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How can a foreigner find a job in China  

The Peoples Republic of China (PRC) for years has been the globe's fastest growing economy. Even with recessionary constraints impacting hiring in most western nations companies, China continues to expand and therefore has a continuous need for educated, professional talent. It's today's version of the United States California gold rush of the 1800s...but just like the prospecting that took place back then, you can either succeed or you can fail (miserably) in your job search as a foreigner unless you learn to navigate this complex society's process for finding employment.

Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

things you'll need:
Valid passport (with 15 or more months left before expiration)
Patience (lots of it!)
An open, flexible attitude and demeanor
A marketable professional skill or talent
Business cards (1,000 or more)
Crash course in Chinese etiquette and social protocols

  1. Officially, in order to work in China, a foreigner must first possess a employment work permit as well as what's commonly referred to as a "Z Visa." Although there are some companies in China (specifically local, smaller Chinese firms and some English schools) that may hire foreigners without a Z visa or work permit, you should always insist they provide one. Both your work permit and Z visa can only be secured by a company sponsoring you for employment within China. Below I've listed a resource article that explains in more detail the process for applying for a work permit.
  2. Finding a job in China can be helped by the value and quality of your personal network of contacts. In China this is referred to as "Guanxi," the personal relationship between people is a key component of how business is conducted. Unlike in the US where you can send an unsolicited resume to a company or pick up the phone and cold call for an appointment, in China, time must be spent to develop a relationship and trust with a company representative and only then can you leverage that relationship to network for a job. The best way to start building Guanxi is to spend several weeks on the ground in the Chinese city which you plan to work (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, etc.) and just work hard to meet as many people as you can (locals, foreigners, etc.) This is where your business cards come in handy - just make sure that your card has been translated so one side is English and the other is in Simplified Chinese. You can also start building an informal network through social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn and I'd recommend joining discussion groups specifically focused on China business or job opportunities.
  3. The growth of China's internet usage means that job boards are well used and many positions are now advertised on these sites. The most common nationwide job boards in China are 51Jobs.com, Zhaopin.com and ChinaHR.com. However, the majority of the job postings are in Chinese (although each board does have an English version). There are also specific job sites that foreigners can register with that will match them with job opportunities in China as well. Still just like in the western countries, job boards should be used to scan for job leads and then through your network ("guanxi") you should try to develop a relationship with someone inside the company that can help introduce you to the hiring manager for an interview. In addition to the job sites, scan the foreigner message boards on sites such as That's Beijing (or Shanghai) and other online media publications and magazines which specifically list job opportunities available to foreigners. Also reach out and build your relationships with search firms and headhunters in China. Some of the largest and well known firms include MRINetwork, JobNet, BriTay International just to name a few. These search firms tend to focus on managerial and above openings and many of their searches are focused on specifically hiring foreign talent. However, just like your business cards, you should have your resume translated into Simplified Chinese as well and submit both versions when applying for positions.
  4. Many long-term, successful foreigners living and working in China today got their start many years ago by teaching English. While the pay for these positions is minimal and will just cover your basic living expenses, the opportunities they provide are invaluable. Teaching English gives you a chance to network with students, many of whom are business managers themselves for companies that may be hiring. During your non-work hours it also provides you time to build your relationships around town and look for greater opportunities. There are even some teachers that spend part of their summers or vacations in China teaching English and then return to their home countries to work their normal jobs. This is a great interim, first step solution to get your feet wet as you learn more about China and start building your career there.
  5. The other option that is becoming more popular with college students and younger adults is to enroll in a Chinese University and then seek out an internship with a multinational or Chinese company. This is a great option because as a part of your studies, you will enroll in immersive Mandarin Chinese language training and in as little as 1 year most students can develop decent language fluency. This is also a great way to learn more about the country, society and other cultural influences through the university school system.

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