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Should You Take a Job at a Chinese Startup?

Sep 06, 2019


China’s economy has developed at a blistering rate over the last 20 years. One effect caused by this development is a drastic increase in the number of startup companies within China’s private sector. These startups, specializing in anything from manufacturing to educational technology, have been effectively creating jobs for foreign experts and domestic professionals alike. During my final two years in Beijing, I joined a startup company. It was an amazing experience and I developed a repertoire of new skills, but it was a challenging and often stressful experience as well. You may be considering a job offer at a startup company within China, and it may be an attractive offer! Before you sign the dotted line, consider some of the positives and negatives of working for a young, sprouting company, and how taking a position with a startup company can affect your career.

Ever-Fluid Job Descriptions

Working at a startup, your job description could be subject to change. Some may see this as a positive; some may see this as a negative. In a well-established company (which possesses a well-solidified organizational structure), positions are compartmentalized and your duties are clearly understood. At a startup, you’ll most likely be asked to handle something that would traditionally be relegated to someone within another department, as the startup company you work for doesn’t yet have that particular department. For example, if you’re a marketing specialist who’s accustomed to working directly with advertising platforms (such as commercials, online banners, billboards, and print ads within editorials), your marketing role at a startup may also include handling social media accounts, design, copywriting, and public relations.

If you’re an established professional who doesn’t feel the need to gain experience in new fields, the idea of working for a startup may not interest you. If you’re a young professional who would like to try their hand at a few different roles within the business realm, it may sound like an excellent resume builder! In my personal experience, I started out as a teacher, curriculum designer, and teacher trainer for an online education company. I was then asked to handle recruitment and hiring. From that point on, I developed my interest in recruiting as a profession and continue to use the skills I gained from those responsibilities to this day!

By taking on these roles and excelling at them, you could be promoted very quickly. Although your startup company may be young and underdeveloped, it will need additional leaders as it grows. As your company grows, new departments may be formed, and your seniority within the startup you’re working for may qualify you for a leadership position (potentially a position that would take you years to work your way up to at a more established organization).

Flexible (or Inflexible) Work Schedules

Working at a company that lacks an extensive organizational history will require the ability to adapt to new changes in your work environment. Many startups are assuming a comparatively free-form work culture, where you’re free to take some extra time off, as long as your work is finished and targets are met. This could mean heading out of the office right after lunch because you came in early and completed your tasks. It could also mean taking several weeks off because you’ve finished a huge project way ahead of schedule.

There are two sides to this coin, however. Working at a Chinese startup could also put you in a situation where you’re regularly dragged into the office on the weekends, with a bottomless to-do list from your higher-ups. Just as you may be rewarded with extra time off for completing your projects early, you may be pressured into working extra hours in order to ensure that all of your department’s work is finished.

Although the employment contract you’re thinking about signing is an important document meant to define what’s expected of you at your new job, you may be asked to do considerably more than was originally expected (or stated in the original contract). If you take a position at a startup, be aware of the size of your workload and be wary of the fact that your boss may ask you to do far more than can reasonably be done, thusly causing you to feel obligated to work more hours to satisfy your supervisor’s expectations. Although saying “no” to your boss may be an intimidating proposition, overextending yourself to the point of insanity will have far more severe consequences.

New-Age Business Philosophies and Big, International Dreams

Startups in China are, more often than not, run by Chinese millennials and young business people who strive to separate themselves (and their companies) from traditional Chinese working culture. Due to China’s increasing presence in international trade, these young entrepreneurs look to employ new-age, western business practices and often dream of making their new enterprise into an international player. Within the office, Chinese startups are beginning to provide things as little as office gyms, snack rooms, or lounges with video games and pool tables, to life-improving perks as substantial as commercial healthcare or equity stake within the company for its personnel.

Fortunately, for these young companies, there is an abundance of venture capital within China for them to work with, and approximately one-third of startup companies succeed in getting funded. This allows these young businessmen and women to turn their dreams into reality. This phenomenon has resulted in small companies being able to make big moves within their industries and begin operating internationally in a staggeringly short amount of time.

According to some, China has a soon-to-burst tech startup bubble on its hands. A lot of money is being thrown around, and the government is pushing monetarily for the Chinese tech industry to succeed. These bubble-related whisperings and speculations have led to investors becoming much more cautious. As a foreign professional looking to work in China, you’ll notice that the bar for entry into these startups is quite low, but being able to list your experience working with a Chinese startup on your resume could be an interesting talking point at your future job interviews.

Jobs at Startups: Get Employed or Totally Avoid?

Working with a startup in China inherently comes with some risks. Those risks, however, may reap great rewards. If you help build a company from the bottom up and they become a household name in whichever industry they operate within, having their company name and the leadership role you held on your resume could afford you some amazing opportunities.

On the other hand, companies (especially startups) often fail. Startups are usually found in the tech industry, where profitability can be more difficult to determine than in industries such as manufacturing, real estate, or construction. The startup “gamble” can involve sudden downsizing or, even worse, the abrupt dissolving of a company altogether. If you’re working at a startup in China and the company goes under, you’ll need to either figure out how you’ll survive and stay in China or return to your home country.

If you’re brave enough to take on the risk and responsibility of working for a startup company, you may be pleasantly surprised at what it could do for your career. If you’re currently considering a position at a startup company and have questions about the job you’ve been offered, or would like some verification that the startup company offering you a position is licensed and legitimate, reach out to the China Jobs Daily team and we can help you out. For information on attractive openings at several promising, new tech startups, please reach out to me at

(By: Ted Salonek)

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