What are the key skills needed to succeed working for a company in China as a foreigner?

It is coming to that time of year again, and my email box is beginning to fill with resumes and queries from young expatriates who are looking to find their fortunes, or at least a job, in the wild, wild East.

Over on Quora I dropped in an answer to the question "What are the key skills needed to succeed working for a company in China as a foreigner?"

My answer fairly sums up what I think are the salient skills and attitudes required to get hired in China's increasingly competitive job market.

Check out the link below.

What are the key skills needed to succeed working for a company in China as a foreigner?

Dan Welygan

Would you change/alter your advice at all for people that are in the middle of their careers but looking to do China-related work?

David Wolf

Dan, I’d say that all of those requirements form the basis of what one would need as a mid-career switcher to China, but several are more important and there are a few additional changes.

First, cross-cultural skills leap in importance. The rigors of management in a seriously cross-cultural environment like China are a severe test of leadership skills, perseverance, and finesse, especially as you deal with older executives schooled in a more traditionally Mainland way of doing business.

Second, the older one is, the more important it is to understand the specific value one brings to the prospective employer, express it well, and, if possible, to be able to attach a business or dollar value to it. That presumes a good deal of homework on each prospective employer, but anyone older than about 33 who is on the job hunt should know that anyway.

Third, one needs to prove that he or she is a “winner.” There is a palpable cynicism among some folks I know about people whom in southern China used to be called “FILTH” (failed in London, try Hongkong) or what others call LBHs (losers back home.) That can be tough. One word of advice: never look like you are unemployed. That’s the kiss of death.

Finally, it would be expected that one has highly relevant experience and industry- and position-specific skill sets on arrival. One needs to be almost tailor-made for the position and in need of almost no training on arrival. It’s one thing if one wants to jump from overseas to China in a similar role. It is depressing to have, say, an actuarial analyst from New York trying to explain why he’d make a great PR manager in Beijing.

Does this help?

Dan Welygan

That does help.

Even if I don’t make a leap back into living/working full time in China, this is still useful job-search related advice.

It seems that the notion of moving abroad and suddenly being awarded a well-paying position of power simply for being foreign is a fantasy (at least in China, Europe, and nearly everywhere else in the world).


Any additions/modifications for a foreigner looking to work at a Chinese firm, as opposed to the Chinese office of a western firm?