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Taking an Interview for a Job in China--forget cultural differences and be yourself
Author:David Scott,Ruth Anderson    Date:2010/01/15

Foreigners constantly hear that the Chinese culture is very different.  But most of what you need to know about taking a job interview in China is simply common sense.  Everything you would do for an interview in your native country still applies in China – pay attention to your personal appearance, be well groomed, be polite, be relaxed, be friendly, speak modestly without bragging, and most of all do your research and be prepared.  There are cultural differences.  Most of the time they don’t matter.


There are two kinds of interviews that are common for jobs in China – the personal, face to face interview, and the interview at a distance over the phone or computer video link.  For both, you want to know as much as you can about your potential employer.  There’s a wealth of information on line.  Do a search.  Find out everything you can about the company.  If you are applying for an ESL teaching job, most schools in China have an online presence in English if they employ foreigners.  Also check out the ESL websites, especially the discussion forums.


One word of caution: Take everything you read with a grain of salt.  Schools have been known to, shall we say, inflate their accommodations and facilities.  On the other hand, many foreigners are impossible to please and will “flame” a previous employer with very little justification. So consider the source when deciding what to believe.  If possible, contact somebody who is already working at the company you are considering.  Any legitimate employer will offer you email addresses for other foreigners who either are working for them, or have recently moved on.  Do the due diligence.  It can save you a lot of heartache later on.


If it’s a face to face interview, try to be well rested and don’t go out drinking the night before.  Chinese business people tend to be conservative, so dress accordingly.  On the other hand, they do cut foreigners a lot of slack, so if your style is casual and a business suit makes you feel like you’re in a straight jacket, just make sure you are clean and neat.  Handshakes are not the custom in Asia, so don’t initiate one.  Of course, if you are offered a handshake, respond accordingly. 


In Asia, business cards are treated with more formality than in the west. 


If you are offered a business card, accept it with two hands and give it some attention before you put it away.  This shows respect.


If it’s a remote interview you should still be prepared. Take it just as seriously. Try to set a time when you will be free from distractions.  Arrange to be someplace where you can check your notes.  You don’t want to be taking the interview on your mobile phone while in the theatre lineup.


Once you’ve done your research, you should know what you are willing to accept, and have a pretty good idea of what might be offered.  You might get an offer at the end of the interview, so be prepared either accept it, to negotiate, or to set a time when you will get back to them.  If your prospective employer says they will let you know, don’t push it.  Simply sign off politely.


All of this comes down to one phrase, the old Boy Scout’s motto:  Be prepared.  Then relax and take the interview.  Good luck.


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