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How to prepare and have a successful career in China?

By Mariana Rodrigues

“When it comes to China, the deeper you go, the more you realize that you know less. The puzzle seems to perpetually increase. If someone tells you they know China deeply, run. The brightest people (western or eastern) with the longest time in the country are the first to explain how changeable this is. Here you are reminded of Socrates' maxim: “I know that I know nothing”.” Ricardo Geromel, O Poder da China.


I believe this is a good way to start talking about China. "I only know that I know nothing." The speed at which changes occur in that country is impressive! It isn’t something exclusive to one sector or another: the government, the companies, the consumers, the society as a whole moves at a speed that we’re not used to, and updating and adapting ourselves are challenges we face daily.


It might even seem frustrating to those looking at this scenario at first glance. Being in a constant and intense learning, with an open mind and ready to change course anytime is no simple task, but the truth is that all this dynamism and Chinese evolution end up touching us and fascinating us.


Looking through a personal perspective, I think this is a great opportunity to learn and to get to know yourself. I feel that this environment encourages me to get out of my comfort zone and look outside my bubble, however, when we look on the professional side, we’re faced with a highly competitive environment that requires information, market knowledge, and attitudes that comply with the cultural behavior.


It's quite challenging, and we flexpats, who usually come from a social and cultural background quite different from the Chinese one, often feel confused. How does the work environment work? How do I prepare myself for a career in China? How to enter the job market and receive a good salary? How to balance career and family? How to start my own business? How to learn the language? How to start a course at college? These are some questions that all foreigners who want to go to China or are already working and studying there ask themselves.


There’s indeed an answer to all these questions and many others, and they’re with professionals and students who have been in China for a long time. There’s no course that will teach you more than chatting with these people. There’s no trick to get this knowledge quickly. You need to talk to the right people, who will really show you the reality of your industry in China and the positives and negatives.


I know how difficult it can be to find these people and schedule a conversation with them, so today, I want to suggest you a podcast that goes between and answers your questions swiftly.

The China Flexpat Podcast talks to experts from various fields who have been working in China for many years in episodes that last less than 30 minutes. I’ve discovered this initiative here on LinkedIn and since then I've been following their podcasts. What I like most is that the interviews are short, some are 15 minutes long and both the interviewers and the guests get straight to the point. They share experiences, lessons, and valuable tips in a simple and freeway. I believe it's a great way to compose this puzzle that is China!


I'm going to share here some excerpts from some interviews that helped me to form a more accurate image of that country, and also some tips that I found really curious. You’ll notice that some are quite comprehensive, while others are quite specific, so choose the topic that interests you the most and press play.


  • In episode 2, Marco Sauer talks about studying in China

Studying in China is quite an experience and should definitely be on your bucket list, however, it also means pushing yourself hard, sometimes 10 hours a day.


  • In episode 6, Lars-Åke Severin talks about the competitive environment

Don't come to China believing someone will take care of you. Protect yourself and your interests, or someone else might take advantage of you. You are a man and not a mouse, so don't allow yourself to be fooled.


  • In episode 12, Armando Flores Chiu talks about finance

Many people go to China looking for a better income and at first, looking only at the salary, they get it. A foreigner in an entry-level position can earn between 20,000 and 30,000 yuan net, depending on location, sector, and type of contract. However, there’re some hidden costs that we should pay attention to, such as the social insurance and the retirement pension that foreigners are normally not entitled to in China.


  • In episode 21, Jan Lambacher talks about management positions.

As you take on a team leader or general manager position, the importance of technical skills decreases. Having knowledge of the technical part - standards and regulations of your sector, business in general, sales, marketing, finance, and production - is important, but soft skills are rather relevant as well - communication, language skills, knowing how to relate to different people, self-management, team management, and leadership.


  • In episode 33, Noriko Takagi talks about the working environment.

Speaking Chinese is important, but that alone won’t guarantee you a job. There are other aspects that are taken into consideration when hiring, such as whether you have the right attitude, whether you want to learn, whether you want to communicate with other people and whether you have sensibility and patience. In addition, your unique perspective on your culture can be very valuable to a Chinese company.


  • In episode 36, Nadezhda Bukina talks about entrepreneurship

The entrepreneurial visa gives new graduates the chance to start their own business, find a job or stay longer in China after graduation, as normally, the time between the end of the course and the expiration of the visa is very short. This type of visa allows you to stay a little longer, from 1 to 5 years.


These are just 6 of the 53 episodes of the China Flexpat Podcast that are already available on Anchor, Spotify, Apple podcast, and other podcast channels. 


I hope you like the podcast and enjoy the tips from these professionals!


See you next time!

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