by Toffler



Interviews & Employment Contracts for Foreigners in China

Today I interviewed with a Chinese company, and not just any Chinese company, a government-owned, Chinese run, 4* hotel.  As you might expect, it was not like any everyday, American-style interview.  First, a guy came found me when I was standing outside, trying to tame my hair after the rain messed it up (oops, that’s embarrassing).  Then I got a property tour (common in hotel interviews).  Then I found out this guy has nothing to do with the hiring, he’s just the greeter and a translator.  Then I met the female assistant (don’t know whose assistant).  Then I met the boss of the consulting company.  He only spoke Chinese.  He’s worked in hospitality for many years and now has been hired as a consultant by this hotel to improve their staffs’ service level and also hire foreigners so that in the next 2 years this hotel can move from a 4* hotel to a 5*.  After I drank tea and chatted with these 3 for awhile, a 4th guy showed up.  He didn’t say anything, so I didn’t know if he spoke English or Chinese or both.  Then I was called into the General Manager’s office and the 4th guy turned out to be the translator.  A GM who doesn’t speak English when over 60% of the guests are foreigners?  How does that work?

At interviews in China, where the Chinese person is interviewing a foreigner to work in a Chinese company, the foreigner is well-regarded before the interview even starts.  The interviewer typically holds foreigners in high-regard and so tends to judge them less than an interviewer would in the US.  This helps to put the interviewee at ease, initially, until the interviewee realizes s/he then has to live up to these standards.  Indeed, there seems to be greater expectations of foreign candidates than of local candidates, so foreigners are required to perform.  However, the curious thing is the interviewer talks for about 70-80% of the interview.  I don’t think I’ve ever been to an hour-long interview and talked so little.  I’m not sure if this is because of the translator, or the preoccupation of the Chinese person with himself, or simply the attempt to impress the foreigner.  I’m not basing this story solely on my experience today, but also on my previous interviews and reports from other foreigners who interviewed with Chinese companies.

For companies specializing in teaching English or other (Chinese) companies that are used to hiring foreigners, the interview process is slightly smoother, though in many ways just as curious.  Depending on the company, situation, and position, you may find your interview as casual as a meeting at Starbucks, or as formal as a full-scale presentation to the company on your strengths and where you can contribute.  In China, you’re much more likely to meet ‘the boss’ during your first interview than you would in the US.  This is because employers or ‘the boss’ usually take a very hands-on approach to management and consider each person on their staff part of their family.

So my advice for interviews in China is, don’t expect to talk much but be ready to impress and exceed even the highest expectations when you do get your chance.

As for employment contracts (of course, teaching excepted), almost all contracts in China (at least for foreigners) come with a 3 month training/probationary period.  Generally this is also true for everyone in Hong Kong, as well.  During this time, you will likely receive only a portion of your agreed salary (in my case, 80%).  After the 3 months, assuming both you and your employer are satisfied, you will continue working, but start receiving your full salary.

There’s also an interesting twist to the employment contract discussed for me today.  I have to pay 50% of 1 month’s full salary within 3days of receiving my first paycheck to the consulting company.  After asking a number of local and foreign friends they all agreed it’s rather strange for the employee to pay the consultants fee.  The consultant explained it as the compensation for him finding us the job.  But even with head-hunting firms, the employer who has signed the contract with the head-hunting firm pays the fee, not the new employee.  The employee only pays if they hire a personal consultant to help them improve their package, marketability, and select appropriate employers. I’m not sure how it works with temp agencies, but I would still doubt that the new employee pays a fee to an agency for finding them an employer.

In my current teaching contract, there’s another interesting clause which says the employer will withhold 10% of my salary until I have finished the teaching contract; therefore this accumulates each month.  This seems reasonable to me as it’s a very small percentage and it encourages you to finish the contract and not force them to change teachers partway through the teaching period. But it’s still frustrating when you expect a certain income each month and then feel shortchanged when you get 10% less.  But in the end, it turns out to feel like a nice little bonus for completing a job well done.

Anyway, in accepting employment contracts in China, beware of these clauses that may shrink your monthly salary.  Make sure you know the company will actually pay you before you start working and make sure there’s mutual trust so that issues can be resolved.  With very little employment law, and even less enforcement of contract law in China, you have no recourse should something go wrong.  Therefore, mutual trust is the only way you will get what you are owed.  (Note* This primarily applies to working for Chinese owned and managed companies, and not for MNC)

So, what do you think ?