I'm seeking new employment in East Asia; specifically, China and Hong Kong (though relevant answers about other, not-too-culturally-distant markets will be helpful), and in the software industry. It's a matter of course here for companies to ask about your current salary and even request to see pay stubs before hiring someone.

Many recruiters and HR departments ask for this information up front, and often insistently so, though it's not relevant (aside from rejecting applicants with too extreme requested salaries) or usually discussed until the offer stage. I prefer to wait until actually hashing out an offer to discuss salary, but perhaps my reasoning for wanting to do so is misguided. In the US or EU, not immediately discussing money (and not mentioning present salary, though that's not an option here) will generally give an applicant better (or rather, not preemptively destroy) negotiating leverage. I've assumed the following would apply here, and for similar reasons.

If it's not obvious, I'm not a native here. The positions I'm applying for are general ones in the open market. That is to say, the employers aren't particularly or exclusively trying to recruit foreign talent. It's welcome, but not expressly sought out. This is to say that it's definitely my responsibility to adapt to the local professional culture, and I shouldn't expect to be able to flout or ignore normal hiring processes. Indeed, being able to handle things in the same way as a local applicant would be a mark in my favor. At the same time, I have to be extra careful for a lot of the same reasons, particularly when negotiating salaries, lest I end up in a really unfavorable position. So I'm wondering if this is a rule that can be bent (as is very often the case here) or not.

  • Is not immediately listing my current and requested salaries in my CV or cover letter likely to get my application rejected out of hand, whether or not the listing asks for them?
  • Does the common western-market-oriented advice about when to negotiate pay by and large apply in East Asia?
  • 4
    I don't think this is entirely an opinion question. There are some generally accepted CV do's and don'ts.
    – user8365
    Feb 15, 2015 at 13:26
  • Thanks @JeffO. I'm not asking about opinions, though obviously the answers may differ among individual employers and recruiters. This is answerable - indeed, ideally so - with objective data or experience. Someone who's worked 30 years in this market would be able to answer just as easily as someone with the same experience in the US could a question like, e.g., "is it unusual or disadvantageous to have a year's gap in my CV?" These sorts of questions seem to be popular and on topic here; the SE Asian job market just has substantially different practices and expectations. Feb 16, 2015 at 3:22
  • China and Hong Kong aren't usually grouped with Southeast Asia.
    – jcm
    Feb 25, 2015 at 2:02

3 Answers 3


After applying for about fifty jobs in seven countries, I think I've gained enough insight to supply an answer. Note that the vast majority (80+%) of the companies - or at least their HR / interviewing managers - were ethnically Chinese, which makes a significant difference to workplace culture. This is not nearly scientific enough to be conclusive, but here's the summary of my experience.

Not supplying salary information will seriously damage your initial callback rate, but not totally destroy it. However, do expect the question to come up during the first phone screen. If you don't answer it, then you'll get passed over.

This is very frustrating because it's used as a tactic to box you in on a number before you know enough about the work or benefit structure to make a decision. From their perspective, if you end up lowballing yourself, great! If you over-bid, you'll get immediately round filed, even if you have sterling qualifications. The emphasis is very much on cost over quality.

The best answer to this tactic I've found is to say "I don't know until you give me more information" and then ask a battery of prepared questions. After you get your answers you'll have to start negotiating on a salary number. Negotiations are often very inflexible, especially regarding benefits. Companies usually have a much harder ceiling on what they're willing to spend than in the west.

I surprisingly found that recruiters are quite useful, in contrast with my experiences in the US. As long as you can find a decent one, anyway; there are plenty of duds. They can assist with the HR end of things, which is where I had the most difficulties. A downside is that I found them even more chatty and insistent than in the west.

Other useful things I learned about the interview process:

It's extremely important to make sure you get everything laid out formally in a contract and know what you're getting into. You will receive promises that are never intended to be honored and outright lied to as a matter of course. For example:

  • I was trying to negotiate for a higher salary because I received a nice housing stipend that the new job couldn't match, I was told "just move to [neighborhood that's in the top five most expensive places to live in China], it's so cheap!" After diplomatically pointing out the really obvious lie and supplying evidence of housing prices in the area, the response was "you're wrong, you don't know."
  • Offers of extra money and/or promotions for prompt contract signing. There's always some excuse about why they can't be in the contract, though. Also a favorite ploy for dissuading people from quitting jobs.

If you get to a face to face interview, be prepared for a thinly veiled (or even direct) "are you a racist" question. I lost an interview by being completely thrown by this. There will be other questions that feel too personal, but this one is the biggest mine in the field.

Finally, it's critical to immediately ascertain if the company can supply you with a work visa. You might think you wouldn't get a call if you're obviously foreign and they couldn't legally employ you, but it will still happen anyway. Also check whether they'll pay for it and assist with the paperwork. It's really obnoxious to have to do everything yourself.


I have not been to Hong Kong but since you mentioned "South East Asia": I was born in and spent lots of years in South East Asia. Now China/Hong Kong is not technically South East Asia but East Asia or "Greater China" or non-mainland China. Hong Kong is also very much a Cantonese culture with ostensibly some British influence but still rather Cantonese.

If you are researching your move to East Asia, note that there is a subtle but not insignificant difference between Cantonese and Mandarin backgrounds which may be important to research. Both in terms of language and culture. This is also quite critical in South East Asian Chinese of which some are Cantonese-speaking and some are Mandarin-educated.

