Financial careers set to prosper as normality returns to hiring market

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For many years, China-based financial institutions were forced to fight the talent war, both in hiring and retention, even more aggressively than their counterparts overseas. In China, a "normal" financial employment market was intense, competitive and rife with job-hopping.

Then the global financial crisis slammed into the Chinese market, causing hiring freezes, layoffs and even shortened working weeks. The recruitment situation today is still far less frothy than it was before crisis, but it's substantially stronger than in early 2009.

And unless the doomsayers are correct (former Morgan Stanley chief Asian economist Andy Xie calls the China equity and property markets "bubbles", while Victor Shih of Northwestern University refers to the entire economy as "a Ponzi scheme"), financial-sector careers should continue to gain in promise and payback as China's economy not only grows, but claims a rising share of global GDP.

The employment market is returning to normality. Two professionals in the sector offer discrete bits of data that support the broader recovery story:

Christina Antoniou, national functional leader, HR, Deloitte China, says the firm's graduate hiring in 2009 was slightly down from its 2008 level (which was largely determined pre-crisis), but 2010 hiring levels will be higher.

Brodie McDougall, manager, Michael Page Finance in China, says his group has noticed increased demand for qualified compliance professions due to recent regulatory changes.

Macroeconomists who are more optimistic than those cited above expect that the PRC government's biggest challenge in 2010 will not be continuing to stimulate the economy, but rather battling inflation. So as the year progresses, job offers and turnover rates should be on the increase.

Antoniou stresses that "the way you treat people during a downturn helps you keep them when the market recovers." Deloitte China's offer of four-day weeks for its staff, a step it took early in 2009 to avoid redundancies, should help the firm's retention efforts in 2010 and beyond.

As the Chinese employment market returns to normal, employers who seek to hire and retain the best will again need to excel in the practices that have proven their strength in the past:

- Uncommon effort at screening at the hiring stage, coupled with the willingness to move quickly when required;

- Well-defined training and promotion opportunities to enhance retention, as well as a commitment on the part of company leadership to communication.