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NiklasC

Non-teaching Job Prospects in Shanghai

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NiklasC

I've just come back from an exchange year in China. I loved living there for many reasons, especially because it really helped me improve my Chinese. I would like to return permanently at some point after finishing my degree, but I assume it will be hard for a foreigner with no highly specialised skills to land a decent job there. I was hoping someone with experience could give me a few pointers?

 

My background
I have 1 year left of a Psychology degree and I'm predicted to graduate within the highest grade band. By now I wish I would have gone into a STEM discipline instead, but my degree subject doesn't seem to have set me back too much in the UK at least. I don't know how the degree would be perceived in China though (it's from a high-ranked university if that has any relevance). I've done 3 internships, all of them business/marketing related - 2 of them for tech start-ups and one for Google. I'm fluent in English, German and almost ready to take the HSK5.

 

Is it feasible at all to expect to be able to land a decent non-teaching (preferably Marketing-oriented) job despite not being a native Chinese speaker, or are the only jobs available to foreigners more specialised? Would it help to get a few more years of experience in the UK and then doing an MBA in China?

 

I'm looking into these questions myself by other means but hearing the opinion of someone who's actually lived and worked in Shanghai (or elsewhere in China) would be extremely valuable. Thanks!

 

 

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ZhangKaiRong

Having participated in a lot of interviews with Chinese companies and MNCs in China, my experience is that they tend to recruit foreigners with at least 3-4 years of experience in their home market. Internship is a good start on your CV, but I recommend you to work in the UK first for a few years and then start to look for opportunities in China. I have a lot of Chinese headhunter connections in LinkedIn, and I often see marketing manager positions advertised, with a requirement of 4-5 years experience and open for foreigners as well, so you will definitely have opportunities - as an experienced foreigner.

 

I can confirm, too, that it is not impossible to get an offer/land a job in China as a foreigner with 3 years of overseas experience and Chinese language skills, as I got three offers last year from MNCs operating in China/HK, though I'm in the investment banking/strategy advisory industry rather than marketing.

 

An MBA would help you later, because Asians love to have all kinds of professional qualifications in a form of three to five letter acronyms after their names, even though there is limited use of those in practice. However, I definitely not recommend you to do your MBA in mainland China without a bachelor in a business field, for two main reasons.

 

- The first is that MBA programmes are kind of new in China, and only some universities offer decent or half-decent programmes, and for a horrible price compared to the level of education they provide. It is not a big problem if you have a good business background - the main point of MBA is the alumni after all -, but if you lack good foundations in corporate strategy, financial management, accounting, then it is meaningless to sit poor courses.

- The second is that influential Chinese professionals do their MBAs in Europe/US/HK/Singapore, and Chinese MBAs are attended by mostly foreigners, who will go back to their own countries when the program ends. At the end of the day you will get a good network, but with less Chinese people in it, which is not advised if your aim is to get a job in China.

 

If you really consider an MBA programme in Asia, then aim for a good university in either Singapore or Hong Kong. Your network will be much better in mainland China that way.

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thechamp

Hi there!

 

I have a lot of friends who spent time in China doing all sorts of things (myself included) so can give you some examples of people with a similar level to Chinese to you who were not in technical fields.

 

I know two guys who worked at the British and American Chambers of Commerce. I think they had Economics or history degrees or something. I know a girl who's a lawyer. I know a guy who was a really good Chinese speaker working in advertising at a big multinational ad agency.  (thinking about it he was probably well, well in advance of HSK 6). I myself had a strange financial services job that was a cross between translation and 'being the foreigner in the office' (and actually this is what a lot of foreigners experience with China jobs). For reference, I had an HSK 5 after loads of teaching jobs and working in a Taiwan surf hostel for a while. They still tested my Chinese though, at the interview, with some translation exercises. 

