For mainland job hunters and employers, there are just two names in online recruitment: Zhaopin.com and 51jobs.com. The local players dominate the mass market, leaving little apparent room for leading global recruitment website LinkedIn. But there is one way that the US-based professional networking site can make a valuable name for itself in China: target the upper tiers of management.
Unlike Google, Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn is the one social site that is not blocked by the Great Firewall of China. Chinese users are free to access the site because it is not regarded as a potential means of distributing sensitive information.
At the same time, the mainland authorities are keen to promote successful Chinese professionals as part of its global soft-power push. But local players are often criticized for their failure to adequately match applicants with employers, as evidenced by the regular turnover in the upper ranks at multinationals in China.
LinkedIn, however, can be a bridge between professional managers and multinationals as they expand on the mainland. It isn’t hobbled by the local recruiters’ lack of expertise in dealing with global enterprises.
The company can also exploit the weaknesses of the mass approach adopted by domestic players. Local agents typically send out jobseekers’ resumes en masse even if the job description does not match the applicants’ experience. Some human resource managers at Chinese businesses complain that they receive more than a hundred applications for each job advertized, but only a handful deserve shortlisting.
LinkedIn can also differentiate itself from the local offerings by playing up its connections with global enterprises and headhunters, and giving mainland professionals the chance to size up opportunities overseas.
To hit the sweet spot in the market, LinkedIn has appointed George Shen, an internet industry veteran who held a senior post at Renren Inc., as its first president for China. The company has also partnered with Tencent Holdings Ltd (0700.HK) to integrate the 500 million users of Tencent’s WeChat with LinkedIn, extending its reach to more potential members.
The company has already signed up more the 4 million members partly through its Chinese mobile app, and its next step should be to build a Chinese-language website. It could also focus from the start on the senior management job market.
But can it do it alone? The central government has kept the internet sector on a tight rein by treating it as a national strategic asset and therefore allowing the field to be dominated by Chinese firms. LinkedIn may need to secure a local partner to explore business options and the partnership with WeChat is the first move in that direction. A step further may be to establish a joint venture with a Chinese partner focusing on the operation of China.
LinkedIn does not have similar joint venture agreement in other countries, but a good Chinese JV partner could help it deal with regulatory requirements and forge close ties with the authorities.