PWD Register

Oh if it were only 2004! Back then, the grizzled veteran will tell you, all you had to do to earn a crust in China was walk outside. Within minutes, you would be spotted, bundled into a black limo and whisked off to a new career as a TV announcer, a movie actor, an advertising account executive or a celebrity chef.

Actually, things were never quite that easy, but it’s certainly true that there isn’t as much elbow-room in the China job market as there used to be, and more and more employers are asking impertinent questions about qualifications and experience.

If you’re reading this from offshore and dreaming of making it big in the corporate world in China, know this: if you haven’t got what Microsoft or Deloitte need in your home country, don’t get on a plane thinking they’ll sign you on in China. Most of the foreign employees of multinationals working in China have been recruited through international search, and the big players are just as fussy about who they hire here as they are anywhere else. If you have brilliant Chinese, that no longer makes you special. It may get you over the line in a very tight selection choice, but only after you’ve been found to measure up on all the other criteria - education, analytical skills, etc - and that’s just for an internship! People do come to China and work their way into the corporate world, but be prepared for a long, hard grind of resume-polishing, cold-calling, networking, door-knocking and gophering.

If you’re a native English speaker, you do possess one of the most tradable commodities on the Chinese job market. Working with words is one of the biggest money-making activities in the foreign community in China:

• There’s a never-ending stream of work in language ’’polishing’’ - editing the English prose of Chinese speakers in the publishing, internet and broadcasting industries. The work can be eye-glazing after long exposure, but it puts you in a Chinese workplace, gives you contacts and friendships - and pays the bills. All that’s required is a tertiary qualification from an English-speaking university, which the Chinese use (rather unwisely) as a surrogate for the ability to write good English. Make enquiries at CCTV, China Daily, Xinhua, China Radio International etc. Or keep an eye on the many jobs-available sections on expat websites. Expect a salary in the RMB 10-15,000 range.
• If you’re an aspiring journalist, China is a good place to get published. The various expat mags like That’s Beijing, City Weekend and Time Out will happily listen to your pitch, and if you really can write, you’ll see your name in lights. But the remuneration for casual pieces published in China is poor (between 1 and 2 yuan per word), so freelancing is strictly a means to an end, be it clips for your portfolio, food for your ego or a pathway to an editorial position.

And of course, the other way of turning English into renminbi is to teach it. The demand for native English speaking teachers in China is endless. What you get out of it depends on what you’re prepared to put in. Let’s assume you’re a conscientious person with the interests of your prospective students at heart (unfortunately, this doesn’t describe all teachers in China, or all language school owners). If you are, then give consideration to getting a qualification in TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages). Sure, you can find work in China without one, but if you have one, you’ll be a better teacher, you’ll earn more in the long run and it may be the first step to a rewarding career. Among the prospective employers in China:

Universities. They’re among the fussiest employers in terms of qualifications and experience. While the pay is modest, they offer work visas, good holidays, secure contracts, civilized staff relations (usually), and a return flight (usually). A typical teaching load is 20 hours per week.
Public schools: Hard work. Be prepared for a bigger teaching load (sometimes as much as 30 hours per week) and big classes, but they can be a lot of fun. The best schools offer benefits comparable to the universities.
Private centers: These run the gamut from highly professional institutions to rank fly-by-nighters. The best of them won’t look at you unless you have good qualifications and / or a long CV, but they’ll pay well to keep their most valuable staff, who can command RMB 300 per hour or more. If you’re starting out in the private sector, don’t take less than RMB 150 in the big cities, a little less in the provinces.
Corporate sector: Big corporations who hire teachers to improve the English skills of their staff are among the most discriminating employers of all. They relentlessly evaluate your performance for return on investment, and if you don’t measure up, you’re out. But teachers who can work their way into these positions are among the best-paid in the business.

If you’ve yet to come to China and you’re hunting for jobs in the English teaching sector, try the China’s #1 esl
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