Good Luck Managing This Lot

Monday, April 12, 2010 9:57

If there is one thing I have learned through my experiences in interviewing candidates, it is to do whatever you can to try and understand what will be their motivating factor.

Are they only looking to get a couple years of experience, if you are lucky, before they apply to grad school? Are they still trying to work out the meaning of life? Or do they genuinely find an alignment with the organization and are willing to work hard and be apart of something that builds?

I have about an 80% success rate, and so far, I have yet to have anyone leave for a competitor, but unfortunately I have lost (or am in the process of losing) two employees who have been with me for about 18 months and have decided to check out of Shanghai. That, while they love the job, their coworkers, and what they have done, they have had it with the city.

It is something I first came into contact with about 7-8 years ago in Chengdu when speaking with some princelings. Their parents had provided everything, they went to the right schools, and they were on the path to riches… but all they could think about was ice climbing. Calling themselves Chippies (Chinese Hippies), their ideas of life did not sync with their parents ideas (or societal norms), and as the China Daily article Young Chinese run away from metropolises apparently they are not alone:

An ongoing poll by China’s leading portal,, shows many young Chinese feel the same way. From March 1 to Saturday, 75.3 percent of the total 8,729 participants said they planned to leave big cities, like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.[….] For decades, cities like Beijing have been magnets for young people, promising good incomes, more career opportunities and a fast lifestyle.

They still do, but smaller cities in east China and provincial capitals have been catching up, thanks to the economic boom, with other advantages like light traffic, moderate living cost and relatively good air quality.

Biking with friends along a twisting cobblestone lane leading to his new home, Ding still marvels at the relaxed pace of life.

A trend that I would classify as the annecdote, where I take interest in this is that for years multinational firms have met stiff resistance when looking to move Shanghai trained staff/ managers back to their home towns (or to 2nd / 3rd tier cities near their home towns).  for them, staying in Shanghai meant an opportunity not to be missed, but as the opportunities in China’s 2nd and 3rd tier cities have improved, this is only going to grow easier.

So, keep this in mind the next time you find yourself across the table from a candidate, and try to see if they are on some level motivated to get back to their roots.  If so, by being the platform that gets them back, you may have just bought another 2-3 years.

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3 Responses to “Good Luck Managing This Lot”

  1. Gerald says:

    April 12th, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Hmmm, very interesting… I’m out in a third-tier city, and it seems that students here are still rather headed for the East Coast cities – if they can manage. Or for whatever work, if that’s the way.
    Finding out what they want, except to find work (or to do a postgrad so they don’t have to find work now and will maybe find a better job later), has proven very difficult.
    Still, thinking of China’s development, I think it bodes well. There’s enough places away from the coast that need people, too…

  2. Craig says:

    April 13th, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    They’re always welcome here in Ningbo! Second-tier cities rock! All of the fun, and none of the expat jerkwads.

  3. Jason Lau says:

    April 22nd, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    Good observations, Rich.

    Another consideration is the high cost of living in first-tier cities. While the salaries are more generous, the expenses are also much higher than in many other places. It hurts to pay very high (and some times almost international) prices in the big cities (I know the shock I felt when I first shifted to Shanghai). Furthermore, when families back home are expecting the young people to bring back most of their paycheck at the end of the year, it can be hard to explain that just living in a first-tier city costs a lot of money.

    As you mentioned, the “disadvantages” of second/third-tier cities are decreasing, and so in a simple cost/benefit analysis, there is less and less necessity for young people to stay in first-tier cities. When considered with the advantages of lifestyle and being close to home, these other areas can be very attractive. We had a very good artist who simply missed the mountains, food, and lifestyle of Guilin, and after a year and a half, decided that it was worth moving home. I think I’d have done the same.