There are many more jobs for foreigners teaching English in China than for non-teaching jobs in China, but they are still there.
Since first moving to China in 2007 to teach English I had wanted to find a non-teaching there. Since 2010 I have found non-teaching jobs, seen some of my friends do the same, and met many more people in China with non-teaching jobs.
There are some important things to consider when thinking about finding a non-teaching job in China. Each job has different requirements and different barriers to entry. Below are the main considerations when searching for jobs in China, the types of jobs available in China, and how to find these different jobs.
Companies Want to Hire People with Great Skills
As you may or may not know, many employers value skills over degrees or certificates, and in China things are no different. Where you’re from, if you have a degree or not, if you speak Mandarin or not, won’t matter as much as having the skills needed to do the work they need done.
The most important thing you need to have already is a skill. If you don’t know what your skills are, look at your resume and think about the types of work you have been doing over the last several years. Maybe you have computer programming skills, maybe you are a customer service representative, maybe your skill is singing.
Whatever your skills are, you can generally only find jobs that are looking for the skills you have. If you want to attain a skill, you can take free classes online in places like Coursera, Udacity, EdX, and Codecademy. You can also go back to school, just make sure you study something that teaches you a skill like nursing or engineering.
You can do work for free for people to build up experience by looking on Craigslist, or calling and emailing people and companies and offering your services for free until you get good enough to charge.
You can even do free work for a company and then send them what you’ve done. For example, if you see your favorite author doesn’t have a great website and you are good at building websites, build them a website and then send them the link.
Types of Jobs and Skills Needed to Do Them
Engineer – One of the most common jobs in China after English teacher is engineer. Engineers also travel to China a lot from their home country for work, and it’s because China is the manufacturing center of the world.
Before moving to China for work, you may be able to get your current company to send you to China for work if they have dealings with China. Some of the engineers I have known who work in China do not have a college degree and do not speak Mandarin. The most important aspect of being an engineer in China is that you have experience as an engineer.
For a list of job boards that cater specifically to foreigners in China download our free guide:
Sales and Marketing – There are lots of foreigners in China working in sales and marketing. I myself was offered a job in sales at a company even with little sales experience. They wanted me because I could speak some Cantonese and their customers would be very impressed by this. If you are in sales, then there are jobs in China for you.
If you can speak Mandarin (or Cantonese) it will help a lot. If you have connections with companies in your home country it will help a lot since many companies want to sell their products abroad. Someone I know found a job with a Chinese company and helps them sell their products to companies in the US.
Technical Writing – As you probably know, every type of product is made in China. You may not know that oftentimes native English speakers are needed to help write the English versions of manuals for these products.
A translator first translates the manual from Chinese into English and then a native English speaker corrects any mistakes with the translations so that when a consumer uses the product, it looks like the manual was written by a native English speaker.
To get this type of job, some experience using the products you are writing about will be helpful and some knowledge of Mandarin is also helpful.
Manager – Many foreigners working in China work as managers of factories or other types of companies. It is common for WFOEs (Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprises) to have a foreigner from their native company as the general manager.
If you have experience in your home country as a manager at a company, you can try to find work at this same type of company but in China.
Start Your Own Business – One of the things that makes China so exciting today is the rapid growth. Literally hundreds of millions of Chinese have moved out of poverty and into the middle class. This has never happened in the history of the world before. Almost all of this growth has happened in just about the last 30 years.
Naturally with rapid growth come opportunities for entrepreneurs. One popular area of business is teaching English. Some of these new middle class are actually upper class and will pay a lot of money to have a native English speaker teach their kids English. It’s not uncommon to make $80-$100/hr. (a large amount of money in China) teaching a class of 5 students in China.
At Enter China a group of foreigners imports wine to sell to the Chinese market and manufactures their own products in China and sells them via e-commerce websites. While searching for opportunities, be vigilant of laws regulating foreigners doing business in China. Doing business in China is not black and white and there are many gray areas.
Translator – Translators convert written language from one language to another, usually the translator’s native language. If your Mandarin in good, you can find work translating for TV shows, movies, video games, and more into English or your native language.
If you find work translating from English or your native language into Mandarin, you should have a native speaker check your work to make sure it reads correctly.
Interpreter – An interpreter converts spoken language from one language into another. Many people confuse interpreters and translators since they both go from one language to another, but they require very different skill sets. Interpreters can work as guides as well by showing their clients around trade shows or taking them to visit factories. If your Mandarin is good you can do this type of work.
A Mix of the Above – Instead of doing one of the above jobs, you may be able to find a job using a combination of the above skills. I previously worked at a manufacturing company in China as a translator, interpreter, English teacher, and cultural guide.
I was able to work together with my boss and formulate a position as a cultural liaison helping improve communication between Chinese, expats, and any foreign guests that had communication with our office.
Other Jobs – Other jobs to consider are working as a dancer, singer, musician, or DJ. Many clubs and different venues or events will hire people to do this type of work. Some foreigners work at hotels, banks, and as chefs.
How and Where to Find Jobs in China
Traditional beliefs say that to find a job you need to scour job boards and apply to job postings. While this way can work for certain types of jobs, it’s not always the best way to go. I have found that networking and selling yourself to companies directly (regardless of whether there is job posting) is a good way to do it.
First you need to have a LinkedIn account. Using LinkedIn search for companies with the keyword “China” and then filter by location to find companies located in China or that have dealings with China.
After reading about their company online find an email on their website or find an HR or manager’s email on LinkedIn and send them an email. You can use RocketReach to figure out their email if it’s not listed in their LinkedIn profile.
Tell them who you are and about your skills as they relate to China and their company. Tell them how you could help them. For example, if your skill is sales, send them the websites of some companies you think they should be selling to, and how you have sold to such companies in the past. Attach a resume for their convenience.
If at first this doesn’t work, keep trying and I promise you will hear back from some of them.
Another way to find jobs in China is to network with people you already know and talk to their contacts. I recommend traveling to China and meeting with some people who already work there. Hopefully someone in your network knows someone you could talk to who has experience working at a non-teaching job in China.
Although I believe the best jobs are found through selling your services to companies and through networking, it is still possible to find jobs in China through job boards and headhunting companies. You can download the below PDF to get a list of these job boards and headhunting companies:
Make Sure You Want to Live in China Before Moving There
Regardless of whether you find a job or not, at a bare minimum you need to have spent some time in China. Many people, like myself, love China, but I’ve met many, many foreigners in China who work in China that can’t wait to leave.
Before you move to China make sure China is somewhere you want to live. I recommend traveling there for a few weeks, or volunteering, or teaching English for a few months. Once you’ve got some experience in China, then you can take the above information into consideration and execute your plan. Good luck!
AUTHOR: NICK LENCZEWSKI
Nick Lenczewski (Len-chess-key) writes books and makes movies to help people discover the incredible life that living and traveling in China brings. He believes that listening to music, playing cards and drinking tea with friends is one of the best things in life. Nick is fluent in Mandarin.