The latest Gallup survey says that Americans are more pessimistic about their job market while Chinese are more optimistic about theirs. Therefore, it’s a good time to understand the latest job trends in the Chinese job market and see if there is real reason for these results.

Trend #1 – Naked Quitting

As many as 30-40% of Chinese young people are actually leaving their jobs without finding a new position first. This is interesting because the job market in China is very competitive, and thus it wouldn’t seem like the wisest choice. Young Chinese do it anyway!

In such a competitive market one would expect people to hold their jobs, but a growing number of young Chinese choose differently. They are not willing to compromise for a low paying job or one they don’t like.

It’s a growing group of white collar employees. They expect more in terms of salary and also want to do something that interests them not just a job. Despite the rough competition, they decide they are not joining the race until they are ready to compete on their terms.

Wages have gone up by 9.2% and the number of job position offers has increased dramatically. In the five most popular industries in China, between the months of January to November 2011 there was an increase of 150% to 1000% in the number of jobs offered! Good news! Huh?

Well, not for foreigners. The Chinese government have recognized that foreigners are taking their local workers positions and frankly don’t need foreigners as much as they once did. It’s almost impossible to get a job in China if you are a fresh graduate. Fortunately, there is a solution, which is quite costly but worth it if working in China is your thing. So, here is the next trend for you…

Trend #2 – The foreign interns are coming

In this matter the market is booming. Foreign interns are coming to China in growing numbers. A typical intern would be an undergrad or grad student who wishes to use his summer time more efficiently and gain work experience in China. As the agencies are also supplying Chinese learning courses along with the internship program, it’s a good deal.

Internships are offered in various fields and lengths. Most hiring companies ask for a minimum 3-month obligation from the intern, but it’s possible to find internships even only for a single month, and up to a year long. In the longer internship programs the intern would be paid a larger salary (called a “stipend”) and have more chance of being offered a position afterwards.

The agencies arranging such internships report on growing numbers of interns joining different internship programs. This happens for a number of reasons:

  1. Europe and the US are not the best places to find a job today.
  2. It’s getting more and more difficult to find a job in China as well. This is especially true for fresh graduates, as mentioned, but not only. So an internship is a good way to actually get a job in China, as starting as an intern can often lead the hiring company to offer the intern a job, and if not, at least give the intern a chance to look for a job within China while there.
  3. More and more potential interns are willing to pay for a service of placing them and arranging everything a foreign student/graduate/intern needs.

And still, foreigners are challenged by the next trend…

Trend #3 – the Chinese Ivy League fresh graduate has landed

Young Chinese professionals understand that their best way of developing themselves to have an advantage over other candidates in the Chinese job market is having a western higher education. So, they work very hard to be accepted into western universities.

As an example, my wife is tutoring a Chinese high school graduate studying for a whole year for his TOEFL exam. She is just the supplementary teacher to help him work on his pronunciation and accent. He has another teacher for the grammar and vocabulary. He moved to Beijing solely for this with the purpose of getting into an American college. It’s a real issue in China.

So, who then would a local employer prefer to hire? A foreigner with a western education but who is culturally different and has little language skills or a young Chinese that knows the culture and language and has the same western education. It’s a no-brainer!

But there’s some hope…

Trend #4 – How about adding some talent management?!

Here is something that is still missing in China and could be an advantage for foreign managers. Chinese companies are still less successful in growing their managers from within the company.

This happens due to mistakes in the recruiting process and decisions based on irrelevant criterions. The fault in this process causes unsuitable candidates to arrive in the company, which then have less potential of becoming the future managers. This is often also the case in Western companies, but in China the problem is much wider, and so Chinese companies are less successful in growing in house managers, which gives their Western managers an advantage.

Michelle LaVallee was referring to this matter on a webinar we had. Michelle is using a method called “Topgrading” for evaluating new candidates. She said she sees a lot of companies in China make these recruiting mistakes and act this way.

So, this is still good news for foreigners, but you always have trend #3, which is causing this to change.

Different types of people that China is missing are creative/innovative people, which is also changing, but still trend #5 has been prominent in the Chinese job market for the past 1-2 years…

Trend #5 – Wanted: Creative people

Modern China has been known for duplicating stuff, but lacking the innovation for creating new things. One can still see many positions, in creative fields such as architecture, design and the like.

These kinds of positions are very prominent on classified ad boards, but as mentioned before, this is changing. Those Western-educated Chinese young graduates are returning to China. They are fully charged with innovative ideas and ready to head back and conquer.

Trend #(+1) – What if you have no choice?!

Now, if a foreigner really can’t find anything else, there are still some positions, where (almost) no skill is nessacarry, but one needs to have the right look. There are many offers along the lines of this one (image right, click to enlarge).

Amusing, huh? Chinese companies want to show off the fact they can afford to hire a foreign manager. It just helps the business!

Summary: Seems like this survey does show what’s actually happening in reality. China’s young generation certainly has a reason to smile. Although, it’s certainly very difficult to handle the job reality in China today as competition is enormous, it seems that the market is progressing in the right direction, to have better quality positions and build a higher level of a more professional job market.

Westerners on the other hand are pessimistic, and they have good reason for that, not only is the situation in their home countries not bright, it’s getting harder to actually reach China. Some people I spoke with even claimed that they think it’s the last opportunity to actually come to China for work and improve ones resume. So, you do have solutions like internship companies, but who knows how long it will last.

