How to scout IT talent in Shanghai

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IMG_4926So you setup shop in Shanghai and started to look around to extend your web-development team? A recurring question I’ve received is how we used to spot talent in Shanghai. We started by looking at the universities but ended up hiring over 10 people with the experiences below.

1. Not so good: visiting universities at random:

On a Friday afternoon in 2010, I walked into the East China Normal University in Shanghai. I explained the guards that I was starting a company and had the desire to meet some graduate IT students. Surprisingly, I was let through. Two finance students showed me around. They were interested in my intentions but couldn’t help me more then point me to the software development building. I was let inside but there were barely any students outside the library. And the ones inside looked too busy to be disturbed. The only thing that didn’t make that trip a total failure is that I could leave my flyers on the canteen wall. However, in the following week, not one call came in. (A seperate story is how we came back to the very same uni to find great interns later) I had to find another way.

2. Better: seeking students online

Back in the office the next week, I ousted my frustrations to a friend in HR. She pointed me to a recruitment network called 51job.com. Here is the thing with 51job.com. First off, it’s in Chinese but that shouldn’t hold you back. The other: most employers pay to create a company profile and a job profile and sit back while the applicants sign up. I made that mistake as well. The amount of time spent going through resume’s was enormous and I didn’t find any good applicants. Instead, I found a liking in the resume search bar. I was looking for a javascript frontend developer and was able to find a long list by narrowing down to our area in Shanghai and adding JS related terms (Like jQuery etc) into the searchbar. I then went over the remaining list and invited every candidate by telephone. This often resulted in a language/communication problem but when I did a follow up with a SMS in English I always got an answer. I usually setup interviews at coffee-shops and such. Be aware, like in every interview worldwide, that some might exaggerate their credentials. Mostly a gut driven decision to hire someone in the end I would say.

3. Best: Networking

The first team members joined with the 51job method. I then had less trouble finding additional candidates. Because I could speak out about the additional member that we needed and that would often lead to a trusted employee vouching for a friend, they usually came with a great addition to the team. At that point the company grew and we had enough Chinese employees and HR staff to take care of the remaining searches, I was just involved when we interviewed the IT related staff.

Search actively

The key takeaway I learned is to not wait for applicants to react to your job profiles. It’s way better to seek them out and the 51job website has helped me tremendously with this. At the time I tried finding team members at university, I had a wrong approach. A better way would have been to get in touch with the professors first before visiting (I learned that afterwards). Once you have a bit of a network, it’s easier to find people through your existing employees!

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