Congratulations on taking the first steps in learning more about how an internship in China with CRCC Asia can most benefit your future career goals. You may have never been to China before, so learning to live in a new culture and work with speakers of a foreign language presents an opportunity to expand your horizons and challenge yourself. It may take some time to adjust to your new settings and strike a balance between your professional and personal development.
Getting to know a new culture is a fundamental step to make towards successful integration and mutual respect. It is important to understand that most of what people do and say in a particular culture is not arbitrary and spontaneous, but consistent with what people in that culture value and believe in. Having a general idea of people’s values and beliefs will enable you to better predict and understand their reactions and behaviors. While interning in China, you will face a lot of situations that will require all your patience and understanding – this can sometimes be quite daunting. Being more prepared when facing these challenges will save you a lot of time and misunderstandings.
This professional development guide is designed to help you to make the most of your internship and maximize the quality of the work you do whilst on your placement. This guide will not only help you to increase your own knowledge base, but it will also allow you to provide an invaluable service to the company you work for.
While you probably have some expectations about what you may encounter at your company, it is important to be realistic about what to expect from your internship. At times you may find yourself without a project, or without a clear set of directions about what to do. Think of this as an opportunity rather than a drawback. Rather than waiting for a new assignment, there are a number of things you can suggest, which your supervisor might not have considered, or even been aware you are capable of doing. Remember, the more you put into it, the more you will get out of your experience in China.
Making the Most of your Internship
Although every intern has their own personal aims that they want to achieve during the CRCC Asia Internship Program, there are some common learning objectives that every participant can expect to gain. Recent surveys of graduates have found that less than half of graduates are ready for the world of work, and the majority lacks the basic skills that employers look for (Telegraph, September 2013). “‘There’s always been a gap between what colleges produce and what employers want but now it’s widening.’ That’s because workplaces are more complex and globalized, profit margins are slimmer, companies are leaner and managers expect their workers to get up to speed much faster than in the past.” (New York Times, June 2013)
You have made a great decision to consider interning in China, which will put you ahead of your peers when it comes to employability. Your internship can help you to:
- Develop professional skills for your future career. It is important not to underestimate the value of these skills. Key transferrable skills that you should be looking to improve include:
-Communication skills in a professional context – it can be particularly difficult to adapt to the differences in communication in China compared to other cultures, but if you can adapt to this new environment you will be in a great position to communicate with people of all levels in the future. Working within a team is often thought of as working on group projects, but the reality is that building relationships with colleagues and being able to work well with them on a daily basis is vital for success in the workplace.
-Organization and time keeping – attention to detail and efficient use of your time are skills that are widely underestimated. Employers look to these skills as fundamental requirements for any role/position.
-Adaptability – you will often find in your professional career that you have to transition to new situations, whether it be a new company, a different country, or a new role. Overcoming the challenge of adapting to working in China will show to yourself and to employers that you are flexible and competent.
-Confidence – you often don’t know what you are capable of until you put yourself into a challenging situation. Overcoming obstacles at work, getting to know colleagues, achieving concrete goals, and having the time of your life in China will infinitely improve your confidence in your abilities, help you to rely on your initiative, and encourage you to put forward your ideas.
-Optimism – you might be surprised to learn that optimism is one of the key skills that employers find lacking in today’s graduates. When you realize that difficult situations can be easily overcome with the right attitude and support, your problem solving skills and outlook on work will be much more positive.
- Achieve a cultural understanding of China and their business practices: There are a lot of cultural clichés about China, many of which you will find to be untrue. Make sure you pay attention during induction day to avoid any potentially awkward situations.
- Gain exposure to China’s dynamic culture and lifestyle: China is changing at an astonishing pace and there is no better way to form your own opinion than by experiencing it for yourself. Make the most of your time outside work to explore everything that China has to offer.
- Learn about the current economic landscape of China: At work you may be exposed to a number of different industries, and you can swap notes with your friends working in other sectors to build up a picture of how different industries currently operate in China, and the role that the government plays.
- Become a global citizen: The world has become increasingly globalized, and now a product that you buy in your home country may have been designed and manufactured across several countries and continents. It is no longer enough to be well equipped for work in your home country; to be successful in today’s job market, you need to become a global citizen with international awareness.
- Expand your social and professional network: In China your network is more important than almost anywhere else in the world. During induction day you will learn the concept of Guānxì, which is the foundation of working relationships in the Chinese business culture. Take advantage of as many networking events outside your internship as you can.
- Learn about different roles and industries: Many graduates don’t have a clear idea of what they want to do after university. Take this opportunity to learn about what your colleagues do every day, and see which role interests you. You might be surprised to find that your dream industry isn’t what you thought, and that you are better suited for something very different. Be open minded about different opportunities – some of the most interesting jobs are in companies and industries you may never have even heard of.
TOP TIPS AND PRACTICAL ADVICE
- Set Personal Goals. While some internships are very structured, others may not be, so you need to spend some time before you start the internship setting realistic targets that you wish to accomplish, whether that is learning new skills or building your network.
- Professionalism. You are expected to behave professionally during the internship. You should turn up on time and not take sick days unless you are genuinely ill. Lateness and absence will affect your reference and of course ruin your chances of ever working with that company again.
- Remember that you are doing an internship. Some students and recent graduates experience a shock when they enter the working world as it can be very different to what you were expecting. Don’t underestimate the importance of even the most basic experience – you can’t run before you walk. Try to learn as much as you can, and try to do as many different tasks as you can. Don’t be afraid to suggest your own projects to work on, but remember that you are an intern, so you won’t be running the company on your first day!
