Working in China
A guide that helps you navigate the job market and build a career in China.
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How to Find a Job in China as an Expat
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Is getting a job in China possible for expats? Read on.
The Middle Kingdom can be a daunting place for outsiders. But in between the cultural differences, language barrier and whatever else trips you up, many expats find that you can in fact find a job and build a career in China.
In this article, we bring you tips on how to do just that, whether you are looking for your first China job or have worked there for many years. We cover everything from where to find jobs online to how to network. Here then, are a few tips on how to find a job in China and build a career as an expat.
The Basics: Things You Need to Know
Before even applying for your first job, just remember that China restricts which expats can work there legally i.e. who is eligible for a work visa. Generally speaking, job seekers from overseas will need a BA undergraduate degree which has been authenticated in your home country. Without this, you will find it pretty difficult to work legally in China.
Required too are an authenticated non-criminal record check and in most cases, reference letters from former employers as well as a whole host of other documents. Going through the process of getting a work visa can be arduous and rules regularly change. But above all, you should always check that your potential employer is willing to go through all necessary procedures to make sure that you have the correct visa to work in China.
Starting Out: Finding Your First Job
For many job seekers, teaching English as a second language (ESL) is a way to get a foothold in the China jobs market and start to build a career in China. Teaching experience will certainly put you at an advantage when applying. So too will ESL qualifications. The CELTA is certainly worth considering if you plan on teaching ESL long-term, although it comes with a high price tag. Otherwise, you can consider another Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate which will not break the bank. The latter may be a good option if you are not set on ESL as a long-term career option.
Next comes the question of where to find ESL jobs. The internet offers a plethora of recruitment websites for ESL teachers. Positions include those at universities and public schools which tend to offer light working schedules (the former sometimes as little as 2 days per week) but also tend to be low-paid and offer little in the way of opportunities to get promoted and build a career. If you consider taking one of these positions, you should probably think about how you will put all that free time to good use. It could be a good option if you want to develop other career-related skills such as learning Chinese or doing freelance work etc.
Other positions include those at training centres i.e. after school and weekend English classes. Big companies like Education First (EF) and Meten International offer positions all over mainland China. The working schedule can be quite tight as you will need to teach on weekday evenings and all day Saturday and Sunday. And during the summer and winter holidays, you will be required to teach extra classes. But on the upside, there are opportunities to get promoted and therefore build your career. EF for instance, allows teachers to hold management positions within a school and then work in their Shanghai head office in recruitment, course design or a whole host of other areas.
Aside from ESL, job seekers may find other options for their first job in China albeit in fewer numbers. Many employers, particularly in the first-tier cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, need native English-speakers to proofread and edit English-language content. This can range from product listings on shopping websites to blogs and magazines.
Like ESL, employers are usually willing to take on beginners. However, also like ESL, you should consider building up some experience prior to applying. For these kinds of positions, providing some evidence of written English such as a blog or freelance writing work is normally a smart move. And of course, proofread and double-check your resume for spelling and grammar errors. Mistakes will not look good when applying for a job which involves correcting English! (ESL resume tips)
Advanced: For Those with More Experience
Building your network on LinkedIn is especially worth considering for those who already have a nice meaty resume. The wider your network, the more chance you have in getting a job. In China it is also possible to link your LinkedIn profile to your WeChat account. One restriction of this feature however, is that for another WeChat user to see that you have linked your LinkedIn account, that user also has to have a LinkedIn account linked to WeChat.
Another option is to use Indeed, although many of their jobs tend to be targeted towards local Chinese job seekers. This is evidenced by the fact that many of the adverts’ content is written in Chinese characters. There are some exceptions to this. Positions advertised in English include positions as teachers, copywriters, sales managers and more.
Some Chinese recruitment sites also advertise jobs targeted towards those with more experience. The main industries in which jobs tend to be advertised include e-commerce, media, hi-tech, finance, education and more.