In addition, and food for thought

After I finished writing and editing this article, I decided to check one more thing: What Google reveals regarding these trends. So, I checked what were the trends for Americans looking for “work in China” (fg. 1) vs. the trend for Chinese searching for “在美国工作” (fg. 2). Have a look:

Fg. 1 - Work in US
Fg. 2 - 在美国工作

click image to enlarge

As you can see both trends are growing. While this insight is reasonable for the growing pessimism in America, how does that settle with the optimism in China?! (A side note on that, the web is full of expats experiences about life and work in China. Here is a list of a few, from by Matt & Kara)

I don’t have a really good explanation, so I’d be happy to hear what the readers have to say. From my personal perspective, and experience, put the Chinese optimism aside, everybody in China still wants to live in America.



  1. In regards to Trend #4. I’ve looked at my fair share of jobs ads. I’m not currently looking but possible in the future. However most of the jobs ads I have seen are outright crazy with expectations and requirements. Perhaps it’s the way the ads are written or even the standard.

    Tie in Trend #5 creative people. I just can’t comprehend what companies are looking for. Sometimes I think it’s superman by the way the ad reads.

    15+ years doing award winning work in specific field, must be up on social media trends, Degree in system engineering or computer science, Speak, read, write Mandarin.

    I’m no slacker by any means, but I have never met, talked to or even heard of anyone that would come close to fitting that description.

    Perhaps, I just don’t know. I will admit to that. But wow.

    I’ve seen many jobs like this. For basic positions in a creative capacity are given to local Chinese (that by the way have unreachable requirements that most Americans couldn’t fill). The middle doesn’t seem to be occupied by anyone, but then they want someone that does everything at the top. Even to the point where you would be hard pressed to find this person in their own respective country. But then add that they have to speak the local language here. More power to them. If they can get a job like this, you earned it.

    But as far as I can tell, not many people fit some of these descriptions, even without Chinese ability. So what is going on with these type of jobs? Is the top getting higher and the lower getting lower and the middle just isn’t there for the experienced but not masters of China?

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  3. One thing you didn’t touch upon are the salaries for foreigners now entering China. Where they are working for a foreign companies branch in China, it doesn’t seem to be much of a problem. But if it’s a Chinese company, they are wanting to pay less and less.

    They’ve become aware of the fact that there are a fair few foreigners wanting to come and work in China, and are certainly taking advantage of it.

    As to interns, I’ve found them to be pretty useless in China. Not all, but most. There’s very little they seem to be able to do due to language barriers and perhaps more importantly, a lack of understanding of the culture, which realistically only develops over years. Whatever skills/qualifications they may have ends up being fairly irrelevant because of this issue.

    It takes a certain type of person to be able to adapt to China and the Chinese working environment. That’s not always their fault mind you, that’s just a case of the general ‘them and us’ Chinese mind set. It can take years to properly win a Chinese colleagues trust and get them to level with you so you can actually begin to get stuff done.

    I can’t really see China be a viable option for non-Chinese seeking to improve their career in 5 – 10 years time. I think most will end up choosing India as it rises.

  4. Wonder if this is a trend or just an isolated example.

    I know of cases where there are teachers who are non-native English speaker, undergraduate students, no certification.

    They are invited to teach in schools. The schools pay them a fraction of native English speakers. Their home uni pays them some sort of stipend.

  5. You beat me to a detailed, published report of the employment status for foreigners in China! Thank you for wonderful observations that have filled the gaps in my own hypotheses. One opinion I’d like to offer to you, in response to the optimism of Chinese looking for employment abroad (specifically, America):

    US managers have and will continue to hire a diversified portfolio. The fact of the matter is, Americans are becoming less educated, though America is home to 31 of the top 100 Universities in the World, as published by 2012 US News ( US companies want the brightest and best, and will gladly accept a “brain drain” from other countries, which segues into my next point:

    Indeed, it is important for foreigners to keep a pulse on the declining employment offers in China, especially with regard to the recent announcement at the 2012 NPPCC: Chinese nationals and expats will be granted better legal terms to return to China, open businesses and seek employment in every section except Urban Planning, where foreigners with experience are preferred (I watched this, but can not find an online link to the quote). However, at least in lower tiered cities, the Chinese working culture still rejects the idea of Chinese nationals being better experts than their foreign counterparts. [Reference Trend #(+1)]

    Just because a Chinese national receives an education from abroad, it does not guarantee their success in China – the fact they understand the Chinese culture and the language can sometimes stifle them into submission, baiting them into confrontation and head aches they don’t have to face in the countries that educated them. (Side note: All top ranks of the CCP are educated in China) In addition, getting an education in the US does not qualify as being proficient in English or foreign cultures, producing gaps easily recognized by natives, thus creating demand for foreigners to act as liaisons for companies abroad equally as companies doing business with Chinese have an appetite for bringing Chinese liaisons on board.

    Last, China and America (specifically) need each other regardless of whether either side is willing to admit it. The economies are distinctly tied together and thus sensitive to each other’s decisions, though China has been diversifying it’s risks. This tie forges a natural bridge for the two countries (and corresponding companies) to maintain desegregated relationships.

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  7. As a Japanese major based in China, I’ve checked some thousands of English/Japanese job ads for China. Unsurprisingly, they offer different jobs than those aimed at Chinese. However, while most jobs aimed at English speakers concern teaching positions (as most here will probably know as well), what surprised me was how many of the Japanese job ads concerned factory manager positions.

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  9. I have to agree with Pudding. The market seems to be lacking the middle ground. I’m actively looking for marketing and advertising work but without 5 or 10+ years experience they don’t seem to want you. They might consider you as an intern but many of the internships still want fluent Chinese. I think it is getting harder and harder for foreigners looking to get ahead in China.

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