Lessons from China

I recently returned from a successful visit to China as part of an Adam Smith Business School delegation. It was an opportunity to meet with University of Glasgow alumni and several Chinese-based multinational graduate recruiters. There were a number of highlights: hugely popular alumni reception events in Beijing and Shanghai, cheering on a prize winning law school graduate at the British Council Awards, and perhaps the best jasmine tea I have ever tasted (a drink to rival even to a cold can of Irn Bru… well, nearly).


Another highlight was meeting several leading multinational employers with whom the University Careers Service has strong relations. It was interesting to hear their views on hiring UK educated returnees and University of Glasgow graduates in particular. In this blog, I thought I would summarise some of the key insights I received for the benefit of any student or recent graduate who is considering applying to a top company in China.

  1. Start applying early!

In a similar way to the UK, many Chinese graduate employers operate their recruitment processes on fixed annual cycles. A large majority of graduate jobs in China are advertised from August – October each year. If you are a PGT or final year undergraduate student in the UK who is hoping to apply for a job starting immediately after you graduate, this means you have to be very organised and be sending off applications during the very first few weeks of Semester 1! Of course there are always going to be some exceptions to this (professional services giants EY were still open for applications across China as late as April this year) but the message is clear: start early.

Applying early can present a problem if you are successful in being invited to the interview or assessment centre stage. In many cases, employers will insist that you return to China to complete these sections in person and for many students this understandably isn’t an option during their studies. There are signs that flexibility is increasing around these requirements however. Deloitte, for example, have this year introduced Skype interviews as an alternative for overseas candidates and KPMG have a lead recruiter based in London who helps with interviews.

If for any reason you don’t find a job offer through the early recruitment period though, do not give up! Remember some companies do recruit all year round and there is also the option of applying during the August – October period immediately after you have completed your studies with a view to starting employment the following year. Whatever strategy you decide upon: be organised, have a plan, and research job opportunities widely. As well as searching for positions directly on individual company websites, graduate recruitment sites such as Lock-In China can also be very useful.

2. Sell your Glasgow experience

Traditionally overseas returnees were targeted mostly by foreign investment enterprises but this is changing with more Chinese organisations also interested in internationally educated students. Regardless of the company you apply for though, in many cases the university you have studied at still has a large weighting in how your application may be perceived. The University of Glasgow is a world leading university with alumni in high profile positons across society and this positive reputation is recognised by many employers (Deloitte China, for example, have a good awareness of Glasgow having hired an impressive 55 of our graduates in the last 3 years). Other employers may not be as familiar with Glasgow however and so it is important to think about how you explain the value of your experience here when sending out applications and CVs. Many recruiters will be familiar with global university league tables such as the QS world rankings and you may want to refer to Glasgow’s strong position here.

It is also important to reflect more widely though on what you have gained from your overseas education and your time in Glasgow. What skills or attributes have you developed? What specific experiences have you gained? You certainly do not want to appear arrogant as a result of your UK education, but equally you have to be self-confident in how you sell yourself and so it’s important to carefully emphasise the value of your University of Glasgow experience. If you are struggling to answer these questions, perhaps it is time to get more involved in extra-curricular and other career development opportunities on campus. You can visit the Careers Service for ideas with this or to discuss how best to articulate your skills.

  1. Competition is strong – make the most of available support!

With over 400,000 graduates returning home to China in the last year alone, not to mention an even greater number of locally educated graduates, competition for the most prestigious graduate jobs is tough. Nevertheless, with hard work and perseverance, opportunities do exist for returnees and the Glasgow alumni I came across at companies such as BMW, Baidu, Sony, HSBC, Nielson etc. are all testament to this. There is no question that CVs and application forms require high standards for the most competitive jobs with many Chinese employers using automated screening programmes to search for key skills and achievements.  Even for those who do overcome this initial stage, online tests, interviews and assessment centres are all further challenges that lie in wait. However it is important to remembering that support is available to help you with at each of these steps. Visit the Careers Service website, book a personal careers coaching appointment or even reach out to helpful overseas based Glasgow alumni based through The Network. Whatever you do, do it to the best of your abilities. Yes it takes effort and persistence, but as an old Chinese proverb that I read during my visit observes: “Pearls don’t lie on the sea shore. If you want one, you must dive for it.”


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