Monday, June 30, 2008

Job Hunting

I'm nowhere near fluent in the local language but that's not my main barrier to looking for employment. No, for me the biggest challenge is that I'm not seeking work as a professional psychologist, since my college degree is in psychology. China is one of many places around the world where it is expected that your career is in the same area as your undergraduate degree. Years of experience in finance mean nothing to most Chinese companies and hiring managers.

One local company that had me in for several rounds of interviews, and whose Finance department considered me the lead candidate for the position of Foreign Financial Adviser, has reposted the job. The job requires finance skills but they also want someone who preferably speaks some Spanish and/or French and with knowledge of Latin, African and/or Arab cultures. It's not that they don't want to hire me. It's that my degree isn't in finance so I obviously know nothing about financial management, analysis, modeling or making projections. The dapartment has been told to find a candidate with a Finance degree so that the executive who gives final approval can compare me to them. After they've done that they'll let me know. Oh well, I may have found something else before they find that person.

Most of the well-renumerated ex-patriots in China were hired by their multi-national companies in their home countries and shipped over here with well-cushioned ex-pat packages. My last job was with an American municipal government, one that does not have an office in China, so I knew that I'd have to relocate myself if I wanted to be here. My salary will take a cut at first but over time I expect to return to a salary level comparable to what I was making before, or better. No matter what, I'm in an environment where I am learning a lot, which has value in and of itself.

Employment laws here are opaque, which is a barrier to part-time work if I want to be certain of avoiding problems (and I do). I've turned down some work with a training center where I was placed as part of my volunteer assignment because I'm not certain that I can legally work part time with the class of visa which I am holding. A few hundred RMB is not worth the risk of being arrested and possibly deported. One Chinese-speaking laowai I know went to two different government agencies to confirm what is legal and was told two different stories. Even if we could get confirmation of what is permissible the rules might change tomorrow without advance notice. I've also turned down a few things that were not interesting, were in parts of the city that are inconvenient and pay little - there's no point taking a job where I know I won't want to stay for three months, let alone longer.

It's more important to me to find a job that is a good fit, something interesting in a well-run organization where I'll be learning, than to find something quickly where I won't be happy. Most recruiting agencies that I've found which cater to foreigners and place people in non-entry level jobs are either looking for people who are conversant in Putonghua, which I understand and respect, or for senior, C-level executives. There are a number of employment websites which I visit several times each week to review listings, including the Chamber of Commerce sites for the U.S. and other English-speaking countries, and I've also visited websites of NGOs and multinational companies that have offices here and post job listings in English (some organizations only have Chinese on their China site). Many companies are looking for attorneys, engineers or Chinese nationals (foreign companies are required to hire a certain number of Chinese citizens if they have a footprint here), but occasionally I see postings that look interesting. One manager to whom I submitted my resume replied almost immediately that he'd already filled the post but would like to forward my resume to colleagues who might have an opening that could use with my skillset. (Go Deloitte! That guy just earned them more respect in my book, both for responding and for thinking about how to help colleagues (and possibly me).) I'm also trying to be social and meet new people - just as in New York, many jobs here are filled by internal candidates or friends of friends before they are even posted.

This entire process is educational. I'm learning a lot about modern Chinese workplace culture as I speak with hiring managers and recruitment agents. Many don't want to share any information or answer questions about the job or organization until the interview, but they want your resume, photos, a picture of your passport, a picture of your degree, and other information before they even consider speaking with you. I'm not keen on sharing my passport with people I don't know so I've created a .jpg image with my passport number and certain other information blacked out. My understanding is that they request the passport image to confirm identity, nationality (there is a presumed hierarchy of foreign countries here) and that the passport holder is documented, here legally and has enough time left on their passport to meet the needs of the employer, so I left my name and the expiration date on my passport visible and covered every thing else. Hiring managers can use the image to screen for their needs and I can feel like I'm maintaining control over information that could possibly be used for fraud.

The other day I received a call from an agent at 8pm, requesting some additional data on me on behalf of a client. She wanted it immediately. I explained that I was out, in another part of the city, entertaining visitors to Beijing, and would be out late. Her response was to ask when, when, 9pm? by 10 pm? 11? I said possibly very late, but I would forward the files when I arrived home. When I did get home there was an email reminding me to send it before 2am.

So I'm still looking. And exploring. And learning a challenging language. Oh, and enjoying every moment of it.

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