As I am half-Cantonese-esque straits Chinese by heritage, the answer is... you won't be rejected in all cases but the expectation is to specify your starting salary up-front. If you don't HR may simply decide or not have the time to "decode" (in their view) your resume.

To summarise:

  • Expected salary is, well, expected, because it helps the company gauge up-front your level of experience and desired job role. Since it is hard for HR (especially less trained/educated HR) to figure that out from your resume. Keep in mind that many employees in more "clerical" roles such as Admin and HR may have very limited exposure to international travel and experience so they may even struggle with the volume of applicants, language, work experience, and companies in your resume particularly if you are a foreign applicant. Expected salary is basically a short-hand for initial screening besides glancing through the paragraph headers of your resume.

  • Work-life balance has gotten more attention recently since it is increasingly recognised to retain (especially tech) employees. However, Western practices of employees choosing a lower salary for better perks or better work-life balance, this is generally not understood or rejected (trust me, I've tried, it hasn't worked out). So if your expected salary is not within the target range (particularly if it is in the lower range for higher-level jobs) it may be rejected as you may be viewed as "not sufficient" - at least one employer has told me to the effect of "Why the heck did you ask for so low? It will take a while to bump you up" - also if your expected salary is too low the company may not want to hire you because they are afraid someone else can easily poach you with a higher, more market-rate salary or simply a higher salary. Applies to rare or even mainstream industries.

  • Due to more lax privacy laws in the region (and lax enforcement depending on city or country) they can query past salary - note that you may violate your previous employment agreements if you reveal this... however in South East Asia for foreigners/ expats citing this as "confidential" or for legal reasons, this would generally be understood.

  • Be warned that they can ask for much more information again not necessarily covered by or enforced by local authorities, though GDPR has highlighted a lot of privacy issues in this region as EU citizens are involved in no small way. They can ask for your family details, relatives, age, health conditions and so on - try to ignore these requests citing privacy and so on, that's what I've done and more modern companies shouldn't be doing this in general except for asking for emergency contacts after employment. Be warned that if this information is not explicitly asked in a long form you are asked to fill out, they may try and garner this information during the interview process. Of course at your discretion for purposes of rapport or for genuine understanding of your desired move, etc. they will ask if you're married, have children, where you're thinking of staying, what you like about the country, why you're leaving a Western country, etc.

  • I suggest specify the appropriate level of expected salary up-front knowing that the company will likely negotiate, or may not negotiate whatsoever if you are a desireable candidate... bare minimum it can ease the job hunt and can demonstrate an act of good faith on your part... since from your question it's more of a personal preference as opposed to a moral stance?

  • If you so decide, for certain jobs, you may not specify the expected salary but be aware HR may think you forgot to mention that and will likely ask you anyway... for which you can still say you prefer to discuss in-person, and so on - this can be acceptable in large, multinational corporations that have more experience with foreigners.. but may reduce your leads because as mentioned their HR may simply pass on your application for expediency, etc.

  • Finally, be aware that Cantonese culture is highly verbal-oriented. This cuts both ways. For example, many negotiations and discussions can be very verbal in nature. Written communication is referred to (at least in SEA) as "black-and-white" indicating that anything written is taken as a very serious legal document (even if as simple as an email saying "Yes, sounds fine, cheers"... hence verbal communication is preferred but for legal or strategic reasons they will want some written records... of course this is changing particularly in more developed economies like Hong Kong or Singapore,. But hard to tell up-front.

FWIW this happens because in South East Asia and at least Straits/Cantonese Chinese culture (lots of migrants from Southern China over a few centuries)... because unlike Western culture one of the primary motivations in Asia in a job is the monetary remuneration because; unlike in the West other factors such as quality of life in the city or country, perks, job role, comfort at work, adequate management, those factors are either considered less important or too variable to "guarantee". There are also cultural reasons which I won't go through at this time. This applies to both small and large companies because due to the rapid growth and many changing factors (sometimes political).


Unless it's required by law, you should not need to supply salary requirements. They can ask, you answer without answering, things move on.

In the West, often recruiters and employers ask me how much I got paid at my last job. I will tell recruiters and interviewers, "I did pretty okay." If they insist, I say "I did pretty okay indeed."

If they say they need to know how much I made to decide my current salary, I counter by asking how much they are offering for the position. If they say they really can't decide until they know my previous history, I will tell them I charge different amounts based on the type of company, so they can go ahead and tell me what they can afford to pay and it should work.

Of course, in North America, there are 5 vacant developer positions for every developer, so we can afford to play hard ball. I do not know if this is the case in SE Asia, but I would like to know.

Side Note: Why You Don't Say How Much You Made

You should avoid answering the question what was your last salary, since answering above or below what they are expecting to pay are both very bad.

Too low: They will just hire you for that price. I have never met an employer so kind as to offer me $25/h when I asked for $20. (Recruiters, on the other hand...)

Too high: The company will decide you're out of their range, and not hire you. Whether or not the compensation is adequate is really a decision that you should make.

What you want: By whatever means, you want them to tell you how much they are planning to pay for the position.

  • 2
    Thanks, but this doesn't answer the question: whether not immediately disclosing pay will get my application rejected automatically when applying in SE Asia. You're speaking about the job market in North America, which is very culturally different than it is here. I'm not legally required (as far as I know) to supply salary information, I wouldn't do so in the west, and I know the reasons not to. But here, there simply will be no offer without disclosure. I want to know if I can get through the initial interviews (and thus convince employers of my worth) before talking about pay. Feb 25, 2015 at 1:41

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