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Better Interviews With Job Candidates in China

November 8, 2005
As companies expand their presence in China, recruiters increasingly are called upon to first assess job candidates there, despite the barriers of time zones, language and culture. Those barriers can put both interviewer and candidate at a disadvantage.

    There are ways to conduct more effective telephone interviews with candidates in China, says Jack Daniels, founder and president of EastBridge Partners. EastBridge, which has offices in Boston, Hong Kong and Suzhou, analyzes global markets and sales opportunities for companies. It then manages the development process, including recruiting and hiring of management teams. Daniels was previously director of Asian operations for Rogers Corp., which manufactures advanced materials used in the computer, hand-held electronics, office automation and telecommunication industries. Here are Daniels’ guidelines:

  1. It is customary to call the candidates in their home or on their mobile phones. In advance of setting up the interview, Daniels suggests exchanging e-mail notes to confirm the date and time. Military or 24-hour time conventions are standard. For example, if you plan on placing the call at 6 p.m. from Denver, specify "18H00 Mountain Standard Time."

  2. In the final confirming e-mail, list the names and titles of those who will participate in the interview.

  3. In advance of the call, assign a "captain" or interview leader to moderate the conversation. Three Western colleagues talking at once will confuse the candidate. It’s also useful to write a list of questions for the candidate and determine in advance which member of the team will ask each question. The moderator should announce himself or herself, explain his role and then ask the other members to introduce themselves one at a time. Target the length of the interview to approximately 30 minutes.

  4. Before launching into your list of interview questions it’s advisable to make some small talk with the candidate. Comments about the weather, a recent business trip or your child’s soccer game are all good icebreakers.

  5. Make an effort to speak slowly and clearly, minimizing the use of contractions and slang. Avoid asking questions in the negative form. Asking, "Don’t you like basketball?" will leave the candidate mystified. Instead, try "Do you like basketball?"

  6. Most Chinese professionals have had formal English education since sixth grade and have a good command of reading, writing and the spoken word. Speaking ability in a second language, however, falls off markedly when using the telephone. This is especially the case when speaking to strangers. As noted above, slowly warming up the interviewee with informal chitchat is a good idea.

  7. Unlike most Americans and Europeans, Chinese people are rather humble and will minimize their educational and professional accomplishments. You may feel that that you’re struggling to drag information out of them. If you are unsatisfied with their responses, try restating the question in a slightly different way. It is also acceptable to ask the candidate to elaborate on a key job, task or experience.

  8. Questions about job transitions are difficult in Chinese culture and are often met with incomplete or odd-sounding responses. Bear in mind that the true reasons for leaving a job in China are rarely discussed frankly. A good approach to learn more about work history is to ask detailed questions about job elements that the candidate found enjoyable or unrewarding.

  9. Chinese job candidates will do quite a bit of research on your company’s background in advance of the interview. Be prepared for some very detailed questions about technologies, competitors, company financial status, internal organization, customer base and, most important, growth goals for your operation in China. If the questions seem intrusive, please remember that they have fewer tools at their disposal to assess the culture and reputation of your company.

  10. It is best to sidestep discussion of the compensation and benefit package during this conversation. The subject is better addressed in a follow-up face-to-face interview.

  11. Finally, toward the end of the interview, Daniels recommends that you summarize the key points that were covered and recount the candidates’ answers to important questions. Ask if they feel the need to clarify any of their responses or add some important missed point. At the conclusion of the interview, thank the candidates for their time and indicate when and how you will let them know the next step.

    "Chinese candidates are generally well-prepared and will make a strong effort to be open, communicate clearly and pick up on your culture and background," Daniels says. "If in return you are open, use careful and metered delivery and listen well, the interview will be productive."