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Interview from

China Job Fair Project Manager Christina Yang and Division Chief Zhong Yanguang

The State Administration of Foreign Experts’ Affairs (SAFEA) currently serves as the highest-ranking institute for talent introduction and management. Their website has over 20,000 job listings from businesses big and small, local and international. But their biggest event of all – the annual Job Fair – is coming up this month, in the past drawing as many as 1,200 expats and 400 corporations in total. Project Manager Christina Yang and Division Chief Zhong Yan shared their thoughts with Agenda on China’s job market and what to expect of China Job Fair.

First, tell us about yourselves. Where are you from and what’s your position in SAFEA?

Christina Yang: I’m a local Beijinger. I studied and grew up here and just joined the SAFEA staff a year ago. My duties consist mainly of organizing the job fair, as well as other activities related to services for foreigners.

Zhong Yan: I’m originally from Xi’an, and I have been working with SAFEA for over 14 years. I focus on maintaining the website, responding to technology, arranging accounting jobs and holding job training – like the TEFL program – for foreigners.

What are SAFEA’s main functions?

CY: SAFEA was founded in 1956 to fulfill two general functions: regulatory and service. In terms of regulation, we draft laws for foreigners to live by while in China. But in terms of service, we provide training for government officials [in dealing with foreigners] as well as for the foreigners themselves. We established the Friendship Award, which recognizes foreign experts who have made great contributions to Chinese society. We developed a website [] where employers can post jobs and expats can post their CV’s. And lastly, we organize the annual job fairs, which act as a platform for foreigners in the job market.

What made you want to work with expats, and how is it different than working with locals?

CY: I actually chose to work with expats because I studied and worked in the UK for a little while, so I am accustomed to communicating with foreigners. I know how difficult it is to settle down in a completely different country; I just want to share my knowledge with them and help them find better lives here. The biggest difference between working with locals and foreigners is that foreigners need more regulations. If a foreigner has never been to China before, he might experience cultural shock here – he won’t understand how the society is organized or how people communicate with one another. He might do something that’s completely acceptable back in his country that is plain wrong here. He needs some guidelines and recommendations.

ZY: With the economy developing so rapidly in China, more and more foreigners want to work here. It’s becoming an increasingly competitive atmosphere, so what we’re doing is providing secure positions for them. I want to help them get in touch with local organizations who might seek their services, but don’t know where to find them.

SAFEA organizes a job fair attended by hundreds of people every year – what makes for a successful event and what do you hope job seekers can get out of it?

ZY: Our first job fair was held back in 2005, with only about 200 attendees. Every year, the number grew. Before 2006, most of the job seekers just wanted to teach. But since 2006, more and more foreigners want to find professional jobs. Their skill level and qualifications began to increase and we started to see more Ph.D.’s and professors; in fact, at Shanghai’s job fair, 40 percent of the job seekers had at least an MBA. I think our job fair provides a great opportunity for expats to find a job because they can talk with potential employers face-to-face. After the job fair, we post the job positions on our website, so that those who didn’t have time to attend can still look at our website.

CY: Besides connecting foreigners to employers, it also gives expats an opportunity to communicate and build business relations with one another.

What is the greatest mistake that foreigners make while looking for jobs in China?

CY: To foreigners, the most important thing is the contract. No matter what they do, whether they want to register as a member of a health club or work in a company, they all want to sign a contract. But to the Chinese people, it’s a little different. Of course, we also have contracts, but we pay more attention to the connection between people – especially in big cities, where there are more people and companies, and life is more about entertainment.

It is most essential for foreigners to explore the Chinese labor market before arriving here. We have received numerous resumes for marketing or sales positions in recent years, but in China, we don’t need sales people right now. Even Chinese people can’t easily find sales jobs right now. Foreigners need to understand what China needs, what China can offer, and match them together. That is the key.

What are the most common jobs that expats seek, and how does that compare with what local businesses want?

ZY: At least 60 percent of our job placements are in teaching. There are easily more than 100,000 open positions for teaching English. The problem is that most of the foreigners who come here seeking this job don’t have teaching experience, which is why we have to arrange so many TEFL training courses.

CY: Sales, marketing and media (editors and programmers) placements are also very common. What we need are technicians, especially in IT. A few people want to do management jobs, but they have to be very, very experienced and speak excellent Chinese. Both the culture and the language are different, so it can often be difficult for a manger to communicate with his employees – and Chinese companies require a lot of communication. Luckily, both local sales and marketing businesses need some expat employees since more and more Chinese enterprises are going abroad. But these foreigners must not only have marketing knowledge, but Chinese language skills as well.

How does the current economic crisis affect the expat job market in Beijing?

ZY: With more applications comes more competition – it’ll be harder for all expats to secure jobs.

CY: I noticed that the market was affected last April when our job fair took place, and the number of foreigners attending [compared with previous years] skyrocketed. We had 1,200 foreigners at our fair last April, and every year before then it had only been about 600-800. Some foreigners flew in from their home country just to attend the job fair. Also, I think the more obvious consequence is that more and more foreigners are starting to learn Chinese, and they spend their free time training to improve their language skills.

What are the biggest challenges your organization faces today?

CY: Since more and more big companies want to hire high-level expats, our current biggest challenge is how to find these people and persuade them to come to China. For example, right now a lot of IT experts are residing in Germany and Japan – they already have good jobs, salaries and overall lives in their home countries, so the question is, how do we attract them to come and work here in China? We need to develop more channels to find these people. Maybe we’ll set up more overseas sites around the world, communicate more efficiently with overseas expert organizations – it’s like a piece of ice, and we need to figure out how to break it.

SAFEA’s 2010 Job Fair takes place on Saturday, April 17, 2010 from 9am-4pm at 2/F, Swissotel Beijing. For more information, visit their website at, email or call 6846 8025.

“The biggest difference between working with locals and foreigners is that foreigners need more regulations”

Interview by Tiffany Wang

From Agenda, THU, APR 1 – WED, APR 14


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