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Chinese Headhunter Stalks the Online Recruitment Market

Founded in 1997 as a traditional headhunting company, Zhaopin moved most of its recruitment online during the dot-com boom and is now operating in 20 Chinese cities. Newspaper advertising constitutes only 25 percent of its core business.

March 7, 2007
Related Topics: Managing International Operations, Global Business Issues, Workforce Planning, Recruitment
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    "In our industry, we like turnover," says Liu Hao, CEO of Chinese recruitment portal Zhaopin.

    Founded in 1997 as a traditional headhunting company, Zhaopin moved most of its recruitment online during the dot-com boom and is now operating in 20 Chinese cities. Newspaper advertising constitutes only 25 percent of its core business.

    Even so, there is room to do better.

    Zhaopin is ranked third among China’s job recruitment portals, with just under 10 percent market share, according to Chinese research agency iResearch. Recently receiving a $20 million stamp of approval from Australian online recruitment firm Seek, which took a 25 percent stake in the company, Liu hopes to use some of that money to redevelop the site’s search functions.

    "What you get today is not what you really want," Liu says, referring to Zhaopin’s search algorithms.

    Instead, he wants to create a "truly personalized" interface responding to individual preferences. At the moment, the search engine "is designed to find the most relevant information from a small pool of data," he says.

    He wants to cast a wider net while providing the kind of relevant search suggestions that Amazon supplies to its customers. In addition, Zhaopin will boost its new VIP service, where for a fee job seekers can access a detailed database on prospective employers and their corporate environments.

    Liu previously was a private equity manager at San Francisco-based Orchid Asia and was an early investor in Zhaopin, where he had a board seat for three years. In 2003, he watched as the company slowly unraveled, a victim of the dot-com bust, and decided to switch roles.

    He moved to Beijing and took a sizable pay cut. But Liu’s faith in the company appears to be paying off, as global players are entering the market. In 2005, Monster paid $50 million for a 40 percent stake in ChinaHR.com, the country’s second-largest online recruitment agency. The No. 1 company, 51job.com, already has a Nasdaq listing. Zhaopin has hinted it might follow suit soon.

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