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Job hunting? Better learn Mandarin

Focus on people skills, not differential equations

November 5, 2010 -- Updated 1037 GMT (1837 HKT)

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(CNN) -- Looking for green shoots in the job market? Turn your attention to Asia.

Executive jobs are popping back on the radar in the region, according to recruitment consultants and business school career counselors.

They say the region is seeing a surge in executive job opportunities, especially in the financial services sector, which is rebounding after being hit hard by the economic downturn in the last few years.

China has shot past economic recovery straight into growth mode, according to Harry O'Neill, a managing partner of Hong Kong-based executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles.

That has created a demand for professional services throughout the region. Business coming out of China and India is resulting in a hiring boom in the Asian employment hubs of Hong Kong and Singapore, he said.

"Hong Kong didn't feel like a city in recession," O'Neill told CNN. When compared to the recovery in London and New York, "the city barely missed a beat," he said. "That's where the difference is between the Asian centers and the non-Asian big financial centers."

The International Monetary Fund predicts robust growth in Asia. Singapore's economy is forecast to soar 15 percent this year, and growth in China is estimated at 10.5 percent.

By comparison, the recoveries in the United States and Europe are facing uncertainty and unevenness. The IMF's latest outlook on the global economy sees the U.S. economy rising a paltry 2.6 percent in 2010 and the euro area economy growing a meager 1.7 percent.

The solid growth in Asia has already led to a bounce back in high-level jobs in the region. Financial services assignments across Asia increased by 48 percent between 2009 and 2010, according to a report released last month by the executive career management service of the Association of Executive Search Consultants.

Bill Fischer, a professor at Switzerland's IMD Business School who has studied China's changing business climate, said that Chinese firms are increasingly interested in hiring foreigners with experience in international financial markets and building global brands.

"The skills that go along with managing on a broad platform -- those are skills that they haven't had to develop in the past. But as they want to build their own brands, they want to do that as well," he told CNN.

"The jobs are there, but they're there for people who not only are experienced, but have some language skills, particularly if you're working for a Chinese corporation," he added.

Business school graduates are flocking to the region. Twenty-two percent of INSEAD business school's graduating class went to work in Asia last year, according to Vinika Rao, associate director of career services for the school, which has campuses in France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi.

Rao said INSEAD expects the number of placements in emerging Asian economies to grow, and the definition of emerging economies is broadening, she said.

"It's gone beyond India and China, now we're talking increasingly about opportunities in Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia -- countries that traditionally might not have been the first choice for MBAs."

Competition is intense for the jobs created by this hiring boom, says Stephen Shih, head of career service and corporate relations at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's business school.

He said that the region is attractive not just for its immediate opportunities, but also for its potential as a launching pad for an international career.

"Growth creates opportunities for innovation and rapid learning. For aspiring business leaders, Asia is a great place to build not just Asian-focused careers, but also global careers."

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