evolving so fast that again you need to be creative in defining who you want to hire because most of the people you need were not on this market a few years ago.

So, that’s why they build, and the other thing is because of this lack of talent pool, and again, if you talk about digital e-commerce, tech related, AI, cybersecurity are things that we do now on a daily basis even if they existed before. So only a few people decided to choose to specialize in this. Now if you are a company, you want people with the skills and the language skills as well and the cultural affinity. There are only a few of those each time you refine the pool. Those people everybody wants them. They are extremely expensive because they know their value so what you need to do is to either pay the ticket to get those guys on board, but you never know in 12 years if they are going to change because they know their value and they can evolve or try to be creative and find somebody who has the potential and enough skills to actually grow and develop and grow with them.

In Europe what I found out and that’s my only humble opinion is that people tend to do what you mentioned before a bit too much which is to actually stick to the same industry you know the logical path. I’ve been doing a business school, and then I worked for one of the big 4 and then this and this, and they all have the same track record. It is boring. It is not a very good source of innovation, but that is how it works and since has worked very well there. Here it’s not like that. You need to be open-minded and try and dig in each and everyone’s profile. What is going to be valuable for your organization and it’s more important, so you can try biography, history, social ecology and then end up being one of the experts.   

MATTHIEU DAVID:  Europe is actually known to stick to one nature and then one job and so on where in the UK or the US you make it a little bit fun and like 2 years after even if you don’t have any mathematical background. I have got it. One last question: you mentioned before we started the interview that you are working for some Chinese companies, but the Chinese companies you are working for it is mainly to recruit and to recruit in Asia, but overseas not really within China. Could you tell us more about what you… why they choose you, and what do you see among Chinese clients?

FABIEN GUERIN:  Okay so first the main reason why we don’t; work so much for Chinese companies in China is that we would not be very humble to explain to Chinese how to hire Chinese in China, but most of the clients that we work with our international environment backgrounds so we have been working with the US and West German companies entering the Chinese market and we have to breach the cultures and our expertise were the recruitment process, the ability to think over and over and research to find the right match and also to advise on what is source specific in the Chinese market and to find candidates in China that can work in foreign environment besides the language skills. 

So a lot of people amazing English, but actually don’t understand the culture and because most of the companies have their own culture, they need to localize it, but they cannot forget about so we need to find people who can match that. So Chinese companies in Chinese markets and Chinese candidates; we don’t have the real added value. Now if they want to work with us in Vietnam, or Cairo or in India is the best example. India and China are… it is the most fun and erratic mix that you can have and to handle them very carefully, and then you need to… we know the Chinese markets, and we know the Chinese culture, so we need to help Indian based candidates; it can be Chinese, can be western to understand how they can match with the culture and advise the Chinese client on what is specified on the Indian culture and they have to take into consideration.

You don’t do it in India and say I don’t care about the Indian culture. You have to deal with it. So our journey is also to make sure we can mix. We have Chinese consultants obviously, and we have also been living in China for 11 years. We know the Chinese culture so we can help them reach the culture and again, China, as you know, invests a lot in the whole of Asia and the whole of the world.

One of the weaknesses or one of the things I fear is not right with a lot of companies; they do searches from Singapore, you know in Singapore, and then you deal with the searches in Vietnam, in Thailand. No, it’s not the same market. How can you understand what these people need? So you have to have deals on the ground. So we breach that and we have people talk to each other who can advise the client on the other side of the search in the markets and that’s what they like a lot again being able to communicate on what they want to achieve and to be advised on what has to be taken into consideration to find candidates in China, the right candidate.       

MATTHIEU DAVID:  One last question: I am interested in having your views on this. If I am a candidate and I want to work for a Chinese company. I talked to your graduates from business schools, and they said I want to work for a Chinese company. It is pretty new for me to hear that because tech companies are formed in China now, the south and the US. What would you advise them to consider to be aware of, to be careful of? It could be a French graduate; it could be someone with a much higher position. What do you see in the market that they have to be aware of?

I have in mind that some international profiles have been hired by Chinese companies like 5 or 6 years ago where some Chinese companies have them in their team in the sense that they were asking for immediate results. If you don’t sell, it’s not with the strategy. It’s not what we want. We want sales. We want effective results. I feel that one of the dangers I see for someone who wants to work for a Chinese company. What is your feedback?

FABIEN GUERIN:  First of all I think that it can be a very good idea and it gives you a very strong company advantage to hold people in the market because if you work successfully or for long enough in a Chinese organization, you are going to know China much better than others. If your job is to know about China and how Chinese organize, then that’s a very good idea. You need to be ready and organized, and you need to know what they expect from you. You need to really put the pressure for as much transparency for the people to know what they want, what is going to be your job and what you are supposed to deliver (HR services in China) and when and then you need to change something.

This is what I have with my kids sometimes when we go on a ride because the older one is 12 years old, and she was born in China, and I explained to her that I have different operating systems that she does and her Chinese friends or I have a different operating system as well which means that every single information we receive is processed in a different way. I stuck to my French normal operating system when I lived in China I mean the burnout in 2 weeks because it doesn’t work. I need to reset my priorities. We need to embrace and discover how things work here, analyze, and take the best out of it. That is when you take away from this China basic experience, but of course, it is not easy, so you need to be stretch resistant, and you need to be extremely open-minded.

Now I think it is easier when you graduate than when you are on the sea level and when you usually have very specific, strict expectations from you and usually, there is a misalignment on what you want to adopt and not ready to think not because they are not good. Chinese prove that every year that they are extremely good.

They can be very innovative, and they redesign other ways of doing business. It is just that the processes are not the same, and the operating systems are not the same. So you need to actually again, be ready to discover the reasons of doing things that you wouldn’t even imagine and interact with people in very different ways if you do that and spend two or three years and out of the best candidates you have ever seen and those were actually spent three years working in the factory and now most of them actually don’t last very long, so you have to be ready.

It is tough, and one thing as well, which is extremely important is that if you want to work back in Chinese companies or foreign companies don’t embrace the whole China system. Keep a bit of connection otherwise you are going to work with Chinese which is a good thing, but if it is not what you want, and at some point, you want to go back to the west make sure you take the balance in your private life and on the social activates with western people as well.

MATTHIEU DAVID:  Thank you very much. It is for more than 1 hour. I hope it wasn’t too long for you and making you late. Thank you very much for all your sharing in China Paradigm. Congratulations on everything you have achieved. I just realized that it is a cycle. You past 12 years of your company so you did all the annual science or Chinese science. Thank you very much, and I hope you enjoyed it. Thank you, everyone, for listening to this new episode of our China business podcast and see you soon.

FABIEN GUERIN:  Thank you.


China paradigm is a China business podcast sponsored by Daxue Consulting where we interview successful entrepreneurs about their businesses in China. You can access all available episodes from the China paradigm Youtube page.

Do not hesitate to reach out our project managers at dx@daxue-consulting.com to get all answers to your questions

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