The most logical step to finding internships and non-teaching jobs in China is to sift through online job boards or connect with HR recruiters. But for those looking to bypass the competitive online job market, this article looks at how to hack the China job market a less traditional way. These pointers will be especially relevant if your resume is a little light on experience.
The first move is the most obvious and that’s taking the initial step to base yourself in China. Finding a good position in China once you get here though is not as simple as it once was. A major barrier now is the visa situation for foreigners. Foreigners must have a visa to visit China and traditionally holiday visas were your ticket to spending up to 90 days in China with in-country renewals. The situation has since changed as holiday visas now only cover 30 days (for most nationalities) with extensions on the Mainland and in Hong Kong difficult without a detailed travel itinerary and proof of hotel and travel bookings. To find the right job and to develop a network of professional contacts that will lead to employment outcomes normally takes at least 5-10 weeks.
One option is to look at studying at a private language school in China. Private programs are flexible in terms of hours and can assist with visa support for 90-180 days. In some cases, you can also negotiate with the language school to work a couple days or so in return for free classes or complimentary accommodation. To organise this you will need to demonstrate first how you can add value in marketing, website development or administration.
You may also want to avert from enrolling in a university program as these programs tend to be based outside the downtown business center of most cities. Instead, attending a small language program in the heart of the city will provide you with easy access to networking events and the business community. You will also find that some of your classmates at the private language schools will be full-time professionals, traveling spouses, or interns and better connected to the business community than the student hive of Wudaokou in Beijing for example.
2) Smart Networking
While business card swapping and WeChat scanning are rapidly replacing table tennis as a national sport in China, there’s something to be said about the traditional approach. There’s still no substitute for getting to know people. Don’t try to break any ground level records in ‘speed networking.’
Rather, work the room for introductions. This way you don’t need to waste time hunting out the right people in the room and risking rejection with a cold approach or finding a conversation starter. Create a situation where someone else does the introduction for you.
First get to know the event organisers. At chamber events, for example, the most important people to know are the staff, as they should know the room better than anyone else. The staff or hosts will be able to point out the right people in the room or introduce you to attendees from companies seeking to fill a position.
Personal introductions are effective for several reasons. First you avoid the nerves of a cold approach. Second, a personal introduction provides a valuable endorsement. And third, the introduction should also establish the fact that you are looking for job opportunities and highlight your suitability or personal strengths such as language skills.
While the host will normally be your first choice for introductions, you can also work the room to find other attendees to help you with introductions. Think of them as multipliers. The key though is to build rapport with someone first before asking for an introduction. This leads us on to the next tip.
3) Make Friends
Moving to China by yourself can be a daunting experience and networking events can easily turn into an expensive and demoralising pursuit. So why not complement your networking calendar by participating in social clubs, sport, and other community groups. These groups offer a valuable and more casual networking platform.
Finding genuine friends in China is vital not only as a support network but also professionally. One of the best things you can do when you are new to town is to find people with mutual interests and whom you genuinely get along well with. Regardless of their occupation and its relevance to your career ambitions, finding a friend from a networking event or football match is not only going to help you integrate and enjoy your time in China, but also open you up to a whole new network of people. For example, if you are looking for a job at an engineering company and you meet a nice German guy from your football team, he then might be able to put you in touch with his clients or friends at Siemens and Volkswagen.
4) Internships in China
Internships in China are the most common avenue for young people finding a non-teaching job in China. Many companies in China leverage an internship program as talent identification and are willing to overlook inexperience to hire proven talent.
Internships are generally much easier to secure than full-time employment but the common barrier is again the visa problem. A holiday visa is technically not intended for internship purposes and Hong Kong is now cracking down on those making a visa run to extend their internship. In certain cases, interns from the Mainland regularly flying to Hong Kong for a holiday visa now only receive 7-14 day visas. Unfortunately, companies rarely sponsor foreign interns due to the legwork involved and compliance issues. Therefore, your best bet is to again go through a private language school for a visa or if you are studying in China under a student visa at a university, use your summer holiday between or after semesters.
You can find internships in a variety of ways, including networking events, referrals from friends, online job sites, and even a cold email. The key though is identifying the appropriate host company. For example, while the China Policy internship program in Beijing is an excellent and rewarding program, as a small firm they can only offer full-time positions under very special circumstances. A large firm such as Weber Shandwick in Beijing though has a proven track record of using internships as talent identification and hiring interns and might be a better long term choice. On the flip side, you might be doing more engaging work and have more responsibility at a smaller firm like China Policy than at with some of the bigger guys.
You may also want to resist the temptation of interning for a big company that is known to be downsizing in China. For example, as Siemens is downsizing in China (as with many foreign electronic and other manufacturers), the Siemens Beijing internship program is unlikely to lead to full-time employment at this moment. You can normally gauge a company’s hiring demands by asking around, checking how often the company posts new positions on their website or directly asking the question when you get to the interview stage.
In addition, you should also look out for internship hosts who can act as multipliers. A chamber of commerce is an ideal multiplier because they may be able to refer you to companies. Government trade commissions are another good example. While government internships rarely lead to full-time employment, your supervisor and colleagues should be well-placed to refer you to other companies in the private sector. The key is to work hard and build confidence and trust with your supervisor so they can refer you on to other potential employers.
Finally, internship experience in China significantly adds to your resume and job prospects, and a reference letter from an employer in China will go a long way to helping you find your first break in China.
Finding non-teaching jobs in China is by no means straightforward and especially for recent graduates. However, for those with the right attitude, approach and appropriate visa support there are some good opportunities out there. I got my first break from a networking event in Beijing where I met my first employer. This opportunity was a 12-week internship and from there it led to a 2-year contract and a full-time job. This is a common career trajectory for many young expats in China and certainly a sound option to consider for those keen on kick-starting their career in China.
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