In the Garage

Job Search & Interviewing Adventures in China

November 22, 2014 | 11 Minute Read

I've now been in Shanghai for about four weeks keeping myself busy by looking for jobs -- sending out resumes, going to job fairs, doing interviews, and networking a lot. It's definitely been a learning experience and at times has been surprising, frustrating, and enlightening. There are some commonalities between the United States, Germany, and China, like having to send a CV and cover letter, dressing for success, and all those other things you'll find articles about on LinkedIn. I wound up getting my own business cards printed here because I had read that handing them out here is more common than in the U.S. or Germany. I have to agree that this does seem to be the norm here, but as the last time I was on the job hunt was when I had finished my master's, it's a bit different selling myself with my work experience. But there are three things that I've noticed are very unique to my experience looking for a job here in China.

(As a quick side note, I don't have any fitting images to work with this entry, so I'm just adding ones I've taken around Shanghai because they won't end up with other blog entries anyway.)

Jin Mao Tower

1. The questionnaire you're given at the beginning of your interview before you meet the interviewer

When you go in for an interview, the first thing that happens here in China is you're given a sheet to fill out with basic information before you talk to the interviewer. The receptionist is usually the one who gives you this thing to fill out before the interview actually begins. I feel like this sheet is just a summary of your CV and cover letter all over again. You enter your contact information, your birthdate, your education, your skills, your last three positions with starting and end dates and occasionally your salary at each position, plus your salary expectation. There's also information I found to be a bit puzzling -- your astrology sign, height, weight, marital status (I don't add this on my CV even in Germany), politics, and your closest family members (including your spouse and parents).

For astrology sign, I've written both my western and Chinese astrology signs because I really don't know what to make of it. I mean, if I have to write my birthdate, that would give away both astrology signs. What's the point then? I guess by having a candidate write them, the HR person doesn't need to go figure it out themselves. Even so, I found it an odd piece of information to add, and in this day and age, does it really matter? Every interview I've been to requested this information and I just wonder what they do with it.

I found adding my height and weight a bit personal but somehow less odd than astrology sign. This is definitely the American side of me coming out and being slightly offended. I'm definitely not applying for any modeling jobs or any job where my height or weight would actually matter, like a flight attendant. What difference does my height and weight make? I have no idea, but I've added the information anyway. I'm not ashamed of my height or weight, but I think it's unnecessary information that's not going to make me better or worse at my job.

Marital status is definitely something I don't like having to write. The reason is that at my current age, a lot of people are starting to have kids and frankly, being married, everyone's going to think I'm going to have one now. It's something that the company can easily use to toss out a candidacy, which in the U.S. or Germany is frowned upon (if not illegal), but here in China, I have absolutely no idea. I'm afraid that my marital status in combination with my age will count against me even though I really don't want to have kids right now. I try to make that clear when they ask the question, "Where do you see yourself in three years?" I still wonder, though, if they will remember this fact when they just look at the sheet with all of the information in front of them. Then again, even if the box weren't there on the questionnaire, they often ask me why I'm here in Shanghai. At that point, I say I've been wanting to move to China for awhile (which is the truth), but I also mention it's because my husband's company sent him here. So basically they'd find out my marital status without the questionnaire, but I just hope it doesn't play a huge role in their decision.

I think the politics section is definitely for Chinese citizens, so I've actually left it blank. Whether I'm a Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, or in German politics, member of the CDU, FDP, SPD, Die Linke, Die Grünen doesn't make a difference to them. Even so, it's something that would never be on a job questionnaire either in the U.S. or Germany. If it were, I'd be very surprised.

Lastly, I have no idea what to make about the closest family members section. There have been a few questionnaires where they request these family members' phone numbers. I could understand if this sheet were used when you're hired -- in case of emergency, they'd have your contacts on file. But as a candidate? Again, I just found it a bit strange to collect this information so early in the process.

The questionnaire itself is so detailed that I've needed about 10 to 15 minutes to fill it out. The first time it happened, I wondered if it was just something weird the company did, but after a few more interviews, I've realized it's the norm. To be honest, I find it a bit annoying since I've already gone through the process of making a nice CV and cover letter and then I have to fill out everything again by hand. But hey, if it's the norm, then fine, that's the way it is.


