Careers in China – How Far Can You Go?

Careers in China – How Far Can You Go?
May 24, 2018 By Niklas Westerlund ,

Since you’re reading this7nbsp;article you’re probably working in China, or at the very least working on working in China. But what  about your actual career? How far can you realistically go in China compared to back home and what opportunities and obstacles will occur? Want to forge a career in China? Keep reading!

Career development

Careers: to have or not to have? Some people know what they want to do from childhood, while others go to their deathbeds having never had anything that remotely resembles a career. In previous articles we've covered the pros and cons of working in China, the best paying jobs for foreigners in China, and the latest visa and residence permit regulations. But is moving to China for work at smart choice career-wise?


The land of opportunity

While China is not the same Wild East it was 10 years ago, it still offers foreigners opportunities they may not have in their home countries, especially if they’re coming from places currently suffering through recessions and high unemployment rates.

China has been making great strides in technological development especially, with Beijing recently named the world capital of tech startups, providing foreigners with real career-launching roles that are a far cry from the face jobs of yore.

Anyone who can speak English to a decent level is also in high demand due in China to a need for English teachers, while journalists will find all of the world’s top media organisations want a presence in the Middle Kingdom.

Here are two career progression case studies specific to China:

Career progression for English teachers

If you’re teaching English in China (and chances are that you are), career development is definitely a possibility. Aside from the annual salary increase every time you renew your contract, you could be promoted to “Head Foreign Teacher” within a couple of years.

What an HFT does is sometimes shrouded in mystery, and it varies greatly from school to school. Sometimes it’s just a title, while other times you may find that managing disorderly youngsters is your only responsibility (and by disorderly youngsters we mean the other teachers, not the students).

If you go far enough (five years or more in the same school or training center), you might find yourself offered the position of principal. You’ll need to get pretty good at Chinese first though, since you’ll be dealing with a lot of parents.

If you make it to these lofty heights, be sure to remember that while you might be the principal, you’re neither the owner nor part of the board of directors. And you can bet your morning jianbing it’ll be one of those two calling the real shots.


Career progression in startups

If you go the tech startup route, you’re in for a much less linear progression path, as your company will likely either go bust or become a global phenomenon. You’ve probably heard of Xiaomi, Mobike, OFO and Zhihu, some of the most successful tech startups in China. The thousands you haven’t heard of are not doing quite as well. 

Joining a startup company anywhere in the world will offer up an insecure future, low pay, unclear goals and the risk of getting laid off at any moment. They can, however, also provide unimaginable opportunities. Who knows? You might find yourself spearheading the company branch in your home country one day. Otherwise, you might find yourself looking for a new job.

While great careers in China’s tech sector are possible, banking on this is not without its risks.

Obstacles to progression

Whatever industry you’re in, just as you think you’re inching closer to that promotion, you’re boss’s nephew or that slimy colleague of yours gets it instead. As unfortunate as it is, the power of nepotism and guanxi are very apparent in China.

It’s not frowned upon in China to employ and promote family members above others in the same manner as it is in many Western countries. Instead, it’s expected. While it might be impossible to become related to your boss, you can, however, work on improving your guanxi (personal relationships) by winning him/her over, working hard and negotiating yourself up the ladder.

Of course language barriers will always be a problem for foreigners wanting to make it in China, but if you genuinely do master Mandarin you’ll be highly employable, both in China and pretty much anywhere else in the world. 

Repatriation rebounds

As much as China is an amazing country to live and work in, most expats (current and former) know all too well that the comforts and familiarity of home are hard to leave behind forever. If, or when, your repatriation comes, whether it be by choice or not, how will your China work experience stand up back home?

It all depends on what you worked on in China, and what you intend to work on at home. If you taught kindergarten in China but want to go into real estate in Europe, your practical work experience will be of little use. However, the fact that you now understand Chinese culture and probably speak some basic Mandarin will no doubt be attractive, especially considering the large swathes of wealthy Chinese investors currently buying up property abroad.

Read this for more advice on how to market your Chinese work experience at home.

No free lunches

Just like everywhere else, there’s no easy way to realise a successful career in China. Yes, China will offer you opportunities you might not find in your home country, whether that be English teaching or something completely different, but success won’t come automatically. Expect to work hard for your career, just like anywhere else, and anyone else, in the world.

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Keywords: career in China


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good article

Apr 10, 2019 17:20 Report Abuse



Yeah, being able to speak Chinese will be attractive, but you need to pass the HSK at least at level 5. Just 'saying' you can speak Chinese isn't enough. You also didn't mention anything about whether or not skills (and what skills) can be developed in China. It's a developing country, so aside from Chinese language, can we really develop skills here? Anyway, very valuable article. I look forward to a follow-up.

Jun 06, 2018 16:51 Report Abuse