Three Ways to Build a Career in China Faster

Build a Career in ChinaPhoto by Jeremy Lim

Today’s guest post comes from Brandon. He moved to China in 2008 and recently founded SmartIntern China Internships, a company which helps students and recent graduates to secure internships in Shanghai.

Building a career in China isn’t easy, but you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t like a challenge, would you? There is no one approach that can guarantee success, but if you follow these three steps, you will be closer than most to living a dream in China.


Tip #1: Bypass the HR Department


Most people think of HR as the people they need to impress in order to land a job, but the reality is that impressing HR should be your last resort. In fact, your goal should be to avoid making contact with HR completely.

The goal of an employee in any corporation is to make themselves look good to their immediate manager. This is their number one priority. The entry-to-mid level gatekeepers in HR are incentivized to do this, not to take risks. And you, my friend, a foreigner from a foreign country with a foreign sounding name that is hard to pronounce and a less-than-perfect grasp of the Chinese language, are perceived as a risk. Your overseas background is difficult to contextualize, and you will face even bigger challenges if you don’t have a big brand name or two to put on your resume. The truth is that, in China, you are an even more unknown commodity than the average applicant.

That doesn’t mean you can’t provide great value to the company- you can! However, the people who will recognize this are not the HR gatekeepers- they are upper management or the company owner(s) themselves. ‘Stalk’ them on LinkedIn (though perhaps not as aggressively as this company) and find out a way to connect with them in person. This brings me to Tip #2.


Tip #2: Network Offline


The great thing about networking overseas is that expat communities tend to be tighter and more close-knit than communities in your home country. When you go out in your hometown, how often do you befriend a group of friendly strangers at the bar within five minutes? My guess is not very often (unless you live in some incredibly friendly city, in which case- tell me where it is in the comments!). In China, it is very easy to strike up conversations on the street with expats and locals alike. If you get yourself out there, and perhaps participate in a run with the Shanghai Hash House Harriers or volunteer with a group like Bean, you will be surprised at the movers and shakers who you bump up against. And, as they have once been in your situation- new and in very a foreign country- they tend to be sympathetic and willing to help.

Some networking groups to consider are:

  • Internations
  • FC Club
  • Chambers of Commerce- Google ‘{your country name} chamber of commerce china’ or ‘{your country name} board of trade china’ to see what membership options are available. Membership in one of these organizations costs money, but it is well worth it, as most members are senior executives and entrepreneurs with strong local knowledge.

I’d also recommend getting involved on LinkedIn by starting interesting discussions in groups like China Networking Group. Of course, if you are looking for an (here is my plug ;) ) internship in Shanghai I can help you with that here.

While less true in cities like Shanghai and Beijing, an additional advantage you will have is that we foreigners are often perceived as being far more interesting than we actually are. You could be the most boring person ever, but in most of China’s cities, you will be an attraction by virtue of your mere foreignness. This can be unpleasant at times- think back to that cab driver who wouldn’t stop stroking your arm hair- but it’s also a huge asset that you can leverage to your advantage.

You’ll get stressed at times by the traffic and general chaos on China’s streets, but please promise me that you won’t recede into your comfortable apartment with a hundred bootleg DVDs, only emerging once a day for Starbucks. If you get out there, network strategically, and are open to serendipitous encounters, you will eventually meet the people you need to meet.


Tip #3: Adjust your Expectations


This is not your home country, and expectations are different. In China, there is a saying of ‘吃苦’ (chiku), which loosely translated means ‘eating bitterness’. For long-term success in China, you should be prepared to ‘chiku’ in the short-term.

For example, many companies expect 6 day work weeks from employees. I have even seen companies advertise a 5 day work week as a ‘perk’! You might also have to get your own health insurance, and will likely be paid a salary far lower than you would command at home. The truth is that, if you are dead-set on transitioning out of teaching English and into a position that better aligns with your long-term career aspirations, you might need to take an internship at age 25, or work for a local salary for a year while proving your value.

I am not saying everyone will have to do this- cushy expat jobs in China still remain, though they most often go to employees with highly-specialized skills. What I am saying is that you should be prepared, and willing, to work longer hours for less money than you would back home if doing so will provide you with the opportunity to reach your long-term career goals.

This might not sound glamorous, but my five years in China have shown me that this is pretty close to the truth. Easy? No. Worth it for the life lessons and practical experience gained? Yes, absolutely.

What have your experiences working in China been like? Let us know in the comments!


A Home In The Making


Second floor balcony

The renovation of the old Chinese house from the 1979 has started! The house belongs to my boyfriend’s family and he used to live there when he was a kid. Now we want to make it a home for us two, wishing to move in November. But as we started cleaning up today we realized there is a lot of work to be done, especially because we are on a small budget.


