How do you find a job in China as a foreigner?
For Yann Biehler, it was all about getting an MBA from China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), in Shanghai; after graduating, he’s now a senior consultant for Bayer Pharmaceuticals in the city.
Launching a career in China had been his goal since he gained his Doctor of Pharmacy degree in 2014 and started out as a trainee—first in Strasbourg, before a small stint in China, after which he began to learn the language and plan his move.
He then built marketing experience in dermatology, immunology, and ophthalmology, before becoming a global marketing manager for Sanofi Genzyme in Boston. It was after he was unable to move to China with Sanofi that he planned to study an MBA at CEIBS.
Here’s how an MBA can help you find a job in China as a foreigner.
Pivoting your career to Asia
Your reason for studying an MBA likely falls into one of the three main aspirational categories common among candidates: changing industry, function, or geography.
It was the latter that attracted Yann to the CEIBS MBA, and an opportunity to pivot his career towards Asia and China.
“When it comes to China, CEIBS is much stronger than all the other MBAs,” Yann says. “It’s the only international MBA on mainland China, so that’s why it was the first one on my list.”
Yann explains that CEIBS came out on top for three reasons.
1. Proximity to business
Firstly, being on site in Shanghai makes it easier to identify and network with China-based companies looking to hire MBA grads from the school.
Top recruiters include AB InBev, Amazon, and Alibaba, Tencent, Microsoft, and Merck Group.
2. Alumni network
Then there’s the strong CEIBS alumni network. The school has over 25,000 graduates across the globe, with a heavy presence in China. There are also 65 industry associations and clubs that have been founded by alumni in Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen. Being a part of industry associations helps you network with the right people in the right sectors who can help you land jobs post-MBA.
3. The MBA syllabus
Finally, the education you receive on the CEIBS MBA provides you with backstage access to what makes China tick, the latest economic developments in the country, and how to do business there.
Alongside core business modules in marketing, finance, accounting, operations, and organizational behavior, Asia-focused electives include China Within the World, taught by professor Richard Carney, and Gaining Competitive Advantage in Digital China.
Yann (pictured right) explains that a strong healthcare focus also helped draw him to the school. Electives available to him covered the pharmaceutical industry in China, the innovation of the healthcare industry, and healthcare economics and industry.
“Where CEIBS differentiates itself is the content,” Yann says. “On the side of the main MBA content you have this China focus. You have cases from the US, but also cases from China, and I’m not sure a European or American MBA offers you the same China-specific cases.”
Learning about Chinese culture
Learning about Chinese business culture spans the MBA curriculum at CEIBS. An example, says Yann, came from his marketing class.
“When creating marketing initiatives in Europe maybe you’d propose a mail subscription, in the US you might use hashtags, but in China you absolutely have to integrate a QR system into your strategy.
“It’s a small thing but you just learn those details. You start to understand the culture, how people are working, the platform economy, how everything is integrated with Alibaba and Tencent, and how relationship with government is super important in whatever you do.”
Over 60% of the classroom at CEIBS is made up of Chinese students, one of the most important sources of learning for foreign MBA students at the school.
“You understand not just the social culture but also the work culture. The way of doing things is different and if you don’t understand that when you begin to work with a company or with the Chinese it can cost you a lot,” Yann explains.
Working in China through an MBA internship
One of the most important ways to launch a career in China is to first build up professional experience through an MBA internship. After being advised by CEIBS’ Career Development Center (CDC) about opportunities for foreigners working in China, Yann discovered Bayer Pharmaceuticals internal consulting.
Bayer then came to CEIBS’ campus for a recruitment event—this was when Yann first connected with the firm’s team, before successfully landing a place as a summer associate intern.
“The internship was four months and I think it really helped me to apply some of the new skills I’d learned,” he explains. “I always faced some area that either my previous background or the MBA helped me to tackle.”
After the internship Yann was offered a full-time role. He is now a senior consultant for Bayer’s strategy and business consulting division in the APAC region. He works primarily in China, but also covers India and Japan.
For foreigners trying to land a job in China after an MBA, Yann has three key pieces of advice.
“First, be clear about your goal. Don’t say yes to everything, during the MBA there are tons of opportunities and as a foreigner you cannot do everything; you need to be focused.
“I also tried to free as much time as I could to learn Chinese. I’d speak with my Chinese classmates, put myself in a group with Chinese students, and asked them when they can to speak Chinese to me.
“Finally, drive yourself forward, it’s your MBA!”
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China Europe International Business School (CEIBS)
Shanghai - China