In this article Henley Research International’s Associate Director Brendan Blayney discusses the challenges of finding and contacting senior executives in China.

As China’s economy grows and increases in global importance, we at Henley Research are seeing an associated increase in the number of enquiries and mandates we receive for Executive Research and Talent Mapping work in China. China is now not only a manufacturing base but a hugely important market for global multinational companies across almost every sector, and alongside this development Chinese multinational companies are increasingly becoming major players on the global stage.

Henley Research has always enjoyed working globally for an international client base, and to that end maintains a multilingual team, to which Chinese language capabilities were added over three years ago. Chinese language skills are vital to a successful search in China for a number of reasons, even if you are only looking to recruit fluent English speakers for a particular vacancy. This article explores some of the challenges and solutions when conducting Executive Research and Talent Mapping work in China, which go far beyond the simple time zone and public holiday differences that come into play when working in Europe, America and other parts of Asia.

One obvious challenge when conducting online research in China is the language barrier, and the fact that the Chinese language uses many thousands of characters rather than a traditional Roman-style alphabet only increases the difficulty for non-Chinese speakers. While many globally-minded Chinese professionals may have English-language profiles on LinkedIn, and many companies in China may have English-language websites, there are many more people with Chinese-language LinkedIn profiles and companies with Chinese-language websites, including the local Chinese websites of Western companies. Websites like Google Translate can get you so far with interpreting these, but to really search and interrogate the internet in China, language skills are essential.

While some Western online resources like LinkedIn have some use in China, there are many other websites such as Google and Facebook that are not widely used and even banned in China. For the most relevant search results in China it is often far better to use a local Chinese search engine like Baidu, along with Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo and WeChat. Using WeChat has been the norm for most communication in China, from messaging to phone and video calls, for many years now, and most candidates will expect and prefer to be contacted in this way.

When it comes to the telephone, many candidates will require or expect to be spoken to in Chinese, and even where a candidate is a fluent English speaker, you may need to speak to a Chinese switchboard in order to be transferred to or obtain contact details for them. Chinese switchboards can also be a valuable source of general company information which can only be gleaned through telephone research conducted by Chinese-speaking Researchers.

Even when you are able to speak to a switchboard or other information source in China in English, if you are not familiar with the pronunciation system of the Chinese names and place names that you may be asking about you will have great difficulty in making yourself understood. Even when Chinese words and names are transliterated into English, there will be many sounds that English-speakers are unfamiliar with or cannot guess the pronunciation of, not to mention the fact that Chinese is a tonal language in which the tone or pitch that a word is said in can completely change its meaning.

One particular challenge when conducting Executive Research in China is the fact that almost everyone in China has both a Chinese name and an English name. The Chinese name is the legal name given at birth but the English name may have been given to or chosen by the person as early as primary school, and may or may not be used in place of the Chinese name throughout the person’s professional career. Many people use their English and Chinese names interchangeably, or different ones in different contexts, and this adds another challenge and layer of complexity in identifying and contacting relevant individuals in a search, for example if you have obtained someone’s English name from an online source but their company switchboard only knows them by their Chinese name, or vice versa.

Beyond language, it is also important to understand Chinese culture in order to make the best first impressions and build and maintain good professional relationships with clients and candidates. This involves being aware of and sensitive to Chinese concepts such as face and guanxi (

For further enquiries around Executive Research, Talent Mapping, Talent Pipelining and Insights work in China please contact Mark Senior (Managing Director), Helen Davies (Director of Research) or Brendan Blayney (Associate Director and China lead) at Henley Research.