Does your CV look like it’s stuck in the Year of the Rabbit, hopping from job to job? Some China expats switch jobs several times during their time here. While it’s not good to stay in a job you hate, too many hops could put off future employers. Let’s take a closer look at what to consider when switching jobs in China.
Source: Clip Art by Vector Toons
Should you stay or should you go?
Just like a career in your home country, a career in China needs to be planned and built. If you’re not lucky enough to stumble into a rewarding long-term position right away, you might consider cutting your losses and moving on sooner than someone reading your future CV would like. So when should you stay and when should you go?
First of all, consider if you really need to move at all. Before you hand in your notice, ask if there are other positions available within your current company. Having several positions within one company looks much better to employers than similar jobs with different companies. If it’s the company itself, rather than the job, you can’t stand and you’ve not had too many hops previously, however, you might want to look around for something that fits you better.
But don’t leap without proper consideration. Think, for instance, about where you want to be in the near future. If you’re planning to go back to your home country fairly soon, it might not be worth switching jobs. Living in a foreign country shows that you are self-reliant and adventurous, and it’s likely employers back home will be more interested in the fact you were out here in the first place than the actual job you were doing. Switching jobs can also be quite a faff in China (see below), so if it’s something you feel you can stick for a bit, do.
But perhaps you plan to stay in China for the long term. You might have family or romantic ties here, or you might just love working in a foreign land. If that’s the case, you’ll probably want to build up a set of domestic references and a stable-looking work history to show Chinese employers you’re not just a flakey expat on an extended holiday. A jumpy resume won't raise eyebrows in China as much as it used to, as many young Chinese graduates switch jobs frequently at the start of their careers these days. However, a candidate with a more stable CV may find it easier to get an interview when competing for a sought-after position.
That said, life is too short to be really miserable at work. If you really think you need to leave and are sure you can get something better, there are ways to make job hopping work for you.
Crafting your CV
If you have found yourself job hopping more than you should, all is not lost. If you’re smart, you can craft your CV to minimize alarm and maximize intrigue. People who switch jobs often look like they had a difficult time fitting in or that they hastily take jobs they can't handle. An employer may look at your bursting resume and think you’ll leave their job after a year, just as you have the past four. The key is being able to quantify your achievements, wherever you’ve been.
Some jobs, such as summer camp positions and consultancies, are naturally considered to be short-term. If you can get away with representing any of your shorter-term rolls as temporary at the offset, do so in your CV and cover letter and prepare a quick, positive way to describe them if asked in an interview.
Some English teaching positions also come with six-month contracts, but be prepared to explain in your cover letter and job interview why you didn't choose to extend. Not every interviewer will assume it's because you were snapped up by a new employer before your old boss could get you to sign the renewal contract. Cynics might think you were fired or difficult to work with.
If you did leave a position on bad terms and it’s not integral to the story of your career, consider leaving it off your CV entirely and explaining the gap as job hunting time or a study break. A small gap between jobs is often better than having to explain that something ended badly.
If you want to leave everything on your resume, try to think of ways to spin your job jumps to show how you gained experience and made a difference in every role. Also look for ways that similar positions can be grouped together. Providing references for these jobs—even before you’re asked— will also make it look like you impressed in your short stint.
Syndicated career counsellor Penelope Trunk writes on her blog: "People want to hear an explanation that makes sense. They don't want to hear you failed, or didn't get along with people or have no attention span. Not every job will be the pinnacle of success, but a good resume writer can make every job look like it was some sort of success, and that your level of success increased with each hop, because with each hop you got more responsibility."
Follow the money
Another factor to consider, as always, is money. Switching from a low-paying to a high-paying job will make more sense to employers, so make this clear in your cover letter and interview if that’s the case for you.
Don't forget, however, that job jumping in China can cost you money, too. You may have to pay a penalty, either in the form of a deduction from your last month's salary or for visa costs incurred, if you break your contract early. Depending on when you leave, you may also miss your Chinese New Year bonus or a stipend that would otherwise be due to you.
Any expat considering switching jobs in China should look carefully at their visa situation first. Can your new employer get you the right kind of visa? Will they reimburse you for the costs involved? Will your visa type need to change? Will you need to go back to your home country for processing? If in doubt, contact a professional visa agent. They are often happy to give off-the-cuff advice before you sign up for their services.
Also remember that if your past employer is cheesed off at you for leaving, they might drag their feet when it comes to signing the paperwork necessary to transfer your work permit. That’s why it always pays to leave a job on good terms whenever possible.
It's all about you
At the end of the day, too-frequent job hopping is a risk that can have bad outcomes, such as fewer interview offers because employers are worried you’re flaky, or good outcomes, such as a happier work life. There's always a balance, but once you find a job that’s both interesting and challenging, chances are you won’t feel the need to hop any more. As China's favourite sage, Confucius, puts it, "Give a man a job he loves and he will never work a day in his life.”
What are your thoughts on job hopping in China? Tell us in the comments box below.
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I should add that many chinese employers usually find a way to avoid paying you any bonus, citing some flaky breach of contract. Most foreign workers i knew stayed with bad employers, giving them the benefit of the doubt, often tolerating treatment that would have an employer up before an investigation. Remember that unless you are a complete incompetent, that regularly misbehaves, they need you more than you need them as it is currently a foreign employees market at the moment. Don't take this as an excuse to behave like a shit, but it means that there are currently more companies that are looking for skilled foreign workers than there are skilled workers to fill the positions. Bottom line, document all interactions with your employer, good or bad. As the evidence of crap treatment will justify you leaving. Apart from anything else, this article is more than a bit patronising. If you are in China working without doing due diligence and being alert to the many ways you are likely to be exploited, you have only yourself to blame.
Nov 23, 2022 15:25 Report Abuse
many (younger) Chinese employees 'hop' from job to job to the extent that sometimes the first thing you know is that they don't turn up for work. With the exception of foreign workers who are brought in by foreign companies, foreign work contracts are finite - never more that 1 year and often 6 months. If you are being treated like like crap, document it and retain correspondence so you have evidence that can be shown to others, and remember at the moment foreign workers are at a premium in China. I have seen CV's from younger Chinese workers and they are more patch-work than my grandmothers quilt. Unless you plan to marry and live in China, it is not the place to build a career as the attitude to foreigners is whimsical. Even if you are contracted in by a foreign company your time in China is finite too. Don't stay in a company if they treat you like crap. fear of what this looks like is pointless because ultimately you are unlikely to be in China for the long term. The most important thing to do is not suffer by remaining with an employer who treats you like crap or exploits you, because this is what many Chinese employers do - they exploit a foreign workers good-will and ignorance of the law.
Nov 23, 2022 14:41 Report Abuse