Participating in an internship in China is becoming increasingly popular among foreign University students. Especially in Shanghai and Beijing, cities which are quickly becoming new lands of opportunity for recent Foreign college graduates who face unemployment nearing double digits at home. A similar trend can be observed with Foreign Universities which are ramping up their efforts to offer more learning opportunities in China to their students.
Is China the new graduate land of opportunities?
With China growing in strategic importance to the United States, American students are finding new ways to gain valuable experience there, according to a new study carried out by the Institute of International Education and supported by the Ford Foundation. IIE’s 2012 Open Doors report had previously shown that some 15,000 students studied in China for academic credit in 2010-11, marking a nearly fivefold increase in the number of American students studying abroad in China over the last decade. The new study has now found that over 11,000 more young Americans went to China (including mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau) in 2011 to obtain a full degree from a Chinese university or to take part in learning experiences such as study tours, language study, internships, and volunteering/service learning. said a recent report from the IIE.
Students who are participating in an internship in China are looking to gain work experience, apply theories they have learnt at school, learn a new language, discover a new culture, build bonds between East and West, and perhaps more importantly: get their career started.
China’s economy has been growing steadily over the last decades, developing a fast reputation as a place where graduates could start a business or a career, faster than at home, but to which extend is this really true.
If you have worked hard during your internship, have added value to your host company, delivered quality work and results, then yes you may be a hiring target for your host company.
However, although China has potentially great opportunities for foreign students not afraid to take up new challenges, the reality can sometimes be harsher as China labor law only allows recent graduates to get a work permit if they can show at least two years of cumulative work experience. So, as a job may not always be guaranteed at the end of an internship especially if this is a first working experience, then my advice would be to start chasing opportunities as soon as you land in the Middle Kingdom. Most interns are staying at least 2-3 months in China, given them enough time to see what options exist and advance their career prospects.
Building relationships or “Guanxi” through networking
The business community in China is accessible. You can easily shake hands and exchanges business cards with senior executives of various industries, start-up founders or entrepreneurs at one of Shanghai’s numerous networking and social events like the FC Club. You can also join Chamber of commerces, social mixers organized by Shanghai Expat, or business events and seminars organized by the Shanghai Business review. Don’t miss out on these opportunities to meet new people, widen your business circle and ultimately open new doors.
Why should one invest in an internship in China?
According to a recent survey from NACE, over 50% of US employers said they would only consider hiring students with previous work experience.
However like travelling or studying, internships abroad comes at a cost, especially in countries like China, where all internships remain unpaid due to PRC immigration and labor law regulations. So as it seems that employers highly value job seekers with international internship experience or experiential learning; an internship in China may be a wise investment, especially if it leads to the ultimate reward: A JOB!
As described below by Valerie Song, a student from Sauder Business School in Canada who recently published a school blog about her internship experience, an internship in China can be a door-opener.
What did I really get out of this entire experience? The answer is easy: I made some amazing friends, visited places from my bucket list, and an amazing internship that helped me land a job at Procter & Gamble this summer in Toronto.
So even if you are not able to land your dream job in China, like Valerie, you may be in better position to secure a full-time job at home if you are able to leverage your China experience.
How to leverage and market your China internship experience?
First, you may want to take the time to reflect on your professional experience and ask yourself the right questions. What did I really learn? What set of skills did I build? How can I apply what I have learnt to the position I am applying for? What makes me stand out from the crowd? Do I really stand out? How can I brand myself?
To the eyes of a foreign employer, a student who has decided to step out of its comfort zone to participate in an internship abroad, should have developed a higher level of maturity, drive and confidence over his/her peers and should be able to cope better with stress and adapt to challenging situations. Does this sounds like you? Did your internship experience made you better? Stronger?
The easiest way to brand yourself these days is on LinkedIn !
Start by emphasizing what you have learnt and achieved in China: one of the fastest growing developing country in the world. If you were able to built Guanxi (‘Business connections’) then add them on to your profile. Did you study Mandarin? – If yes, then you may be able to open up options targeting hiring companies currently trading with Mainland China or looking to do so in the future. Ask your Chinese employer for a letter of reference and spread the word out. This will help.
An internship in China has the potential to be a life-changing experience. A lot of students have actually stayed in China working full-time, others have found a job back home or have started companies in China or elsewhere. Positive things are happening in the Far East, for explorers who are not afraid to change their career and/or life path.