 

Now I write software at an oil and gas consultancy but have a couple of other projects I freelance on and was actually in the interview process for Uber China Growth engineering team a few months ago, but they abruptly went cold on me (for what are now obvious reasons)....so I also have some experience of recent China applications, even if I haven't been there for two years! If I was you I'd try to get some home experience first, and then transfer (as the poster above). Alternatively you could go and network and try to get something there but it will be a slog and take a while and will ultimately lead to a job with a very low glass ceiling. The only exception to this I can think of is the advertising guy I know, but his Chinese was really quite exceptional even amongst foreigners who are essentially fluent (I'd still consider myself fluent). Also, he wouldn't be able to come back to London and work in advertising now, which is something you also have to consider. 

 

What about getting some programming experience and then going out there? There are a LOT of start ups in China these days it seems. (eg Strikingly in Shanghai).

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thechamp

Oh I also know a guy on the Swire grad scheme who got moved to the mainland. He had zero Chinese when he was hired to Hong Kong....and had done a property related Masters prior to that.

 

You can still get into STEM btw....you could be a civil engineer in two years (Graduate Diploma in Engineering then an MEng) or do an MSc CS conversion (what I did). You'll just need to brush up on your maths ;) 

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onebir

 

(Graduate Diploma in Engineering then an MEng) or do an MSc CS conversion (what I did). You'll just need to brush up on your maths ;)

 

Either of these available in China?

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onebir

 

The first is that MBA programmes are kind of new in China, and only some universities offer decent or half-decent programmes, and for a horrible price compared to the level of education they provide. It is not a big problem if you have a good business background - the main point of MBA is the alumni after all -, but if you lack good foundations in corporate strategy, financial management, accounting, then it is meaningless to sit poor courses.

 

- The second is that influential Chinese professionals do their MBAs in Europe/US/HK/Singapore, and Chinese MBAs are attended by mostly foreigners, who will go back to their own countries when the program ends. At the end of the day you will get a good network, but with less Chinese people in it, which is not advised if your aim is to get a job in China.

What about the really cheap (relatively speaking) MBAs in Chinese? Presumably they attract locals. If you're interested in a particular city or province could they be a way of developing a local network? Or are they just... totally worthless?

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thechamp

I think you could get to a level in programming alone, in China, where you could work.

 

You could do that too, to a theoretical level, in Civil Engineering these days (of course) 秀才不出门能知天下事! But you'd not really be able to work in engineering because, unlike web applications, if a bridge/building falls down - people die. There is a reason that qualifications have value, and credentials will never die out totally. 

 

I don't want my mum to be treated by a doctor who got their medical degree on Coursera.

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Flickserve

I work in HK and it is very uncommon to see a fresh grad from another country work here. One exception was the Singaporean girl who came straight from Princeton (finishing engineering undergraduate) to Morgan Stanley.

I advise the getting a few years experience in UK first. 3 or 4 years of working experience does no harm and a lot of benefit. Just don't get a mortgage nor get married if you want to travel again. Those things just make it harder.

Now that you decided you want to work in China, you better make more China friends in your university. A few years down the road, they might be able to tell you of jobs on the grapevine.

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thechamp

 

 

I work in HK and it is very uncommon to see a fresh grad from another country work here. One exception was the Singaporean girl who came straight from Princeton (finishing engineering undergraduate) to Morgan Stanley. 

^This definitely for anything like financial services at big banks but I think things like advertising and start ups are slightly less conservative in hiring. They pay less but HR are not quite so strict. I guess that because you are at HSK 5, at the end of undergrad in psychology, that you learned some Chinese from family? If you're ethnically Chinese, and importantly, can get PRC citizenship, that would make a huge huge difference to your job prospects.

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NiklasC

Thanks for the replies everyone. It's great to get so many opinions on my question!

 

 

 

This definitely for anything like financial services at big banks but I think things like advertising and start ups are slightly less conservative in hiring. They pay less but HR are not quite so strict. I guess that because you are at HSK 5, at the end of undergrad in psychology, that you learned some Chinese from family? If you're ethnically Chinese, and importantly, can get PRC citizenship, that would make a huge huge difference to your job prospects.

