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Karen Wong: Why An Internship In China Could Be For You

The founder and director of PIP Asia, a pioneering internship agency, tells us what it’s like to take the plunge in the world’s fastest growing major economy

China is the world’s second largest economy by nominal GDP, and the world’s fastest growing major economy. It is also the world largest exporter of goods, meaning that China’s economic importance has grown dramatically since the 1980s.

Considering all of this, it is surprising that comparatively few European and American business school students choose to intern in China. The language barrier can be an issue, and China can be an expensive place to intern when flights and other expenses are factored in.

Nonetheless, Karen Wong – founder and director of PIP Asia – has seen an increasing number of students showing interest in working in the internationally important business centres represented by cities like Shanghai and Beijing.

After graduating from King’s College London, Karen went straight into the IT recruitment industry to work as a headhunter. Four rewarding years later, Karen relocated to Shanghai to pursue a career in education, as well as to improve her existing Chinese language skills.

Her internship agency, PIP Asia, specialises in connecting local talent with the international business community in China through internships, giving students the opportunity to enhance their professional and personal development.

With the experience she has gathered through PIP Asia, Karen lets BusinessBecause know what it’s like to intern in China, and how to go about getting your foot in the door as a foreigner.

What was your inspiration for setting up your internship agency?

I have always dabbled in entrepreneurship, but never fully committed to it as I have now. PIP Asia was created because I noticed the lack of career advice offered to local students in China, the growing interest amongst foreign youths in seeking internships in China and the increasing number of internship opportunities available.

By combining my skills, industry knowledge and the network I had developed in my work experience in recruitment and education, I decided to create PIP Asia. The company’s overall goal is to build a link between China’s developing market, and the global market.

My work is highly rewarding and I enjoy assisting talented individuals in achieving their personal and professional goals through the internship programs offered by PIP Asia.

Why intern in China?

Whilst countries such as the US and the UK are suffering from a depressed economy and bleak job prospects, opportunity is alive and ever-growing in this booming, international corner of the world!

With its economy remaining strong, China has become a real focus for many multinational companies and is viewed as the next growth engine as the country’s consumers market expands and become less price-sensitive.

For that reason, knowing how to do business in one of the most significant centres of economic growth, being connected to China’s business network and understanding the Chinese business culture will be seen as valuable skills to have.

Is it difficult to work in China if you don't speak Chinese?

When you move to a different country, learning the local language is definitely beneficial in helping you to communicate and integrate within the local community. That said, it’s certainly possible to find a job in China when knowing very little or no Chinese at all.

However you will find that speaking Chinese gives you many more options when looking for work, and best-paying jobs tend to require at least a conversational level of Chinese. My advice to those who find themselves struggling to find work due to language skills is to consider working as an intern to get your foot into the door.

How should our readers go about finding internships and jobs in China?

Networking and connection is an important tool everywhere; but in China, described by the term guanxi 关系, this works at another level and has so much more meaning.

This Chinese term to describe a relationship, favors, network or social connection between friends and partners and is a big thing in the Chinese culture. If you are blessed with guanxi, you will find it is one of the best ways to find an internship, job or do business in China.

There are plenty of job sites and recruitment resources available for China. For student or fresh graduates, identifying your skills and interests will also help narrow your search.

Be brave and look beyond the big names and labels when either looking for an internship or job and do not rule out the idea of working for a Chinese company. Enrolling in an internship with PIP Asia is a great way of jump-starting your full-time job search in China.

Where should foreigners go to get the best welcome? Any tips for making China feel like home?

Moving to China is a once in a lifetime opportunity and something that requires a lot of planning, organizing, patience and determination. China is not for the faint-hearted, but cities like Shanghai and Beijing are international hubs and foreigners often adapt to their new environment fairly quickly.

The local people are very welcoming to foreigners. Many Chinese people are interested in expanding their knowledge of foreign cultures or improving their English.

Most good employers or internship companies like PIP Asia offer “meet and greet” services and full orientation to help foreigners settle into the new environment. If new comers are interested in making China a home, joining a sport or getting involved in a group activity are always good ways to expand your social circle and meet people with similar backgrounds or interests.

What sorts of internship experience do you find employers value highest? 

Every employer is looking for a specific skillset that match the skills necessary to perform a particular job. But beyond these job-specific technical skills, there are certain skills and experience that are almost universally sought by employers including communication and interpersonal skills, dedication and strong work ethics and adaptability and flexibility.

An internship offers the opportunity to learn, cultivate and develop such employability skills and personal values that are the critical tools and traits you need to succeed in the workplace.


If you're interested in learning more, connect with Karen via BusinessBecause, or email info@pip-asia.com

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