- Don’t Underestimate your Company. We work with a range of companies, from entrepreneurial start- ups to multinational companies. Each placement offers a different experience, which often depends partly on the intern’s attitude to work. Smaller companies often get interns more involved in every level of the organization, and interns are given more responsibility than at larger companies. A company’s size is not necessarily indicative of its importance or future prospects. Statistics show that SMEs represent 90% of total companies in the vast majority of economies worldwide and provide 40-80% of total job opportunities (WTO). Investment in hi-tech start-ups in the south of China has made Shenzhen the city in China with the highest GDP per capita. Just because an organization is small now does not mean it doesn’t have great things ahead. Remember, Instagram was sold for $1 billion when it had just 13 employees!
- Set Up Regular Meetings with your Supervisor(s). Sound obvious? Well, maybe, but you may get a supervisor who never schedules meetings with you or travels quite a bit, so you have to make sure to have regular meetings where you can share experiences and lessons learned — both good and bad — as well as give progress reports. Although your supervisor is often the best person to talk to, don’t be afraid to ask other colleagues for work, advice, or support during your placement.
- Tackle all Tasks with Enthusiasm and a Positive Attitude. In just about every company, the new hire/intern is going to have to "pay his or her dues." You will undoubtedly be given some introductory tasks to do, such as proof-reading, but the key is to complete all your work assignments with the same level of enthusiasm and professionalism. We always find that interns with this attitude get the most out of their internship, and are often the ones to be offered further employment.
- Never Shun a Chance to Learn More About the Company/Industry. Take every opportunity presented to you to attend company or industry meetings, conferences, and events; and read all company materials. Meetings often offer a good chance to increase your knowledge, network, and build relationships.
- Gain as Much Exposure as Possible. Though you may be assigned to one department, don’t let that stop you from tackling new tasks, meeting people outside your department, and attending company social events. The more you are exposed to new ideas and new people, the more you’ll learn.
Hint: Trying to get involved with out of work activities (table tennis/badminton/Karaoke) is a great opportunity to meet new people in a relaxed and informal environment.
- Don’t be Afraid to Ask Questions. Always remember that an internship is a learning experience for you. While the employer expects to get a certain level of work from you, you are not expected to know everything. Seek advice and raise questions whenever you encounter something that is not familiar to you. Be open-minded about new ideas and procedures.
- Take Initiative. Employers love employees who dive into tackling tough problems and who think ‘outside the box’ in finding solutions. Just make sure you work with your supervisor(s) so you don’t overstep your authority — and make sure you share successes with him/her.
Hint: There is a fine line between taking initiative and being perceived as a “know-it-all,” and for interns especially, it is best to err on the side of caution. A good way to put forward an idea is to phrase it as a question, for example ‘Have you thought of…?’ or ‘Is there a reason why you do it this way?’ Make sure you know enough about the company and industry before putting across your point of view.
- Network, Network, Network. One of the key tools of job-hunting is utilizing your network to find your next career step, whether another internship or a job upon graduation. Build professional relationships with your supervisor(s) and other managers in the organization. These people are also a good source for getting other job-hunting advice and tips from their years of experience, especially in China.
- Leave with Tangible Accomplishments. One of your goals with any internship is leaving it with some tangible results – both for your resume and your career portfolio. Maybe you developed a brochure, computerized an inventory system, organized a sales conference, met with clients, tracked industry trends, etc. Think about what you want to put on your CV, and make sure you can talk about your achievements during interviews.
Hint: Keeping a journal may help you remember all the things you accomplished on your internship.
- Enjoy Yourself. Most internships are great experiences, so make sure you have some fun while you’re working and learning. Relax and don’t try hard to be perceived as something you’re not.
Hint: Just make sure you don’t overdo the fun – and avoid office romances!
Chinese Business Etiquette
APPROACHING BUSINESS IN CHINA
China’s culture and business practices differ greatly from that of Western countries. As you start your internship and expand your networks in China, having a good understanding and awareness of Chinese business etiquette is vitally important to your success. Knowing and practicing common customs will help you to integrate, relax, avoid embarrassment, and focus on the important matters at hand. Remember that the following qualities are valued by the Chinese and therefore relevant to your Chinese business interactions:
Saving and giving face (Miànzi)
Respect for elders and rankings (note that the latter is particularly important when dealing with government officials)
In general, meetings in China follow the same format as those in the West, albeit with a few more formalities. The Chinese value punctuality, so arrive on time or even slightly early for meetings or other occasions. The following points should be kept in mind:
Addressing others: Seniority is valued in China. It is important to address your counterparts by their title (Chairman, Director, etc.). Find out who the most senior person in the room is, and address them first.
Introducing yourself: Say your name clearly, and remember to state both the company you work for and your position. As a point of reference, know that Chinese will refer to their company first, then their title, and then their name when introducing themselves to others.
Handshakes: Look everyone you greet in the eye and shake hands firmly. Your handshake says a lot about you, it’s the first impression people have of you; a strong handshake conveys confidence and enthusiasm.
Giving/Receiving business cards: Similar to introductions, hand out business cards to the most senior official first. Chinese use both hands when giving and receiving anything of value, including gifts and particularly business cards; you should do the same as this is one of the first points at which you will make an impression. Always use two hands to present and accept business cards and remember to orient the card so the person accepting it can read your name. Also, take a moment to look at and acknowledge the individual’s card, and place it in a prominent position in your wallet as a sign of respect. If you are sat around a meeting table, it is important to place the card down in front of you and not put it out of sight straight away as it comes across as disregard.
During a meeting: Although people may speak Chinese in a meeting and you may feel like you cannot actively participate, your demeanor is still an important reflection of the company. Be attentive and engaged, and always bring a notebook to take notes. Also, always remember to silence your phone to avoid embarrassing disruptions.