For Those Already in China
For those who have already arrived in the Middle Kingdom and settled into a new job, there are still many things you can do to continue to build your career in China as an expat.
The importance of networking cannot be overemphasised. InterNations for instance, runs events in each of the first-tier Chinese cities. Some are related to specific industries whilst others are social events. Either way, you never know who you might come across and it certainly does not do any harm to expand your network one way or another (you can probably sense a theme here).
To this end, you should be maximising use of the Chinese messaging App WeChat, such as using your real name, using a real profile picture in which you are recognisable, editing names of contacts so you can easily remember who is who and so on.
It is also probably a good idea to exercise caution against posting anything which may appear unprofessional on your “Moments” (similar to the “Timeline” on Facebook). This after all, could be something a potential employer will check up on when deciding if you are a suitable candidate for the job. So photos of you getting drunk and doing something embarrassing are perhaps not a good look.
WeChat Group is another crucial way to build your network in China. Once you are in China, you’ll meet other expats who introduce you to their own WeChat network, where you might come across some great opportunities.
For those who are not in full-time work, notably students, internships may be another way you can help build your career in China. This is unfortunately one of China’s legal grey areas. Visas rules related to internships are constantly changing. China Internship Placements points out that X-visas are the most appropriate. These are for long-term students. So if you already have this visa for your time in China as a student, you may allowed to legally intern. But as always, it is best to research the most up-to-date information and double check with the employer to avoid any legal difficulties.
Do not hesitate as well to take on freelance or part-time work. Online recruitment website UpWork features numerous freelance jobs for expats in China. Most numerous are those looking for copywriters, bloggers, translators, online ESL teachers and more. Again as with internships, this is somewhat of a legal grey area. Unless you are earning copious amounts of money however, doing freelance or part-time work which is only based online is unlikely to raise any suspicions.
Those looking to build a career in China should always bear in mind one very important Chinese word: guānxì. It literally means ‘relationship’ in English, but in Chinese society it carries special connotations. In China, your connections with other people count for a lot. Sometimes your ability to do business is determined in part by your guānxì. This principle should be applied to building a career in China. The more people you know, the easier it will be for you to find someone who can offer you a job. Or if that is not the case, perhaps someone who knows someone else who can introduce you to someone who can offer you a job. Either way, guānxì can get you places.
Learning the Language Helps
Finding English speakers in China can be hit and miss at times, so if you plan on residing in the Middle Kingdom for the long run, learning Mandarin is certainly worth the effort if only for making daily life less stressful.
It is also useful for finding a job in China. Unless you study Chinese at a university, it is unlikely you will reach the level of a native speaker. However, when applying for jobs, even those with ‘conversational’ Chinese can be at an advantage. Even though an employer may hire you for a job which is mainly in English, someone who can communicate in basic Mandarin may make the day-to-day running of the company a little easier. And of course, those with intermediate or business level Mandarin will be at a greater advantage still when it comes to the Chinese jobs market.
Plenty of companies and training schools offer Chinese classes for a small fee. Alternatively, you could find a “language partner” if you want to learn for free. Usually in this arrangement, two people teach each other their native languages. And if you are really serious about getting proof of your Chinese ability, you should consider taking a HSK examination (the official Mandarin Chinese exam in mainland China for non-native speakers). Levels range from HSK 1 (beginner) to HSK 6 (advanced). There are also a lot of apps available for you to learn and practice your Chinese.
That then, is your brief guide on how to find a job and build your career in China as an expat. China is not for everyone and can be a frustrating place at times. Putting all the career advice to one side for a moment, one of the most important things to remember when working in China is to approach every situation with patience and an open-mind (believe me some days you really need to remember this). But whether you are applying for your first job in China or are an old China hand, you may find sooner or later career opportunities coming your way in the Middle Kingdom.
If you are an American seeking job opportunities in China, check out the top 10 best jobs in China for Americans!
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