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Applying for a Job in China

What should be included with the application documents?
Because China is an extremely heterogeneous country, that exhibits different levels of development depending on the region, it is difficult to make conclusive statements about the requirements for job application documents. In addition many international companies exist there in addition to Chinese companies.

Short but Informative Application

It makes sense to at least partially borrow from the form of German job application documents. These include a one page cover letter, and a resume that is signed and dated. Both should of course be typewritten. Certificates, grades and photos should also be included. Internship certificates are only of interest to employers if they are relevant to the position being applied for. Letters of recommendation can also be helpful, especially if they are, for example, from professors.

The cover letter fulfills more than one purpose: here you should briefly cover your own professional development and justify the application for the sought after position. In addition it is also important to show your personal aptitude for the job in question, whereby you should support this with relevant professional experience and explain your motivation for the application with this particular company. Personal career goals may also attract attention here.

More Success with a Better Appearance

A polite and reserved tone is essential for a successful job application. It is especially important to mention the name and title of the addressee, which also plays a large role in the interview.

The cover letter itself should convey a certain trustworthiness, because the Chinese culture requires that you indicate a particular respect for your counterpart. To build the basis for a business relationship in China, it is necessary to conform to this cultural context.

In contrast to the cover letter, the resume may comprise up to two pages, but should of course be tailored to the relevant position. Especially here an unambiguous, clear and neatly arranged appearance should be aspired to.

As far as content the following aspects are relevant:

  • personal information (name, address, etc.)
  • education (school, university, professional)
  • relevant internships
  • previous job experience
  • special skills (computer literacy, languages)
  • miscellaneous (publications, activities outside of university, scholarships)

It makes no difference if the application documents are composed in English or Chinese. It is however important that the applicant’s spoken and written English is perfect. Insufficient English language skills are one of the most common points of criticism that Chinese companies have about foreign employees. It is less relevant whether the application documents are mailed or sent via email. However it is not customary for the documents to be returned after being viewed.

What do the Application and Selection Processes Look Like?

Many selection methods that are common here, like for example Assessment Center, are still uncommon in China. Other empirically based hiring procedures are also still in the early stages. One reason for this is that until a few years ago companies had employees assigned to them, and employees were allocated positions.

Western personnel management processes have therefore not made a lot of inroads, so often more pragmatic processes are relied upon. For example, employees are often asked for recommendations for new personnel.

Professional Networks are More Important than in Germany
While in Germany it would hardly be discussed in a job interview, ifthe interview had come about through a contact, it is commonplace in China because personal relationships play an especially important role in the business world.

Besides the application documents, above all the personal interview is an important criteria when it comes to awarding jobs. The structure of the interview can vary with the company though. While a single interview is sufficient for some employers, others require several appointments. Besides individual interviews, some companies also invite candidates to group interviews.

Job Interviews: Getting Ahead through Empathy and Patience

In the interview not only is the applicant’s professional competence put to the test, but their personal suitability is also supposed to be ascertained. During the discussion it’s important to remain clear about the differences between German and Chinese business culture. Although an interview in China also offers the opportunity for self-presentation, other things are important there: while in Germany it’s important to present yourself as positively as possible and to emphasize your own abilities, in China the main point is to show that you can adapt yourself to the conversation with your interview partner and to the company culture. It is just as important to express respect for your interviewer. On the whole it is more important in a Chinese company to present yourself as reserved, to wait during the conversation, and never to interrupt the interviewer. The aggressive and actively questioning style of German applicants is often unpleasant for the Chinese. In general the discussion should never lose a formal and very polite tone. The interview is always begun and ended by the superior and older person.

Differences in Culture and Education
In general an elite education plays an important role in China. Whoever has the opportunity goes to as prestigious a university as possible. If the chosen university is less renowned, career chances sink especially outside the province the school is in. This is also the reason that it is important to highlight your own education in your resume as well as possible. The reputation of the particular university should also be made clear in your resume.

The More Specialized, the Better
Especially important of course is the subject studied. Graduates in technical fields and internationally oriented subjects are especially interesting in the Chinese job market. Social scientists and humanities scholars have less good chances. Often international or foreign companies seek employees who concentrate in specific areas that don’t really exist in China, for example auditing and accounting.

Cultural Awareness
Those who wish to work successfully and long-term in China or with a Chinese company, must develop an awareness for the cornerstones of Chinese culture. Cultural sensibility, tolerance and the skills to deal with people positively is just as important as the knowledge that helps to comprehend the feelings and values of Chinese contacts. A basic knowledge of the local language can contribute to better communication, because with this you are communicating a sincere interest in the culture, country and people.

In many behaviors Chinese and Germans are more than dissimilar. In comparison to Germans, the Chinese usually take more time to make decisions. Often these then appear illogical or not especially goal oriented. A certain tolerance concerning frustration and patience is therefore indispensable. It is also important to never put Chinese under time pressure or force them into a corner,because it is especially bad when they get into a situation where they can “lose face” and publicly lose a portion of their esteem or their self-respect. Instead it is advisable to demonstrate alternate possibilities and to always allow a little breathing room.

Besides these disparities in mentality, there are several cultural differences in non-verbal communication.For example nodding the head, also combined with a smile, only means that the discussion partner is listening, but not that he understood what was said or agrees with it. A situation where something awkward has happened to another person is also met with a smile or by looking away. The hand gesture that signals “two” in Germany is equivalent to the number “eight” in China. And important for your wardrobe: white is the color of mourning – white suits and clothing are therefore always inappropriate for interviews.

Contracts in China
From the Chinese perspective, a contract merely secures an initial agreement, unlike in Germany. This provisional status also means that the contract can be renegotiated at any time and/or new stipulations can be agreed to. Because the standard of living in China is very low compared to Western standards, starting salaries are in general many times lower than in Germany. Often the nationality of the particular company plays a certain role here, which means that there is certainly a full range of options.

Which Common Mistakes can be Avoided?

 In the written application documents

Cover letter

  • Arrogant or too self-assured writing style
  • Anonymous or untitled salutation of the contact person
  • Insufficient English
  • Omission of information about the stipulated qualifications or requirements


  • Gaps or discrepancies in the resume
  • Unclear or not visually pleasing
  • Not listing the subjects studied at university or professional training
  • Inclusion of unnecessary additional information (family events, vacations…)


In the interview

  • Wearing white clothing (a white top is acceptable with dark suit pants or a dark skirt)
  • Aggressively or too strongly emphasizing your own skills
  • Not letting your interviewer finish speaking; the attempt to take over the conversation
  • Offensive, too direct or too active behavior
  • Criticizing older or higher-ranking people (objective criticism is also not welcome)