Until very recently, Chinese language qualifications were not considered a deal-breaker for senior positions in China. For the most part, US and European employers assumed that a person of Chinese extraction had some degree of fluency in Chinese, and could communicate with other Chinese in China.
This all changed when Goldman Sach’s proposed appointment for China co-head, Richard Ong, was disqualified from his proposed position because he failed to pass the language requirements for the position which were passed by the China Banking Regulatory Commission. Ong was a Malaysian Chinese who had been mostly educated in English in the west.
The test which Ong failed to pass was the HSK or Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi. The test is given in three levels: basic, intermediate and advanced. The most basic level of Chinese language fluency is level 1; the most advanced is level 11. Those who reach level 11 Chinese language fluency are deemed to be able to work in a Chinese-language work environment. The HSK is the only government-sanctioned test given to non-Chinese whose results are recognized by the Chinese government.
Previously, the HSK was considered important only for those who were interested in the Chinese language for research and academic purposes; now, it is quickly evolving into an important job requirement qualification for those who want to work in China.
The test information and registration website includes full information about the process and tests, with test dates and places. Registration for the tests can be done online, as well as payment. All the candidate then needs to do is print out his form and photo, and present himself on the date of the test.
Test preparation books and materials are widely available in foreign-language bookstores in China, as well as in online stores.
As China becomes more important and influential on the international business scene, the need for senior executives who are fluent in written, spoken and in reading Chinese will become more important. Now, because of CBRC regulations, the sectors most affected are the sensitive financial sector; it is likely that as western companies become educated about the difference between being ethnically Chinese and fluent in Mandarin, they will ask for HSK test scores to get a handle on the Chinese language fluency of their staff and management, and prospective candidates. It is likely that it will soon evolve into a requirement for those in marketing in China, and in operations. Already, among executive search firms, there is a serious shortage of senior-level staff and management positions where candidates with Chinese-language fluency and overseas work experience are sought. For those who are serious about working in China, it would be wise to take the HSK and have their scores ready for their meeting with the human resources department.
Among China consultants, the HSK has already become a hot topic for discussion.
For those who are interested in learning more from others, and in sharing their knowledge, there is a discussion group for the HSK on Facebook.