Negotiating in China

You've got the job and you want to negotiate for a salary that suits your skills and experience. Here's how!

① What are the differences between negotiating in China versus the West?

Negotiations in China can take much longer and include more nuance than typical Western negotiations. The long-term business relationship comes before the immediate result of the negotiation, and it's very important to maintain senior parties' “face” by refraining from using aggressive tactics or overtly pointing out mistakes, especially when subordinates are around. Also, when one point of discussion is renegotiated, the Chinese view all items as reopened for discussion - be mindful of this, especially if the negotiation is time-sensitive.

② What are the biggest mistakes foreigners make when negotiating for salaries in China?

It's actually not a methodology issue but an information issue. Back home, people generally have an idea of average salaries for their job sector, but in China, candidates are often going in blind. Because of this, it's important to put in the due diligence and find out for yourself what your job normally pays in China. Check out our infographic ( for some guidelines.

If you haven't been asked by the company to relocate, you shouldn't expect to be paid much more than a local in a similar position. There was a time where foreigners could be paid roughly twice the salary of a Chinese counterpart based on their nationality and language skills alone. Today, to get a higher salary, you need specialized skills and a strong background.

If candidates aren't sure what the market rate is, they can ask the employer what salary they are offering for the position (the employer will have one in mind) and negotiate accordingly based on background, experience, and benefits.

③ What suggestions would you give to job seekers about negotiating in China?

Be strategic, do your research, and prepare in advance. Make sure you understand what cards you have and lay them down one by one rather than showing your hand all at once. While every situation is different, you generally cannot expect too much transparency. If possible, you should attempt to frame the solution as a win-win and avoid causing the other party to lose face when they agree to your terms.

④ What challenges do you face as an HR company mediating between companies and potential candidates?

It's the challenge any middleman faces – keeping both parties happy by filling any gaps in communication and understanding. We've found that the best way to do this is to give both parties enough personal attention that we fully understand their conflicts, and convey them to the other party in a way that they understand.

⑤ What is the best way to bring up a raise at your company?

Chinese businesses tend to be very results-oriented, so if you're looking for a raise, you should be able to show what results you have produced for your employer. If possible, you should point to specific results that can be measured quantitatively, preferably in terms of revenues. If you show your employer your value in a way that they understand, they will be much more likely to agree to your request.

⑥ What are the most common arguments companies use to negotiate against a salary increase and what are the best ways to counter-argue? 

Employers may point to instances where you did not achieve the results they desired or claim that they don't believe you've added enough value to merit a raise. That's why it's so important, as mentioned above, to present your value specifically and quantitatively. It does require some prep work, but it increases your chances of a successful negotiation and, as an added bonus, helps your boss understand what you've achieved. If you're able to say, “I produced x RMB of revenues for this company last quarter as a direct result of XYZ projects” and back up your claim with data, it will be hard for your employer to argue against you.

Kristen Carusos is from Atlanta, Georgia in the United States. She graduated from Kennesaw State University with a major in International Affairs and a minor in French. She studied abroad in China for the first time in Shanghai in 2010 and again in 2011 at Beijing Language and Culture University. She graduated and moved to Beijing in 2012 and has been studying Chinese since then. She works in the Marketing Department at the Sinology Institute.