Living and working in China offers many opportunities for foreigners, but it’s all too easy to get lost in the daily grind and fall behind the rest of the world in your field. With this in mind, how can you get the most out of your time in the Middle Kingdom and come away more employable than ever?
Some foreigners feel that working in China doesn’t add much to their resume. They believe they can’t update their skills easily in a developing country, and that their “China experience” doesn’t translate into much value back in their home country. The West, for example, requires up-to-date skills, certification and frontier experience, yet that’s hard to find in China… isn’t it?
According to the World Bank, China is home to one of the largest consumer markets in the world. With these figures of economic growth, it’s no wonder the country is often in the headlines, attracting foreign investment and business.
There’s no doubt that the average foreign worker in China earns more per month than the average local, and as cost of living is quite low, you can sometimes save a large percentage of your salary.
However, we never seem to hear about any other benefits – be they educational or professional – of working in China. Besides saving money, what else can we achieve in our China careers?
China is regarded as a developing country. Given this, the focus is more on fast economic growth than on developing quality. People often say that the quality products made in China are sold abroad, while the rest are sold to the Chinese. The majority of people still can’t afford quality goods.
This makes it difficult to develop and advance skills while working in China as the need for costs to be low outweighs the need for quality. The environment at the moment just isn’t conducive to professional development, as high quality isn’t necessary to sell products or services.
Many companies only seem to care about the bottom line, and managers almost never praise or reward good work; the harder you work, the more work you’re given, while promotions are few and far between.
What’s needed to advance your career is the acquisition of valuable professional development and skills, not just “China experience”. Most companies back home aren’t dying to hire people who have lived and worked in China, as if such were a qualification in and of itself. Even those that are, would most likely want to see that you have experience working with reputable international companies in China or at the very least a high level of Chinese language skills.
What we need is up-to-date skills that are valuable in the West. If your current Chinese employer can’t deliver this, you’ll need to take the initiative yourself. Doing so will show you value professional development and that your stint in China wasn’t just a doss. You'll also need to find a way to sell your China experience to potential new employers.
The obvious way to get the most out of working in China is to choose companies and positions that will advance your career. Do not choose a job that was just like your previous job, but rather one that connects you to a new network and adds value to your resume.
Months can easily turn into years once you get immersed in the lifestyle and establish a network of friends in China. Be sure to think about where you want to be in the future, whether in China or back home, and decide what you need to do in order to get there.
First decide what it is you want to get out of your experience in China, whether that be learning the language or establishing international connections. Waking up every morning to a meaningful vision will help you make important decisions along the way.
Nowadays there are countless universities offering courses online. Education is becoming more digital across the board, with assignments and even classes moving online.
As you will likely have a bachelor’s degree already, why not spend your free time working towards a master’s or an MBA? This will surely put you in better stead if you plan to repatriate; not only will you have experience living and working in one of the world’s largest consumer markets, you’ll also be better educated and more qualified.
If you’ve lived and worked in China for 12 years but all in the same city, this will be less attractive to a future employer. China is a vast country of different cultures, so you can’t say you “know” or understand China and its people after living in just one place. Living in different cities in China will also get you more familiar with the Chinese language and its various dialectical idiosyncrasies.
Many foreigners learn a bit of Chinese and think it will help them land jobs, when in reality it won’t unless you’re really quite good. Foreign companies back home won’t, and shouldn’t, take your word that you can speak Chinese. For that reason, I would advise passing the HSK (Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì) test at level 5 at least, the level required to enter a Chinese language university course.
Chinese history never appealed to me, but after nine years of living here I’ve finally started to get hooked. What I’ve learnt has given me greater insight into Chinese people, their culture and the way they do business.
The most relevant history to learn is arguably that of the past 200 years, which includes the Opium Wars, the ‘Century of Humiliation’ (1845-1945), the Cultural Revolution and the birth and rise of the People’s Republic of China. Learning a little bit of this history will help you appreciate how the Chinese fit into the world, giving you a better rounded understanding of a country few other foreigners truly know.
Writing about and sharing your experiences with others can help organise your thoughts and highlight your cultural awareness and sensitivity. You will discover how best to articulate your experience, and writing is itself a useful skill to have. Improving your writing will improve your cover letters and resume, in the very least.
Though it may be true that living and working in China is a great experience and opportunity for foreigners, be careful not to don't squander it and get lost in the grind. Make the most of your time here and work towards meaningful goals that will benefit you in the future. This will ensure you don't fall behind your peers back home.
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Keywords: Working in China
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