 

Yeah. For large international banks or other prestigious companies I realise the disadvantages in China, in my case, would be immense. This is not really a problem for me. For a safe career progression with a high salary I would probably do best to return to my native country where people with international experience and UK degrees are preferred by the Big 4 and other larger companies. However, I want to live and work in China for a number of reasons, and wouldn't mind working for a smaller company with a lower level of brand recognition. But I'm also pragmatic, so if the prospect of securing a decently paid job in China seems too low, I will not pursue this further. And to answer your question, I'm not ethnically Chinese. I studied fairly intensively for 1 year, then lived in China for 1 year where, in addition to having exclusively Chinese friends I also took Mandarin classes. I recently passed the HSK5 and even though I feel like I'm starting to get a good command of both spoken and written Chinese I'd be lying if I said the prospect of doing an interview in Mandarin isn't a little intimidating. But it was the same with English in the beginning and it worked out.

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ZhangKaiRong
For a safe career progression with a high salary I would probably do best to return to my native country where people with international experience and UK degrees are preferred by the Big 4 and other larger companies.

My own experience: from UK member firms of Big4 companies, it is quite easy to score an international secondment after hitting the senior associate/assistant manager level (so after 2-3 years if you're on fast track), even without having the necessary language skills. I know this for works in case of 3 out of the Big4s (not too hard to figure them out, as a quick LinkedIn search reveals which firms' employees are participating these kind of assignments), and China/HK is not too popular choice among them, so if you apply for it, you basically get it.

If you want to go to China without too many compromises, then it's a plausible path to go on, even if the start is not too bright.

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thechamp

I think actually for banks it's basically impossible unless you're a PRC citizen or someone with quite significant experience elsewhere.

 

Also, don't don't don't do accountancy at a big 4....accountancy and transactional law are really on the way out (for obvious reasons) as careers. If you do big 4 go for the business or tech consultancy roles cos they've got legs.

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ZhangKaiRong
Also, don't don't don't do accountancy at a big 4....accountancy and transactional law are really on the way out (for obvious reasons) as careers.

I strongly disagree, because it is a solid and required foundation for financial advisory or management consulting positions. There are specialized consulting roles that do not require a deep understanding of financials, but they're still the playing fields of people with industry experience and expertise, and not possible for graduates. Big4 started to re-think their gradute hiring policy recently, but before that, after 2008 it was basically impossible to land an opportunity directly to advisory roles, but you could transfer internally after 1 or 2 years (my story, and most of my team members' story). Now it is easier to get into advisory roles directly after graduation, as the effects of the crisis have been long gone. But starting as an auditor does not mean that you need to keep working as an auditor until the end of your life, if you're smart enough you will find yourself in advisory roles soon - and thus the international opportunities will open for you as well.

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thechamp

M8 advising someone to get into Audit or Accountancy now is like encouraging someone in the early 20th century to get into making horseshoes.

 

Yea maybe you transferred out of it. But you were lucky. The next 20 years will be grim for high-value process-based professions

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ZhangKaiRong

It's not inferior to advising a graduate to get into top-notch, very technical consultancy without a business degree. It's like encouraging a penguin to fly. Try to be realistic.

I know what does it mean to do audit - an experience you lack I suppose -, and there are a lot of cons and some pros, but it is still an OK starting opportunity and if you're sure about what to do with your career later it's a good foundation when you're aiming higher. All of my smart and ambitious audit peers could exit well, while the originally not too bright ones are still there or exit to positions with no significance. I don't say that the OP should aim for audit directly, because as I had mentioned, now it's easier to get into advisory roles directly out of college compared to how bad it was after the crisis, but from a Chinese perspective it's a viable option. Even though I spent less than a year in audit, and a lot more in advisory, I still get emails from headhunters looking for Chinese-speaking audit seniors/managers with international background, USGAAP/IFRS knowledge and a CPA/ACA/ACCA. On the other hand, advisory recruiting ads are on the rarer side, because of the specializations the roles require.

Absolutely agree with you about the future of advisory, but you need solid basics to be good in your role, and audit has its merits there. BtW approximately 60 percent of my department had some, less than 2 years audit experience prior to joining advisory, and the majority of international colleagues also started in audit.

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