In 2013, President Xi Jinping announced the Chinese Dream, an idea that anyone from any background can make it rich through hard work, determination and even a little bit of luck. OK, so maybe it is a complete knockoff of the American Dream, but despite that and an economic slowdown, you as a foreigner have the ability to move to China and transform your life into something great. In today’s world, however, you’re going to have to jump over one very important hurdle before you even think about having that penthouse suite looking over the Pudong skyline: the interview. Job interviews in the West and China are extremely different, so if you’re preparing for one at your dream job, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
Photo: Alex France
Let’s tackle the most controversial point first: some Chinese employees will judge you on race and gender. A lot of employers, especially at English schools, sadly prefer white male candidates and openly discriminate against darker skin people and those of Asian descent. Some applications even require that you send a photograph of yourself before the interview so they can weed out any candidates that don’t meet their company’s model employee. Luckily, times are changing, and in bigger cities this antiquated idea is fading into the pages of history. If you’re worried about being judged on appearance, don’t be; would you really want to work for such a backwards employer anyway? Keep applying to jobs, especially in more developed cities, and one who recognizes your abilities more than your race or gender will hire you if you meet the qualifications.
English First in China,
Web English and
Wall Street English
Are companies that are known not to discriminate
Some interviewers will openly ask questions about your personal life. Are you married? Do you have kids? What do your parents do? How much money do you have in the bank? Could you please describe in detail your future family plans? This should be no surprise to anyone who’s been in China for a while since the average expat gets asked these questions every day by complete strangers on the street.
To be honest, after six (long) years in this country, I’m completely fine telling Chinese strangers the answers to these personal questions; it just doesn’t bother me much… perhaps I’ve gone tribal. But if this rubs you the wrong way, a simple yet effective way to avoid answering these annoying questions is to say, “I’m sorry, I’d rather not say, it’s personal.” Nine times out of ten the person, stranger or interviewer, will back off.
Ming Ding and Jie Xu in their book “The Chinese Way” say, “[Chinese] people drink so much – sometimes even to the point of being drunk – especially in business contexts.” You may not have to drink during the interview, but foreign friends of mine, along with countless Chinese friends, have told me the interviewer has asked “Do you smoke?” and “How much can you drink?” Some jobs actually may require the candidate to drink and smoke so they can better entertain clients every night at KTV parlors or at boozy luncheons.
For some, this may sound like a dream job; for others, quite the opposite. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and have them clarify what exactly is expected of the job. In reality, this should be done anyway whether in the East or West; it’ll save both parties a lot of time and agony if both get what they want. Plus, it could help you avoid getting stuck into a “face job” where the employer is merely using you as a foreign face to show off to clients.
Anyone searching jobs on this website and many others have noticed that Mandarin is required at many positions (this shouldn’t be a shocker). But what defines fluency? Is it HSK Level IV, V or VI? Is it being able to convey your thoughts about any given subject? Is it merely uttering a few simple sentences to get your point across? This is something you should probably ask the interviewer in advanced, because if they require perfect Mandarin you can bet your last jiao the interview will be entirely in Mandarin.
Even if the job doesn’t require A+ Mandarin, you still need to be careful. Upon entering the room, you may say “Ni hao,” and the boss, like so many other Chinese out there, will rejoice with splendor, praise your Mandarin as the best in the world, and begin the interview in rapid, heavily accented Chinese. Be honest. If you are HSK Level VI, boast your skills, but make sure to brush up on a few key phrases and vocab related to the job. If you’re fresh off the boat and still can’t ask where the nearest toilet is, don’t apply to jobs seeking ace Chinese speakers, period.
Is it really that bad???
To answer this question, yes and no. Basically, it depends on the job and company culture of the post you’re applying to. Just as it is in the West, some interviews here may be casual, easy-going conversations, while others may require several rounds of drilling, interrogations and tests. In some you can get away with jeans and a T-shit, while at others you may need to break out your nicest suit and tie. The only difference here is some of the points mentioned above, but as you’ve already learned, there are ways around these obstacles. So whether you’re dreaming of making it big in China, or just here for a small adventure, you’re going to have to pass an interview to work here. And by following our advice, you can decrease your chances of the Chinese Dream becoming a Chinese nightmare.
And especially avoid recruiters to find your job in China, they are everywhere, not only for language teaching positions. Recruiters will typically take anything between 20% to 50% of the monthly salary offered to you by the company, for e.g. if the company has a budget of 30000RMB/month and the recruiter takes 50% you will end up earning 15000RMB/month instead, you will never know what percentage because the office manager or the HR will work together with recruiters for a percentage of your salary and your contract will only state the amount that you will receive once they both took their part of the cake.