China is the world’s most populous nation and ‘queuing up’ or ‘queue-jumping” is almost a national sport. Whether it be lining up for baozi in the morning or applying for a graduate job with KPMG, nothing in China comes without a little bit of competition.
In order to get ahead of the pack, we look at how you can prepare a successful resume and interview for jobs in China for foreigners.
Tackling the Resume
Everyone has their own opinion on how to best present and format a professional resume. In China there are no strict rules, but for western companies resumes should typically be kept to 1-2 pages and ideally a single page. Continental European companies tend to prefer the longer format and so it does pay to factor in the nationality of the employing company and potentially the provided name of the HR Manager.
It’s then crucial to customise your CV to match the job requirements. Graduates often think of resumes as an opportunity to list their lifetime achievements – sometimes even dating back to primary school awards! The assumption being that quantity will add more points. However, the cold reality is many of your life accomplishments and experiences will not be relevant to a job position in China. The more difficult you make it for an employer to pinpoint your relevant skills and experiences in your resume, the more unlikely you are to receive a phone call inviting you to the next round! It’s better to list less information in your resume and showcase the most relevant skills to the advertised position.
Formatting Your Resume
In regards to building your resume, starting with a career objective relevant to the advertised position sets your resume off to a good start but is optional. This should then follow with your previous work or internship experience (especially relevant experience in China), as well as a mention of your major academic qualifications. Finding work in China without a bachelor degree can be quite difficult and particularly for attaining a visa to work in China. Listing the dates of your bachelor degree will also be important for visa purposes but we will go into that later.
You should customise how you detail your academic and professional background in order to match the job position. Let’s take the example of a graduate who has a liberal arts degree and who has recently completed their thesis on “Post-modern analysis of Chinese foreign policy’. The job they are applying for is a research assistant position at a policy institute in Beijing. In this example, it’s important to mention in their academic background the topic of their thesis.
However, for a job position as a business development manager with an agri-business company, listing the degree title simply as a Bachelor of Arts – Majors is International Relations and Chinese would suffice. In this case, the topic of the honours thesis pays no relevance to the advertised position. You don’t want to be viewed as too academic for a position that requires a more pragmatic and less academic approach.
In reverse, hospitality experience would be of little relevance to a policy institute but well suited for a business development role where customer service and working under pressure are core requirements. There’s also nothing wrong with listing bartending or fast food customer service experience if you think the skill set is relevant to the role.
Extra-Curricular, Skills & Hobbies
After you’ve inserted your relevant educational and professional experiences, the next step is to compress your extra-curriculum accomplishments into a section. Again, lean towards selecting achievements related to China and especially Chinese language proficiency like a ‘Second place in the Hanyu Qiao Language Proficiency Contest’.
Listing skills in a resume is not always necessary and especially as you probably won’t have the physical space on the page to elaborate on these attributes via the STAR technique. Instead, include these skills briefly in your cover letter and save a detailed explanation for the interview. Or you can thread your skills into the professional experience section of the resume under each job experience.
Other sections you can add to your resume are interests, nominated referees and community engagement. Recruiters in the business world will look carefully at your interests or hobbies. Fitting into the company culture is crucial and especially when you could be sitting next to your colleagues for 10 hours on a business trip to Guangzhou.
Overall, your resume needs to be succinct, relevant and clear in order to spark the interest of the employer and ensure you progress to the next round.
Acing the Interview
The interview is the most important round of the job application process. You can forget about your resume now. That was just the stick to you get in the door. Something to keep in mind is that’s there’s for sure going to be applicants better than you on paper and that’s out of your control. However what you can control is how you prepare for the interview and arriving there on the day as the most prepared. To prepare for an interview you will need to research the company, everything from its international headquarters to its stock price trend (if applicable) and especially its focus product/service offerings in China. While you might not have an opportunity to show off all the knowledge you have acquired in the interview, if you do get a chance to link what you know about the company back to the interviewer’s question then this will be a huge win!
In the interview its also important to elaborate how you have developed a particular skill through the STAR technique and to remember a couple of other factors unique to China.
Staff retention is a huge problem in China and especially with foreign employees. The transient nature of employees, pollution and lack of salary uptake in China make it hard to hold on to foreigners for more than a year or so. Offering a 2+ year commitment to a company can therefore be a key selling point. It also wouldn’t hurt to name drop that you have a pet or partner living in the same city! Be honest though because the expat community in China is dangerously small and the truth has a way of coming full-circle!
The other factor to keep in mind about finding a job in China is that companies are not always expecting a carbon copy of the job description. This is because the foreign labour pool in China often lacks depth in skills and experience. Therefore don’t be afraid to apply for jobs outside your field of study. Make sure too in the interview you underline that you are an active learner and keen to develop new skills that meet the needs of the company. You will quickly find that China is not unlike the West in that ‘attitude’ is everything.
Chinese Language Skills
Underlining your Chinese language skills or China experiences will also greatly help you in the interview. Many companies will ask you to provide a self-introduction in Chinese. Some other typically asked questions in Mandarin are:
Why are you interested in this position? 这份工作吸引你的地方在于？
What can you bring to the job? 你若参与此份工作能为我们带来什么？
Tell me a little bit about yourself? 你能做一个简单的自我介绍吧
Where did you study Chinese? 你在哪里学的中文？
The key to speaking Chinese in the interview is to not to speak too fast and to speak politely. For example, opt for 您 (nin) over 你 (ni) to be more polite. Asking the interviewer to repeat the question once will also not disadvantage you. This provides you with extra time to collect your thoughts and respond. Learning the translation of the advertised position and company name in Mandarin would be advantageous.
Finally, it’s important to project professionalism and confidence in regards to attire and oral presentation. This is the same as in the West, but in China it’s especially important for young people. This is because there’s more opportunities for young people in China to step into jobs that would normally go to those more senior in the West. Professionals in the peak of their career (between age 35-50) tend to steer away from China because they can earn more money in the West and family considerations. Younger job seekers with strong language skills are therefore well placed to take on more senior positions in China. Projecting confidence and professionalism will certainly help your cause.
Following the basic etiquette of resume writing and interviewing in the West will put you in good stead for the job application process in China. However, understanding the pressure points of employers in China, including commitment, language skills, skill growth and professionalism, could make the extra point of difference and help you jump to the front of the job queue!
Before you go, check out how to jobs in China.
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