2. The type of water you're offered to drink

Of course, when you go in for an interview, you're always offered something to drink. In Germany or the U.S., you're usually given a glass of water. In Germany, you might have the option of carbonated water or still water. However, in both countries, the water you're given is usually cold or at least room temperature. Not so in China -- you're given a cup of boiled to lukewarm water. Coming from a Chinese-American family, I'm not as weirded out by this as someone who has never drunk warm water before in their life. The first interview I went to and got a cup of warm water, I sort of smiled to myself and thought, "Yes, this is very Chinese." Why? Chinese people think drinking something cold is bad for you. My grandparents told me this numerous times; they and my dad also have a tendency to drink boiled water (滾水 is what we say in Cantonese) because it's "good for digestion" and generally just good for you. Admittedly, I will drink hot water once in awhile as well, but I was amused to be given warm water without question at a job interview.

Even when I went to talk to a fellow Middlebury alum, he offered me warm water. I raised an eyebrow and laughed, saying, "Wow, that's very Chinese of you." He told me that having lived here in China for 18 years, he's gotten used to it and going back to the States, he finds it weird to get ice water where ever he goes. When he's there, he requests no ice or maybe a cup of tea where he'll just not use the teabag.

Century Park

3. Oh, you're Chinese? Of course you speak Mandarin even though we didn't request it specifically in the job ad.

This last point is one that's probably going to be repeated in every single entry I write this year in Shanghai -- the expectation that because I've got a Chinese name and look Chinese, I speak Chinese. The first story is when I went to the German-Sino Job Fair, which comprised mostly of German companies looking for Chinese candidates or Chinese companies looking for someone with German experience. The majority of open positions were definitely not in my field; they were all technical, engineering jobs. However, there was one ad for a German-English translator which I thought, "OK, I can do that." I went to the booth for the job and the woman greeted me in Mandarin. I thought, "OK, that's fine," and explained to her in Mandarin that my Mandarin is not very good. She looked at me blankly and kept talking to me in Chinese. I shook my head, asked, "德语? 英语? 广东话?" ("German? English? Cantonese?") After all, the position was for a German-English translator and there wasn't any Chinese requirement for the job. To be honest, I had no expectation for her to speak English or Cantonese, but at least basic German since it was the German-Sino Job Fair. Eventually, she said something in Mandarin, pointed to my resume in my hand, made the motion of calling, and waved me away. A girl behind me translated, "Give her your CV; she'll call you if she's interested." I handed my resume to her and stalked off. Admittedly, I felt slightly humiliated and hadn't even wanted to give her my CV. Obviously if we can't communicate, they're not going to call me, so why even bother?

The second story happened at a completely different job interview for an American English Website Editor position where in the job ad, there was nothing written about having to know Chinese. In fact, they specifically requested that the candidate be an American citizen. So obviously, I fit the basic requirement for the position. However, at the interview, the HR woman looked at me and started talking to me in Mandarin. I just smiled at her and explained to her politely in my basic Mandarin that I am an American-born Chinese ("ABC"). Yes, my mother was born in Hong Kong, my dad in New York, and all of my grandparents came from China, but no, my Mandarin is not good enough for a job interview. She spoke basic English which, in my opinion, was probably better than my Mandarin, but she kept slipping back into Chinese. It was a bit frustrating because when I asked her about the actual job, she explained it to me in Chinese, which I didn't completely understand.

Unlike at the German-Sino Job Fair, this situation wasn't humiliating but rather slightly amusing. I really wonder if the woman would try speaking to an American citizen of non-Asian heritage if they were sitting in front of her -- someone black, white, Latino. What if the candidate were say, Korean-American instead of Chinese-American? For me, it made me think twice about working at the company. Sure, I wouldn't have to deal with HR every day and as long as my direct manager could communicate with me, there shouldn't be any issues. However, if I had issues with my direct manager and had to turn to HR, what would happen then? Of course, I understand that I'm in a country where I don't speak the language and I should be accommodating. But as I mentioned, the job ad didn't specify any Chinese language skills requirement. As a result, I would expect basic English be spoken by key people involved in the hiring process for this particular job. Any job ads in English that mention any Chinese language skills as a requirement basically rule me out and those that write, "Chinese is a bonus," are ones to which I may actually apply depending on everything else.

Though it's only been four weeks, I'm still waiting to hear back from some companies. Obviously I'm continually applying until I get an offer, but until then, I'm still applying and talking to people. So if you know anyone that needs a project manager in digital communications or a localization manager or coordinator, let me know! In the meantime, I'll also be taking an online CSS class and keeping myself busy with improving my Mandarin so people can stop giving me weird looks.