Since China accepted that Covid is just something we’re all going to have to live with, it has regained its status as an attractive destination for expat workers. But with an increasingly talented, Westernized and competitive local workforce, what do Chinese employers value in expat workers?
For most employers, an expat’s value proposition lies mainly in their linguistic abilities. As a result, most expats workers in China find themselves in jobs that take advantage of these skills. Foreign language teaching is the most obvious and common occupation for expats in China, but being a native speaker of any foreign language is also useful in plenty of other industries. Chinese companies who do business overseas are always looking for sales people, marketers, engineers and copywriters who can help them train local staff and tap into their target countries.
In particular, expats have a natural advantage when it comes to writing work. As Chinese companies continue to expand into other global markets, they need help developing foreign language content, such as blogs, press releases and web and social media content. Some companies are these days opting for AI writing services, but the results can be unreliable and inaccurate — issues that may be hard to spot for a local Chinese. Native speakers can also easily pick out social or cultural faux-pas and tailor content to a client’s specific needs and audience.
Having grown up and been educated outside of China, foreigners instinctively embody the cultures of their home countries. This cultural background gives Chinese companies that want to expand into these markets a tremendous advantage. Nothing can really replicate that subconscious cultural know-how of communicating and doing business in another country.
Understanding of foreign markets
Besides language and culture, an understanding of their home market is probably the most compelling value proposition expat workers in China can offer employers. Chinese companies looking to expand overseas will always need talent with a background in their target markets to help execute their strategies.
Many companies hire their foreign talent directly from their target countries, but there is one big problem with this: these hires might not understand Chinese culture or how Chinese companies operate. I’ve seen this time and time again with Chinese companies that have expanded into my home country of North America. They often suffer high staff turnover rates because of cultural differences between the management and foreign staff who have no clue about how things are done in China.
China-based expats can serve as a bridge between 100% foreign staff and company management. Expats in China understand the complex bureaucracy, Chinese workplace culture and the dos and don’ts of doing business here. They can also help develop solutions that are acceptable to Westernized foreign hires but don’t cause Chinese bosses to lose too much face.
What’s more, if ever the Chinese company decides they need someone on the ground in their target foreign market, this breed of China-based expat is likely to be willing to return to their home country without the need for the company to pay for an expensive expatriation package as they might for a Chinese employee. China-based expats can therefore serve as an invaluable resource for Chinese companies wishing to smooth out their overseas operations at the source.
Most expats who go through a Western education system are taught to think critically and question the reasons why things are done a certain way. This is in contrast to the Chinese education system, which notoriously focuses on rote memorization and unwavering respect for teachers. A foreign employee can, therefore, offer Chinese bosses a different way of thinking and a new perspective about how best to do business. This can help identify problems and address them at the root.
The Western way of doing business also tends to be more direct, which can save companies a lot of time that could otherwise be wasted adhering to the Chinese style of overly cautious and indirect communication. While such directness in the Chinese workplace can cause conflict, many companies see the value in employing people who go against the grain.
If everyone thinks and behaves in the same way, they run the risk of herd mentality, which can lead to stagnation in business. Having an outside opinion from someone who didn’t grow up in the local culture can be tremendously useful in helping everyone to think about the problem in a new way.
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