Second floor

Above you can see the self-made blueprints of the second floor where we will be mainly living. The thing we need to figure out is the get rid of the white pain on the walls. It’s dirty and as the paint job wasn’t done that well those years ago, we can’t paint on top of it either. The paint has to be removed and then some rooms will be painted again. Or if possible, just protected with something transparent.


First floor

The first floor looks pretty much the same as the second floor. Here we will be using the biggest room as a dining room, and also the kitchen and the bathroom. There is a small walled garden on the back which we hope to get some work on too later.


The most important room to get finished is the master bedroom in the photo above. The room isn’t big, we aren’t even sure how we are going to fit our 180 centimetres wide bed in there. The windows doesn’t close well, the wall is in a terrible shape and the floor haven’t been washed in years it seems.

Right now we try to find a solution to the walls, ask for how much local workers would do it for and decide if that’s something we can afford. Before that we continue cleaning up the place from the trash the tenants left behind and throw away all the old furniture that can’t be used anymore.

So what you think? Do you believe it’s possible to get it ready before December?


5 Types of People You Are Sure to Find in Beijing

Today’s guest post comes from Prachi who writes The View From The Great Wall.

Beijing is one of the most happening capitals in the world today. People who’ve never been to China see coming here as an experience to witness and indulge in Chinese culture, but what most people don’t realize is that Beijing is one big multi ethnic society, where you are surely to come across the following kinds of people.


1. “I Want To Study In China”

This category includes student exchanges, university collaborations, or even gap years. Any way you somehow find yourself in China, it’s going to change your life most definitely- but doesn’t necessarily change yourself. More parts of you come out more while other parts stay behind.

Students come here for a specific period of time (from 6 months to 1 year) to learn the Mandarin language but often do end up staying behind, by either extending their education or even getting a job here.


The majority of students come from all countries; you’ll find everyone from Ireland to Kazakhstan to The United States, all with the intention of learning Mandarin and eventually taking out time to travel around China. Coming to study language in Beijing is a great opportunity to travel around the city, as well as adjoining provinces. Not only could you plan a quick day trip to The Great Wall, you can even manage to travel to Inner Mongolia (without a visa) or Hong Kong. There are numerous places worth checking out only in China, attracting tourists and also promoting students to travel by providing student discounts on entry tickets and such.

Many students come to Beijing Language and Culture University and Wudaokuo, the district this university is located in, because it works as a comfort pillow to foreigners- being home to many restaurants offering all kinds of cuisines; Indian, Italian, Korean, Continental  to name a few. A lot of foreigners swear by this district, and religiously go to famous clubs and hangout spots like La Bamba, Sensation, Propaganda, WU club, Windows, and Lush. Peking University, Beijing Foreign Language School, Beijing Normal University, Tsinghua University, are among the many popular universities for foreigners here in the capital.


2. “I Never Want To Grow Old”

People who initially come here to study or travel are prone to staying in China longer. All for one reason- They never want to grow old. This magical land gives you the feeling that every day is a party. The Beijing night life is crazy amounts of fun, people from all over the world partying under one roof. The famous Sanlitun bar street is the place to be if you’re looking for a crazy night out. It’s all fun and games till the next morning you wake up to realize that the alcohol you might have had the other night was in fact, fake.

I have personally witnessed numerous people in their 30s that choose to stay in China, only to teach English as it provides a good pay per hour, especially if you’re a native speaker.

People make sure they have a job to pay for their rents, and then they are all set to live out the peak years of their lives partying away. It sounds like a great idea till the time realization sets in and they’re 45 years old, single, without any real work experience (so going back to their country doesn’t sound like a good plan) with the additional possibility of herpes.

The city offers a life without the stress of any relationships as the kind of relationships the city offers could tend to be short-lived as people are always leaving and new people are always coming to Beijing. So that leaves no room for attachment, only a convenient vicious circle of non-stop partying and meeting new people.


3. “I’m Looking For A Good Time”

Some reasons are more obvious than others and here’s one absolutely to the point. People come to China for a little mu-shu (as Chris Tucker) puts it. Whether you’re studying or working you will almost always bump into someone who wants to get in your pants. After day comes night, and you’ll probably find yourself in a date sooner or later- Beijing brings that to you. Foreigners find other foreigners and more than often you can find foreigners with the locals.


The search is constantly on, 24/7, all 365 days in a year and everywhere. QQ, Wechat, you name it. To add to that, even websites like TheBeijinger have a separate space for people seeking “companionship”.

You name it, everyone is enjoying this city’s nightlife and the straight forward culture of getting as much as possible.


4. Business with China

Not only is China the world’s second largest trading nation, it’s leading the world in export- coming in second for imports. China’s famous Import & Export Fair, a.k.a the Canton Fair- has the longest history, the highest level, the largest scale, the most complete exhibit variety, the broadest distribution of overseas buyers and the greatest business turnover in China.

