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Expat's Eye
Print Edition> Expat's Eye
UPDATED: August 12, 2013 NO. 33 AUGUST 15, 2013
Family First
By Ruben van den Boer


My decision to come to China was a pretty simple one: curiosity. I am originally from Holland, but have always been fascinated with China—this mysterious and rising oriental superpower. I bought books and movies on the country, wishing to satisfy my questions. On the contrary, it only inspired more. With China's economy booming, many amazing career opportunities are currently open to foreigners like me. It was a very natural decision for me to come to explore the possibilities in China. Beijing brims with opportunities and ancient Chinese culture, which is the reason I have made it my home.

As a headhunter here, I am surprised by the level of professionalism within the local industry, even though it is relatively new. I have discovered that when considering changing jobs or taking up new employment, families have a huge impact on the decision-making process. Considering my own background, most Europeans make self-development their first priority opposed to family life. Decision-making is thus very self-oriented and independent. As an example, I only considered my interest in China before moving a world away from my parents.

From a cultural perspective, the Chinese moral code of family and filial responsibility, xiao, is greatly influential. Local people feel responsible for taking care of their families and even in-laws. Although they are willing to relocate, it should be within a 1-hour flight so they can make it back in case of emergencies. Also, I have come across cases where Chinese candidates would struggle to change jobs because it could affect their families. For instance, one candidate who has seven years experience in marketing always wanted to work as a brand manager. Fortunately, I had just the right opportunity for him with a company in Ningbo, where both he and his family reside. Even though initial interviews went well, during the final round of discussions, he told me that he couldn't accept the offer because he was supposed to get married this year and prepare to have a baby. His family was not happy about his decision to change jobs since it would be challenging. Therefore, he turned the opportunity down, which I found extremely shocking.

I have encountered another similar situation. I arranged interviews for a logistics manager candidate. I wanted to prepare him a little two days before. However, he requested the interview be moved because it fell on the 60th birthday of his mother. When I communicated this to the client company, they responded by saying it was totally acceptable and that they respected the candidate's schedule.

Family is a very basic, but crucial factor for Chinese candidates choosing a job. On the other hand, Western values have infiltrated younger generations, alongside the effects of a fast changing local society, with the youth more independent. I believe that there will be a new balance between family and personal life, with Chinese characteristics.

The author is a Dutchman living in Beijing

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