Monday, April 21, 2008

Cultural Differences - Employment Edition

My three month introduction to China is almost over and it's time for me to get serious about finding a job here. This past Saturday there was a free job fair for foreigners organized by, a China-based job search site. I went with a friend, both of us with resumes in hand, to see if there was anything interesting.

The majority of the jobs were for English teachers. I've done that. It can be interesting but it's not something that I want to do full-time for an extended period of time unless there was something else about the job that makes it attractive to me. Lenovo is hiring additional local staff for during the Olympics, with long-term potential. A Chinese oil exploration company is looking for a finance person. China Daily, the state-owned English language newspaper, is looking for editors and writers; I'd get to indulge my inner news geek. A prestigious local university is looking for someone to teach algebra and statistics in English; when I told the hiring manager that I was a teaching assistant for statistics in college her eyes lit up - and my friend shook her head at the realization that I really am a math nerd. I don't have anything set up yet but it was good to start talking to people about positions available for foreigners and to get my resume into circulation.

One well-known English-language teaching school, English First, had a large booth at the front of the room. I didn't speak with them but read a part of their posters. One of the listed reasons to work for the company was "Don't get deported," accompanied by a line explaining that foreigners in China who are found to be earning money here while on a tourist or student visa can be fined and/or made to leave the country. In the past this regulation had not been strictly followed but now it is being enforced. Perhaps the line was someone's misplaced attempt at a joke but I'm not laughing. I wouldn't consider working somewhere that considered that to be an appropriate motivator for potential applicants. Many English language programs in China are so hungry for English teachers that they are willing to hire any Caucasion applicants, including people who barely speak English. That doesn't exactly speak well of their level of professionalism and the services they provide to customers.

In my review of local job postings I've been struck by several features. Most postings request that applicants submit a photograph along with their resume; this is common in parts of Europe and South America (I'm not sure about Africa) but not in the United States. Many postings also list the preferred gender and age range for applicants; U.S. employment laws bar this information from being used for employment considerations. In postings for English-speaking Chinese employees I've seen statements that applicants should be 'western-looking.'

As my friend and I were leaving the job fair a young woman who works for the organizing company came up to me and asked if I was looking for a job. She was representing a local country club, 'very prestigious' (as is said about many companies here), and they are looking for a new Member Relations Manager. They want someone who looks professional and mature. She thought I'd make a good applicant. The online posting requests a photograph.

This is definitely interesting.

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