China can bring out the businessman in you. There are dozens of people who I have met here, who have started their own companies and have become entrepreneurs. There are great opportunities in the form of starting your own school/classes for the purpose of teaching English.

Getting into business with the next big thing is a wise idea for your financial future.


5. When in China, Do as the Chinese do

Possibly the most sincere reason to stay back, this category of people enter China and never look back. As soon as they get a Chinese Visa they pack their bags and say goodbye to life as they knew it, looking forward to all the oriental adventures coming their way.

A small percentage of the foreigners that come here work in China and eventually get married to a local, have cute little half this and half that babies, enjoying the perks of being a laowai in China. [A fun YouTube video: Preferential Treatment to Laowais.]

Whatever it is that had brought us to this country in the first place is long forgotten and the Chinese culture is completely embraced. They are now complaining about the same issues that the locals face, getting their names in the car number lotto, not to mention folding their pants to their knees and confessing their undying love for Tsingtao!

So Ganbei to you, China!


Renovating the old family home


Next month me and my boyfriend will start renovating their old family house for us two. It has been rented out for two families for a few years now and is not in a good condition.

The house has two floors, tiny back yard, big balcony, two living rooms, 6 bedrooms and 1 storage room. Because separate families have been living there, both first and second floor have kitchen and bathroom. The first floor’s are bigger and better so we will be mainly using those.

Second floor will have our living room, bedroom, home office and a walk-in closet kind of space. As you can see from the photo (second floor living room on the right), there is a lot to be done to make it livable for us, but at the same time we are on a minimal budget.

The most expensive thing will be to paint all the walls after cleaning everything up. Then we must first buy a water boiler and a fridge. Air condition can wait until spring when it’s needed again.

Furniture will mainly come from our room and living at the new family home, we try to buy as little new things as possible. We have been thinking of turning an old door to a dining table, but lets see how that works out.

The first floor living room will be turned into a dining room (if we get a table and chairs), but the three bedrooms will be empty for now.

The house has many lovely Chinese characteristics, but unfortunately many of those have been neglected or painted into white. The original grey bricks are beautiful, but can only be seen from the outside these days.

I will be sharing more photos as we start cleaning, that will hopefully be at the end of next week.


The Ugly Side of Parenting in China

Local boy

I try to be patient, I try not to hate China, I actually really do enjoy my life in Guangzhou, but there is something about Chinese way of child rearing that I just can’t accept. As I’m slowly getting closer and closer to 30’s, having a family of my own isn’t that far away in the future anymore. Being in a multicultural relationship, parenting is one huge topic you need to consider before it’s too late.

Of course there are as many parenting styles in China as there are parents, and child rearing is easy when you don’t have your own kids, but for some reason I have recently witnessed so many dangerous child rearing ways, that I need to get it off my chest.

Just one hour ago I was having dinner with my boyfriend and his friends, one of them showed a video of his small child after drinking alcohol. He was laughing how funny his son looked while drunk! I wanted to yell at him for being so irresponsible, but I was too shy and shocked to say anything. Now I feel like a really bad person for not saying anything. How could someone put their kids in such a danger?

Then there is violence, usually hitting your children. We were talking about this once at class and our teacher, a woman, admitted that she sometimes hit her child when they didn’t obey. That time I spoke my mind and said it wasn’t a funny topic to talk at all, not something to joke about. I don’t accept domestic violence of any sort, but still hitting kids seems to be very common in China

I know parents that don’t hit their kids, but they threaten to hit them on daily basis. “If you don’t listen to me, I will hit you”, “If you don’t eat your food, your dad will hit you”. I think a parent should live up to what they say and threaten by violence isn’t an option. I’m sure parenting isn’t easy, it’s perhaps the hardest work out there, but you still can’t go to violence when you fail to educate your children.

There is also a sad side to parenting in China, when older brothers and sister has to take care of the younger ones when parents are at work. I know a boy about 8 years old who often takes care of his 6 months old little sister. He carries her, makes her laugh and is just being an amazing older brother. But I couldn’t imagine leaving my baby for a kid that young to take care of. In know that I’m lucky to have the option not to do so.

One small girl, about 6 years old, is a part of my boyfriend’s family. She is such a cute little monster! So beautiful, but she can destroy anything she sees. She might break things or even hit people. She scares the cats when she comes to visit and everyone is laughing. For my eyes she just seems a little spoiled, in need of more boundaries.

These are just some example I’ve come across during these past few weeks. If life have been easy in China until now, it surely isn’t going to be easy later on if we have our own family. My boyfriend shares most of my views, but I’m worried how the older generation will treat and take care of our children. I don’t want them to be spoiled either.