There are many opportunities there. And many other disadvantages that you should know too.
The New York Times recently wrote an article that highlighted the fact that many young Americans are leaving to seek work in China because of the sluggish job market in the United States. The article made believe that it is easy to find a good job there even without any command of Mandarin and Chinese culture. Is it really true?
The question is not as simple as that. Starting your career in China can really be worth it, but there are plenty of disadvantages too. Before you travel across the globe to launch your new life, you need to think it through carefully and ask yourself if it’s really worth it and if you decide it is, how do you guarantee a meaningful experience?
On the bright side, China’s economy is the fastest growing in the world today and Chionis are very proud of it. The Chinese job market is tough and fast-paced, and young managers rise much faster than anywhere else.
China is clearly the next engine of expansion for many multinationals as the country’s consumers and businesses are increasingly consuming and becoming less and less price sensitive. Senior executives with experience in China will be in high demand in corporate headquarters and top business schools in the years to come, so having a few years of China experience on your CV can certainly hurt. However, there are some caveats that should be taken into account.
First, you should not expect a high salary. Second, government regulations can make it very difficult to obtain a visa if you have less than two (2) years of experience. Graduates of top Chinese schools such as Fudan or Beijing University earn between $500 and $600 per month. To get better than that, foreigners have to prove that they really are better, which is very difficult to do. Having a very good command of English is no longer enough.
Hundreds of Chinese have studied in the West. Even if most of those who studied in the West in the 80s and 90s have stayed, more and more young Chinese return to the country after their studies because of the new opportunities but above all because they have a better mastery of the culture. Chinese in addition to their excellent level of English due to exposure to Western practices and values for several years. Take a tour of the Harvard campus and you’ll see that the Chinese form the largest community of foreign students around.
Unlike a decade ago, American students are increasingly competing with young Chinese for the highest-skilled, high-paying jobs. Not only that, but they’re going up against older Americans in their attempt to reinvigorate their careers. More and more senior executives of large American groups are applying for positions in China.
Unless you found the job in your country of origin and were then transferred to China, consider yourself lucky if you earn between 800 and 2000 $ per month. Studies have shown that the US vs. Chinese equivalent salary ratio is 3.5. In other words, if you earn $60,000 a year on Wall Streets, aim for no more than $21,000 in Shanghai to maintain the same quality of life and have the same amount of money to save or to repay your student loans.
If we consider that you are ready to accept a low salary, what is the best way to currently find a job? Chinese recruiting firms are receiving more and more CVs from young graduates of the best American schools who have never set foot in China. When interviewed they claim that they would be happy to go and work in China on the terms of Chinese recruiters, what a joke?
Few companies today offer travel expenses for foreigners coming to China. You’ll need to spend time in China knocking on doors for weeks and trying your luck. You will therefore have to work for a few months as a “diver” to save enough to buy a ticket for China. Believe me it would be better if you are looking for a position there. So I would suggest you start your search from your home country.
This may be nonsense to some but it’s the best way to go. Call all your school alumni or new grads and ask if they know anyone in China they could introduce you to. People jealously guard their address books in these uncertain times, but they might open it to you if you tell them it’s for work in China. They won’t consider you a competitor because they haven’t planned to go. While you are in the west try to have appointments in China so as not to waste time once there.
When you buy your plane ticket, make sure you have planned to stay longer than the appointment(s) you have scheduled. But also for those that you could take once there. It’s always amazing to see people come in for an interview and say they’re leaving the next day after this one. Be more flexible to accommodate a second, third interview and other introductions to other companies . Few people are hired only after a single job interview.
Tell yourself that you are going to China for interviews and that you are lucky to have obtained them. What should you look for in a position. Would you work for a multinational or a Chinese company? I have always told applicants under 30 that they should rather seek training before thinking about money. Once you reach 30, the situation changes but you want to be in a position that will expose you to a wide range of industries.
What does training in China and a good job mean? Many companies do not have programs such as “VIE” or their equivalents from major US banks and consulting firms. In fact training tends to be haphazard because the market is changing so fast that people are moving through it by word of mouth. So look for a position that will allow you to do some sales and some marketing. Very important, look for a direct supervisor with a track record of success in China who will be your mentor. Executive turnover is so high in China accelerated by the crisis that has caused companies to make massive job cuts to foreigners that you will need to find a place where someone will show you the tricks of the trade.
It is often better to start your career in the West to have a solid education and then go to China. It’s a developing market with standards that change all the time. People new to investment banking are much more likely to learn to navigate the swamps of legal process and the complexities of business relationships than anything involving the technicalities and deep skills of the business.
Personally, I find it pathetic that people go to China and don’t learn the language once there. If you don’t understand the language there is absolutely no other way to truly understand the Chinese people. Yes it is true that English has become the de facto language of the business world in China and generally in the world but it will not allow you to appreciate China and the Chinese way of thinking. Former President Jiang Zemin joked that there are more people who speak English in China than in the United States. It is surely true. Of course you can use a translator but what makes working in foreign countries is understanding them. Learn the language either by taking lessons or by making local friends or even both.
The best way to start a career in China is at school. Sign up for a semester of Mandarin. This will allow you to get a visa, you can start to learn the language and appreciate the culture, but above all you will start to network and see where the best job opportunities are.
China is a wonderful place to launch a career. The opportunities are limitless. Jobs there are not easy to find but once you have one, you will be rewarded for being a part of a special time in China’s social and economic evolution.