If you’re set to make the big move overseas after a considerable amount time in working in China, your ability to market your China job experience to potential employers will be tested. In today's rough labor market, making the most of your China work experience is more vital than ever to the continued success of your career. Here are some observations and tips to help you sell your experience of working in China to employers in the West.
Know Your Audience
There are many narratives about China (perhaps as many as there are China watchers), and knowing which one foreign businesses subscribe to will help your chances of being hired. For instance, in recent years Western businesses have generally been moving away from the “cheap labor” model and more towards the "domestic consumption" model as salaries and the Renminbi exchange rate (not to mention flagging demand for exports from recession-hit countries) have decreased cost-savings of manufacturing in China.
For this reason, understanding the Chinese market may be a better skill to showcase than your product sourcing abilities. Similarly, it helps to play on a company's inevitable fears of an opaque, insular China business environment. Be sure to stress that they need a seasoned guide (i.e. you!) in order to achieve any modicum of success. In short, remember that human resources executives and even big bosses may have a biased or narrow understanding of China, even as they seek a China hand to add to the ranks. Accept this and play to it, at least until you have your foot in the door!
Find Out Where You’ll Fit
While the following definitely oversimplifies the issue, it's good to know which side of the "bridge" you would be operating on in any potential new job. By this I mean: will you help bring the West to China/local Chinese, or China to the West? The most simple examples would be acting as a sales or marketing manager to Chinese enterprises (bringing the West to them), or acting as a buyer or quality control manager for a Western company (bringing China to the West). Both require the knowledge and experience you’ve gained during your time working in China but very different executions.
Be wary of how much emphasis there will be on written Chinese if yours is not on par with your spoken Mandarin. Also, make sure you're prepared to function in the kind of role the job requires; marketing to Chinese consumers is a whole different matter from working with Chinese staff to serve foreign customers.
Factor Industry Experience into Your Job Search
A quick look at ads with "Mandarin" in the search column on US-based jobs website Monster.com reveals a huge variety of listings. Accountants, engineers, purchasers, stock brokers, financial analysts, and IT specialists with Chinese language skills are all in high demand. If you're like me and don't have a specialized background in any of the above, however, there are still plenty of jobs in sales, account management and business development to pick up. Make sure your resume reflects your China-specific experience in your given industry. Narrowing down your experience to particular tasks such as quality control, web design, customer service or sales will make your qualities relevant to potential employers interested your overseas credentials.
In short, know who you're talking to and what they want to hear. Find out what your role in the company would be, and fit your relevant China experience around that.
Add Sino Spin
Add a China spin to your industry-specific skills in order to satisfy the international mindset businesses now want more than ever in an increasingly globalized world. Even though China now plays host to a relatively large foreign population, those with lengthy experience are still few when compared to the size of the Chinese market. Keep your own value in mind as you sell your China job experience to recruiters back home. You might be a lot more desirable than you think.
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