How to get a job in China

There are a ton of application sites out there but I think they’re all horrible. I searched for jobs three times: 2014 (before graduation), 2016 (desire to change jobs in the Netherlands), and 2018 (desire to move to China) — and from those three runs I do not doubt that I’ve sent well over 100 applications on sites like Monster and LinkedIn. It was a grind, really. And from +100 applications I only got 1 interview that didn’t lead to a job.

Maybe my CV or me myself really sucks. But more than that, I think modern recruitment is really broken. A Google search on ‘I never get a reply on job application’ dishes up 5 billion hits. Some of these put the blame on the applicants, with articles like ‘5 reasons why you don’t get a reply to your job application’, but I’d recommend to not optimize for a stupid game, and find a different game to play instead.

This also applies to searching for a job in China. There are sites out there like eChinacities Jobs or HiredChina, but especially for non-teaching jobs, I suspect the amount of applicants for each position is extremely high. Moreover, the jobs that are posted on these sites aren’t any good. I’m not even talking about the salary yet. In many of these jobs you’re brought in to fill the seat of someone who failed, so you’ll have no budget yet sky-high targets. (Deliver ASAP please!) In some cases, you’re even expected to use your own network to bring in clients. I don’t think these are jobs you want to have. As a foreigner, you’re dependent on your work visa, so pick a stable job. Many of these companies don’t have a unique product to bring to the market. They slap a logo on Aliexpress items and try to create a brand out of it, or they pretend to be a European company while they produce and ship from China. They could have a cheap Amazon product with extremely low margins, one whose advantages evaporates in the next generation of tech devices. And the reviews on Reddit, if any, are horrible. That’s the gist of what I’ve seen. Whatever the reason, many of these companies cannot find good staff, hence they’re on those expat job sites.

How to get a job in China

First, stop wasting your time on sites like LinkedIn, Indeed, eChinacities Jobs, and HiredChina, and focus on ‘networking’ instead. Now, there’s a lot of talk about this as if it’s an obvious thing to do, but no real answer to what that entails. (As if just drinking beers with people will get you anywhere, or that a stack of business cards means anything.)

I got my last four jobs just through offline contact. I work in marketing, so this focuses on marketing, but I’m sure it applies to all non-teaching jobs. For China specifically, I think the recipe is as follows: pick a city, reach out, and plan a trip on a holiday visa to visit. Build a network. Even to be added to dozens of WeChat groups is a win.

So:

  1. Create a spreadsheet with cities you would like to work in.
  2. Find all the agencies or companies you would like to work in each city, and list them in a column.
  3. Find the decision-maker you need (head of marketing/head of planning/creative director/etc) and try to find her/his LinkedIn or via Baidu. You can also guess her/his email. Usually, you can find the email address of a colleague on the contact page, or on Google or Baidu, and you can figure out the naming convention (first initial+last name @ company name . com or something). It’s not that hard, although now and then, people are untraceable. Mark their names in the Excel. You can write down multiple names per company.
  4. Send emails or try to connect on LinkedIn, Instagram, or anywhere. See my base post below. Mark the sending date in the Excel sheet. Don’t send it to multiple people in the same company, just try one first and see how it goes.
  5. After one or two weeks and having received no reply, it’s fine to send a one-sentence reminder. Or you move to the next person in the company.

Here’s a sample screenshot:

find_a_job_in_china

The message

Here’s the template I used to send emails. Important things to keep in mind:

  • Never mention ‘Can I pick your brain’ or something vague
  • Be honest about your intention, make it clear that you’re looking for a job
  • Be humble and attentive, make it short, don’t waste their time
  • Mention when you’ll visit the city they’re in
  • No need to make it slavish, but be thankful for their time

Option 1

Title:

Open application as <desired job title>

Content:

Dear <name>,

I’ll keep this short because I realize it’s a tad rude to email out of the blue without a vacancy. However, I hope that you’ll allow me to follow this up with a more in-depth (video) call, or a meeting in person. I’ll be in <city> from <date> to <date>.

Who: <Sell yourself in one line>.

Why: <Why you want this>.

My strengths: <Sell yourself in one line>.

I’ve prepared a Keynote presentation and in fifteen minutes I’d love to take you through three cases I’ve done.
< Case 1 name, media, year>
< Case 2 name, media, year>
< Case 3 name, media, year>

Kind regards,
Jaap Grolleman

My CV is attached, or found here:
http://jaapgrolleman.com/about/

Option 2

Title:

Looking to meet or call because I would like your advice on finding a job in marketing

Content:

Dear <name>,

I’ll keep this short because I realize it’s a tad rude to email out of the blue, after finding your email address on <where>. I would love to get in touch because I’m looking for a job in marketing in <city>, which would be a hugely exciting new chapter in my life. Yet I don’t really know where to start.

I am <describe your age, education, experience + most important skill in one line>.

If you have any advice for me (where to look or how to ‘attack’ this), please kindly share it with me. I’ve tried applying on LinkedIn, but received zero replies.

I look up to you and <company> and I’m sure you went through these hurdles which I would like to take too. I would love to pay a short visit if possible. I’m eager to learn.

Kind regards,
Jaap Grolleman

PS: I’ll be in <city> from <date> to <date>.

Play a different game

I think this method works for several reasons.

  • Sites like HiredChina and Linkedin are simply flooded with applications and your application is not going to stand out.
  • This way you bypass HR and go directly to the decision-maker: the head of marketing or whatever.
  • Plus it shows you’re proactive.

But most importantly, I’ve found people in marketing extremely helpful. In my student time, I went to many lectures and also did interviews with ~20 people in advertising per email. All seemed happy to answer any question I had, even people who I enormously looked up to like Luke Sullivan. (Only Seth Godin declined, so that seemed about as high as I could go.) But I’m grateful, and now I’m happy to answer any questions from juniors too. The circle of marketing? Anyway, make some good use of it.