Higher standards, tougher competition

By Li Lin Source:Global Times Published: 2015-11-19 19:08:01

Chinese employers up the ante for foreign hires

Hatley Trask, a 36-year-old American, who works as an assistant marketing manager at a Beijing-based foreign trade company, has lived in the city for five years. And in that time he has had three jobs.

When he was still in the US, one of his friends who had been working in China as an English teacher for years, told him that it is rather easy to earn a lot of money in China.

"The Chinese are learning English, and they prefer native speakers," he recalled his friend as saying.

His friend, a chemical engineer in his 50s, never taught before but was rather successful as an English teacher in China, Trask said. His monthly salary was double what he earned in the US as a chemical engineer.

That was in 2008. Two years later, Trask came to China but what he found was not quite what his friend described. Finding a suitable job was challenging; he never earned as much as his friend and with each new job interview there were new requirements. Employers, it seemed, always wanted more.

Meng Xuzheng, a human resource specialist at recruitment website zhaopin.com, said foreign job seekers are now having a harder time in China as Chinese employers are becoming pickier.

"China needs more professional, top-level foreign workers to help China's economic and social development. It's the current trend in the recruitment industry," said Meng. "Also, employers in China favor more down-to-earth foreigners who more readily adapt to the Chinese workplace culture and guanxi."

Chinese employers favor highly qualified top-level foreign workers. Photo: IC

Language alone no longer enough

Trask's company began doing international trade in 2009. It started with countries in Southeast Asia, but now it has many customers from the West.

The general manager, Li Jianfeng, told Metropolitan that they started to recruit foreign workers with more professional skills about three years ago.

"Before, we only had foreign workers who were good at language, but now it's not enough. We now need foreign workers who are as professional as the Chinese workers in international trade, management, and sales promotion," said Li. "We rely on them in business communication and negotiations with foreign companies, and they help a lot."

According to an October 22 Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) immigration report, 53 percent of the 9,288 foreign participants interviewed, from 34 countries and regions across the globe, think China has better job opportunities and better salaries in comparison to their home countries. And given the Chinese economy's potential for growth, the number of foreigners coming to find jobs are increasing. At the end of 2014, there were some 242,000 work permits issued to foreigners, an increase of about 10,000 over what it was in 2010, China's Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security said.

When Trask first came to China, he was quickly hired by a kindergarten in Shunyi district. "There was no interview. Just a casual conversation between me and HR. Then they told me that I was hired," he said.

Trask said he felt his job interview was that easy largely because he looked the part - Caucasian American, with the right accent and facial structure.

"They even printed my photo on their advertisement leaflets for student recruitment, and I got 500 yuan ($78.35)," Trask said. "I allowed them to do it, and I thought it was funny."

By 2013, Trask was bored. He had not gotten a pay increase in three years, and he wanted to try something new. "I wanted to do a more professional job, even a primary school teacher or middle school teacher would do."

But when he applied for a job at international schools, he was refused. He did not have the right qualifications, a TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certificate, a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certificate or a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate, and the competition was stiff.

Many other foreigners like Trask also want to get a job teaching English in China. It is a major part of the foreigners' job market, said Wang Dan, a human resources manager at a Beijing-based IT service company that hires foreigners as translators for their clients.

She said with the number of foreigners applying for a job at her company increasing, their standards have risen.

"Two years ago it was OK for them to be native speakers of English, Japanese, French, and other languages, but now we need them to be more professional with basic IT knowledge, good communication skills and at least proficient in two languages to be a translator," Wang said. "And they must have a university degree or at least a junior college degree."

The Chinese government's new policy tightens the restrictions on foreigners seeking jobs in China. Photo: IC

The bar is raised

Meng said in large international schools in Beijing, and Chinese public schools, the foreign teachers are usually very carefully selected with increasingly higher standards, including the requisite certification and experience, which is why Trask was refused.

And now the standard is even higher.

In September last year, the Beijing Municipal Human Resources and Social Security Bureau, the Foreign Affairs Office of the Beijing municipal government and the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education jointly released a policy officially increasing the employment criteria for foreign teachers.

According to the new policy, a foreign teacher must be between the ages of 18 and 60, have at least a master's degree and no less than five years' work experience. It also made it mandatory for teachers to hold teaching certificates such as TEFL and TESL.

"After I learned that [the new rules], I knew that expats who drift along can no longer make it," said Trask. "Most of them are capable of nothing except speaking English. I am not, so I was able to hop back to my original industry, hotel management."

Karen Zhou, who works in the human resource department at a large English training institution based in Beijing, said if a foreigner is a professional and experienced English teacher, he or she will never lack good job opportunities in China.

Zhou said the foreign teachers they recruit all hold teaching certificates and a master's degree or higher. However, qualified teachers are hard to find.

"About only one in 10 foreign teachers we interview meets our needs," she said.

Adaptability a must

Wang said most job positions for foreigners in China are medium level, which requires them to be proficient in their native languages and have some professional skills.

"Non-language positions are of higher professional value for foreigners," she said.

"The major tasks for foreigners who work in non-language positions are in cross-cultural communication and coordination with Chinese and other foreigners, so it's better for them to be good at Chinese, interested in Chinese culture, and familiar with Chinese workplace traditions."

Meng said the gap between foreign and Chinese workers is closing, and employers always prefer employees who are hardworking, good at guanxi, and not afraid of hardship.

Elio Graziano, 29, works for an advertisement company in Shanghai. Within just half a year after he came to China from Italy, he was promoted to the head of the foreign staff department and his salary raised twice in two years that followed.

He attributes this to his voluntarily contacting potential customers in his European community on behalf of his company, which helped close two big deals.

Graziano said the secret to attaining and keeping a good job is to get along well with your Chinese colleagues and learn the guanxi structure between your workmates.

"For example when you have a great success, you cannot always refer to it, and you had better attribute part of the achievement to your boss and your close workmates," he said.

"In China, interpersonal relationships play an important role, however in the West, personal independence and rights are important," said Meng.

Li agrees with Meng's view. "Although professionalism is always our priority in recruitment, I will check to see how a person gets along with others during his probation period," said Li.

"If a lot of people dislike one person, even if his or her professional skills are good, I will not hire the person."

Despite the challenges, Trask believes there are still many opportunities for work in China. He plans to leave Beijing for smaller cities, where he can better mingle with local Chinese and see how they do foreign trade.

"My target is Yiwu [in Zhejiang Province], a place second to none in foreign trade in China," said Trask.

"I think the harsher restriction on foreign workers is a good thing. It makes us push ourselves harder to become better, which cannot be realized in one's comfort zone."

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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