1. Come with a specialty.
Regardless of your industry experience, you will have better chances of landing a job quickly if you're specialized in something. If you don't have a specialty, market yourself as being interested in one. According to several advertising industry search firms, the hot jobs are in digital marketing, CRM and shopper marketing.
2. Apply to as many agencies as possible.
Many China job hunters make the mistake of applying to the big networks that they know, and avoid smaller, less familiar international or independent ones.
Even local agencies may be looking for an expatriate who can help them service an international client. Remember that the whole point is getting your foot in the China door, and nothing is permanent.
If you eventually land a gig but it doesn't work out after a year, you can move to something else, but now you've got experience and you're better connected, too.
3. Connect directly with the decision makers.
Most agencies here do not use Human Resources managers to sift through prospects, so it's better to connect with the head of the agency or department. They don't mind connecting with someone with talent and passion.
4. Think Shanghai, but don't forget Beijing or Guangzhou.
Shanghai is the capital of the China advertising industry, but there are also many agencies spread out throughout the country, especially in Beijing and Guangzhou.
5. Don't ask for a flight over here.
Expect to come to China for a round of interviews on your own tab. If you're applying from outside China, you should pick a week for interviews two months before your arrival and start arranging interviews for that week. Nothing impresses an agency boss more than someone who has pro-actively arranged interviews prior to their arrival, and you'll need the interview to convince the agency to hire you over a local. The agency also will not have a budget for your airfare or lodging, unless you're coming out for a senior position.
6. Think of your job as an internship and expect a local salary.
Long gone are the days when there was a huge gap between local and expatriate salaries because of different skills. The industry now boasts a good army of talented and well-paid locals, many of whom still live rent free with their parents. Salaries are still lower in China for entry-level positions when compared to places like the U.S., and living as an expatriate can be expensive. If you frequent the expat hangouts, you'll soon discover your salary barely covers your expenses. It may be tough your first year, but you'll find your financial package grows quickly with experience.
7. Knowing Chinese helps, but it isn't everything.
Ethnic Chinese with Mandarin-speaking skills will definitely have an advantage over non-Chinese speakers, but it's a combination of China experience and language skills that will get you the desired job.
8. If you don't know Chinese, start learning now!
Get the basics down before you arrive because once you start working you won't have the time or energy to really dive into learning Mandarin. Don't fall into the trap of being one of the many foreigners who live here that never bothered to learn the language. Believe me, they all regret it.
9. Be passionate and hungry.
An agency lives and thrives on passion, and if you don't have it, you shouldn't be in the business. One of the pitfalls of Chinese employees is that many have become used to a booming, full employment economy, and have subsequently lost a bit of the hunger that fuels our industry. If you have it, it will certainly rub off on the other employees.
10. Prepare to work your ass off.
Within a few days of working at an agency, you'll suddenly find yourself in hyper mode performing a million different tasks – planner, creative, finance, etc, that you probably never did back home. Seven-day work weeks are the norm here, not the exception. It's just a price to pay for the China adventure.
Getting overseas experience is now key for career development, and there's probably no better place to get it than China. Spending a couple of years here will be both rewarding and challenging, and if you're like me, you might get so addicted to the buzz of the place that you may not want to leave.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR|
A 17-year resident of Greater China, Bryce Whitwam is general manager of Wunderman, Shanghai.