5 Things to Expect When Job Hunting in China

You’ve updated your CV and you’re ready to start your next big job hunting adventure, this time in China. Whether you’re looking for your first China job or your fifth, navigating the job market here can be tricky at times. To make sure you’re not caught off guard, here’s a brief guide on what to expect when you’re job hunting in the Middle Kingdom.

 1) Patience is a virtue

It can take a very long time for companies to respond to an application, and we’re talking up to a few months, or sometimes, never.

Competition is fierce in a job market where you’ll be up against not only other foreigners, but increasingly against highly skilled local talent with excellent English. Make sure you start hunting at least a few months before you intend to move on as the response time for companies seems to be slower than in the West.

That said, there are two lessons to learn from this: start your job search well in advance and don’t give up hope if your dream job doesn’t respond right away.

2) Network, network, network

Networking is crucial in any job market, but in China, with its age old tradition of guanxi, this importance increases tenfold.

The first thing to remember is that while it’s tempting to only network within the expat circle, if you really want to get a grasp on the full range of opportunities in your chosen field, try your best to network within the Chinese community too. Learning some Chinese, even just the basics will help too.

Connections with people who work in HR departments of companies are extremely valuable and enquiring about job opportunities through them will get you a lot further than ‘cold’ applications through job websites and recruitment services.

Remember, as a foreigner it’s easier to network with Chinese people sometimes as you always have talking points to break the ice and people will be curious about what you do and where you come from.

3) Things aren’t always what they seem

A lot of expats come across red herrings in their job searches.

Many expats find job descriptions that suit what they’re looking for, apply, sometimes interview, and will be offered a job which differs wildly from what they were lead to expect, some of which turn out to be the notorious ‘face jobs’; where foreigners are employed by the company for their Western appearance to basically act as a mascot to be paraded around during meetings.

Another common occurrence is recruiters mysteriously getting hold of your contact details and aggressively promoting positions to you. Love them or hate them, recruiters will play a big part in your job hunt in China, so be ready to insist on what you want and don’t be afraid to hold your ground.  

4) Manage your expectations

China isn’t the land of opportunity it once was. Ten years ago, foreigners were a much rarer commodity and native level, fluent English a sought after enough skill to land you a job that far exceeded your level of experience. However, what the foreign community has lost in terms of highly paid jobs based on very little credentials, it has gained in terms of real opportunities that can give you valuable experience, help you hone your Mandarin and lead to increased career potential in the future.

Salaries won’t be as crazily high as they used to be, especially if you are hunting from within China, but before you complain, remember that you will more than likely be receiving a lot more than your Chinese counterparts could hope to expect. See it as an important stepping stone and embrace what you can learn from the experience.

5) Cultural differences

You are looking to enter a job market in a society that is in many ways far less progressive than in the West. Your future employers and colleagues are likely to be fairly conservative, particularly among the middle aged men who dominate at management level. With this in mind there is unfortunately an accepted level of gender and racial discrimination when hiring.

Questions about your marital status, age and family situation are not only common but expected in a job interview. How you respond to these questions is up to you, but be aware that they are standard practice in the hiring process in China.