Tips for job hunting in China
From my time in China, I have found it to be a completely different job market from what I am used to elsewhere. In New Zealand, UK, USA etc, you are likely to find most vacancies posted on popular job sites and you can generally expect a response to your job applications. Not the case in China.
Because job hunting in China has been such a ‘surprising’ experience, I’d like to give ‘Sino-nubes’ a heads up and share what little I have learned. If you are moving to China and entering the job market without the luxury of already securing employment, you can expect a few things:
1. It will take time. More time than you care to give it.
What they say about ‘guanxi’ and establishing personal networks is very true. In most countries, when you meet someone for the first time, you shake hands (nods or whatever is the cultural equivalent). In China, there is the additional step of swapping business cards. Never mind the fact that you will probably never see them again, swapping cards is as normal and as cultural as shaking hands. The Chinese version of saying hello. When you think about it, its actually quite a logical thing to do. For visual learners like me, it helps to have the name on a piece of paper so that you can refer to it while talking to the new-found acquaintance. More importantly, you will have something to refer to later (if you are a hoarder of business cards, that is).
This cultural norm points to the emphasis placed on personal contacts and networking in China. In black and white, this means one thing- to find a job, you will need to start getting out there and meeting people in your field.In big cities like Beijing, there are many opportunities for networking. This also means that finding a job before arriving in Beijing may not be as easy as expected and could take longer than the one month allocated. (If you need suggestions for networks to tap into, feel free to ask)
In my 5 months of job hunting, I had stacks of business cards, went to headhunter events (not useful in my field) and networking events every week, talked myself hoarse at a 2hour speed-networking event and the only reason I managed to find my contract work and the full time job that followed was due to personal networks. It takes work and energy, but you do meet many very interesting people in the process!
2. Don’t expect a job description (but if you have one, count yourself blessed!).
Chinese firms don’t appear to be fond of clear job descriptions. In fact, they may count it against you if you push for job clarity. Not kidding. For one of the contract jobs I did recently, I had to write my job description, work plan, time line, and most of the details. All they knew is that they needed someone to do something. After doing a preliminary needs analysis, I discovered that what they needed was different from what they thought they needed!
3. Negotiating your pay package may take awhile
Remuneration packages vary widely from sector to sector and even within the exact same sector. If you are used to having some form of benchmark to judge the package, then this may be a little disconcerting. To deal with this, I suggest evaluating what your bottom line is (take home package, after all taxes are taken into account) and then judge that against whether you think you are a very desirable candidate with qualities that the firm really wants. China has many qualified graduates with Masters and PhDs coming out their ears but appears to lack candidates with long experience and soft skills (ie good interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, strategic thinking….professional wisdom, essentially). This means, if you are a recent graduate, job hunting outside the English teaching sector might be more difficult than envisaged. But if you’ve benefited from much professional development and soft skills training, use that to your strength.
4. They will want you to start working yesterday.
Despite the time required to job hunt and negotiate pay, once all those hurdles have been passed, things will fall into place more quickly than you may expect. They want you to start working tomorrow. And if that is impossible, then next week. Be prepared to drop everything if you are serious about joining that particular firm/company.
Recently, during his 3rd interview with a local company, a friend of mine was told to start work the next day.
5. You may need to do it the China way.
This goes without saying, but prepare to be flexible in the ways you are accustomed to doing things. There are days when you will ‘win’, but there will undoubtedly be days when ‘China wins’. This means, try and live with the mess and lack of structure while you get adjusted to the systems (if there are any) in your workplace.
I will admit that job hunting for me in China involved a lot of tears, frustrations and energy.I just couldn’t understand why it was taking more time than I had expected! Looking back, if I had been less picky, I may have had less difficulty securing a job. Teaching English is definitely an option worth considering if you are here for the short term.
Overall, job hunting is always a stressful period, no matter which part of the world you are in. And unfortunately, being patient is a quality that we will undoubtedly be forced to exercise. What I have learned is to celebrate even the small wins. If not, we miss the opportunities to appreciate what little/much we have.
If you want to learn more about China/Beijing, here is some sites that you may not have come across:
Also feel free to check out some of the videos on this site to get a taste of life in China =)