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Profile Human Resources Market Update, June 2019

The following summaries provide an update on the key trends that we have observed within the Human Resources job market across Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing. These updates identify emerging themes across the industry and detail the major factors impacting hiring and talent movement.

  • 2018 was a very active year for hiring in Hong Kong. Candidates were more confident about moving jobs than the preceding year and clients were keen to add headcount where they could. 

  • Throughout 2018 Financial Services gained momentum across the market and we saw hires in Insurance, Asset Management, Alternative Funds, and Banking. 

  • By the second half of 2018, mass market retail, luxury brands and professional services had also picked up their talent acquisition activities, with a number of these firms seeking to upgrade roles as HR teams restructured and created new hubs in the region. 

  • In particular, specialist areas such as Talent Management saw a huge increase in demand for talent as clients created new roles and expanded existing teams. 

  • By contrast, the hiring market in 2019 has so far been more subdued, particularly over the last couple of months. In part this has been due to the volatility in financial markets in the first half of the year and the trade war between China and the US. As a result, clients have struggled to get headcount approved internally. 

  • Nonetheless, niche roles within Talent Management and Rewards, for example, are still in demand, and rather more promisingly, we have seen an increased number of recruitment positions come into the market in Q2. 

  • Over the last year and into this year we are also seeing more Chinese domestic Financial Services firms expanding offshore into Hong Kong, and with this, the need to recruit HR professionals. 

  • Salaries in 2019 have increased largely in line with inflation yet bonuses paid in early 2019 were a little mixed. Despite a strong financial year, there were a number of people who had expected a higher payout. 

  • Nonetheless, the rest of 2019 looks tentatively upbeat, particularly at the junior to mid end of the market with new vacancies opening up and a refreshed desire to upskill current teams in a number of areas across HR. 

  • With a continued shortage of strategic, mid to senior level HR talent, especially within Talent Management, it will be the clients who can offer strong learning and growth experiences, flexible working, holistic/unique benefits and an inclusive company culture who will be able to better attract the top talent in 2019.


  • Off the back of a very strong 2018, hiring activity and sentiment this year has varied, depending on the industry, with the overall picture being a bright one. 

  • Partly fueled by the government’s initiatives to encourage technological innovations and the start-up ecosystem, the IT and Communications sector has performed very well in recent months and we have seen demand for HR talent in this space. 

  • The Finance and Insurance sectors also grew, and this has been bolstered by the ramp up of ‘new economy’ activities such as digital payments. 

  • Sectors experiencing continued challenges include oil and gas, shipping, construction and retail, with significant change programs and retrenchment work on the cards within these industries. 

  • In demand are strong HR Business Partners as well as specialists in Talent Acquisition, Compensation & Benefits and Talent Management. 

  • Talent Acquisition professionals with excellent stakeholder management skills have been particularly sought after, and companies have found these individuals increasingly hard to find. 

  • Generally, the market for high potential HR candidates has been particularly tight given the length of this bull run in hiring, and often these professionals have multiple offers on the table at one time. Winning organisations in this battle are ones that focus on the speed and professionalism of their hiring process, selling their organisational culture, as well as having a competitive compensation package on offer. 

  • Flexibility and agile working is on the rise, with many organisations using this to differentiate themselves in the talent market. Companies who have not considered these policies are losing their competitiveness in the war for talent. 

  • Digitisation, transformation and HR analytics are key conversation topics that are trending, and clients are looking for HR candidates who have relevant exposure as current capability in many organisations is weak in these areas. 

  • Health and Wellbeing remains high on the agenda for many organisations, with a focus on how organisations can increase engagement and talent retention through such channels. This is also filtering through to benefit packages, ensuring that companies’ insurance coverage and internal policies cover the relevant support required. 

  • Salary increments and bonuses in early 2019 were modest in many sectors, so the focus for the candidate remains quite heavily on base salary uplift during the hiring process.


  • In recent years, and with the US/China trade war as a catalyst, China’s economy has been slowing down. However, relative growth in the real estate, hospitality, consumer and professional services sectors, reflects the government’s strategy to shift away from investment in infrastructure to investment in services and consumption. This shift has been reflected in the job market generally, as well as specifically for HR talent. 

  • In general, the demand for full function HR generalists in the HR talent market is greater than for HR specialists. HR full function professionals with strong business-partnering skills and capability of driving organisational change and development are highly sought after. 

  • This demand for strategic HR business partners has been driven by the extensive business transformation and re-organisation activities happening in many organisations in China. Dealing with ambiguity and navigating complex organisational structures are key skills required of candidates. 

  • There is also an increasing demand for senior Talent Acquisition professionals, with the skill-set focus shifting from just fulfilling volume vacancies and promoting an employer brand, to driving team collaboration, implementing digitalisation strategies and talent succession expertise. 

  • A trend which is gathering momentum is the move to using technology more effectively in HR. MNCs predominately are driving this through the use of talent digitalisation tools used for talent pool management and market insights analysis, as well as the use of AI in talent acquisition and learning. 

  • Senior HR leaders with high levels of resilience are highly sought after across different sectors; individuals who can thrive under the pressure of an increasingly complex and changing environment. 

  • Dealing with organisational politics and implementing HR strategies with limited budget and resources are two of the main challenges that senior HR leaders have been facing. 

  • HR professionals received salary increments of around 5-7% (excluding increases as a result of promotions), which is slightly lower than in previous years, with variations seen between different industries and levels.


  • 2018 was a year of two distinct halves for the Beijing HR job market. Although there were good levels of activity in the first half, the second half saw investment for many organisations dry up somewhat, with a corresponding negative impact on hiring activity. Up to that point there had been almost blind over-hiring, in some cases, of HR professionals. 

  • Although the first half of 2019 has gradually become more active with regards to hiring, organisations are being far more cautious with their recruitment, and redundancies have affected quite a few companies. Business leaders are now focused on cost saving, from travel to hiring and training costs. 

  • HR professionals are more cautious about moving jobs this year, as they are nervous about being ‘last in, first out’. Many will choose to stay put and stabilize their CVs this year. This is particularly the case for more high potential candidates, which will cause frustration for many organisations, from big multinationals to domestic unicorns, who are looking for top talent. 

  • With a number of multinationals putting the brakes on growth in China, many HR professionals have been more interested in opportunities in domestic, listed or state owned companies. This is particularly the case for candidates whose hukou is not in Beijing, as joining these organisations would mean this residency permit problem is solved. 

  • The market has been more active at the junior to mid-levels of the market with senior level roles being fewer and further between, and when they are being hired a cautious, considered approach is taken. 

  • For senior HR heads who have been working for startup companies or internet firms, many are choosing to return to a larger, more stable company that has already listed in order to bring some stability to their career. 

  • Demand for talent acquisition candidates, although very healthy in the first half of 2018, is now at lower levels, and we have seen more roles in rewards, organisational development, as well as talent and performance management in recent months. 



For more information or individually tailored advice, please do not hesitate to contact our regional Human Resources team: 


Hong Kong Office - Richard Letcher and Amanda Clarke 

Singapore Office - James Rushworth 

Shanghai Office - Shelya Zhou 

Beijing Office - Ming Ming



Click here to download the full report.


Richard Letcher, Managing Director, Profile Search & Selection


June 2019

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