Your first job in Hong Kong

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How did you get your first job in HongKong?

Some of the most popular pages on our site are about finding work in Hong Kong. So if you didn't already have a permanent Hong Kong ID before you started working in Hong Kong, how did you find your first job and visa? We're hoping your stories will help others who are looking for ways to move to Hong Kong.

MrB's story

I arrived in 1989, and at that time UK passport holders didn't need a visa to work, so that was half the battle won. I was certain that I wanted to work here for several months at least, so after a few nights in Chung King Mansions I rented a room in a flat in TST, shared with two others. That cut accomodation expenses and gave a fixed address and phone number for job applications. I guess today's equivalent would be to get a local mobile phone number as soon as you arrive.

It took longer than expected to find work. I had 4-5 years work experience in computer programming, but it was of a low-level technical style, whereas all the local adverts seemed to be for business-related programming work. I sent out lots of applications to adverts in the Saturday SCMP, but didn't get one reply. None of the agencies I applied to turned up anything either. I do wonder if asking for my UK salary was pricing me out of the opportunities available. Really I'd have been happy with any work, and would probably have been better off writing something vague along the lines of 'in line with my abilities' when they asked for an expected salary.

In the end I found work with a small local development company run by expats. I went to one of the big computer shows in Hong Kong, and approached likely-looking booths asking if they were looking for my kind of skills. One of them gave me a contact of their technical manager, I met him for lunch, he turned me down, I called back and said he was making a mistake, and I got work with them.

So I definitely had to be more pushy and proactive than I was used to in the UK. In hindsight I should also have been quicker to look for more social occasions where I could meet new people - sports clubs, language classes, etc - and get the message out I was looking for work.

Also looking back, it has made for a disjointed 'career'. If I'd stayed in the UK, I guess by now I'd be some working in some technical development role, and would have gained a lot of knowledge in some speciality. So it would have been a more straightforward career path.

Instead I've usually been driven by wanting to live here first, and finding something that would pay the bills second. That first job I got here was still fairly similar to what I'd been doing in the UK, but then I worked in Australia for a few months as contract IT helpdesk staff. Back to the UK for a few months doing some business programming, then back to Hong Kong again where I ended up in a sales role. Not something I would have chosen naturally, but in the end it has all worked out ok.

Mr Tall's story

I had quite a different path to employment from MrB.

I 'worked' in Hong Kong for the first time in the summer of 1988 as a volunteer, teaching English to secondary school kids in a church-sponsored summer program. I stayed for about six weeks that time, if I recall correctly, and did the whole thing on a tourist visa. I believe I did have to leave and re-enter Hong Kong once, since then as now tourists could stay for just a month at a time.

I returned two years later, in the summer of 1990, having done a desultory couple of years in grad school in the USA. The main payoff to my study, in retrospect, was the entree it gave me to Hong Kong. I wandered into my university's student exchange office one day, looking for excuses to avoid both further graduate study and gainful employment. I'd enjoyed my previous summer experience in Hong Kong, so I was delighted to see that the first post listed as available for grad students was a 'teaching fellowship' set up as a kind of permanent exchange with Chinese University. I applied immediately, hopped up and down for a while waiting to hear if I'd got it, and then was delighted when it came through. (I found out later on I was the only applicant!)

I therefore had an extraordinarily easy transition into expat life. I had accommodation provided (a flat on campus shared with a couple of other American teachers), CU took care of getting me a work visa, and I had a ready-made peer group all set. The teaching load was light, so I had time to travel, too. The only downside was that it paid very badly, but I was young and didn't really have to care.

I started caring about the cash a lot more at the end of my two years at CU, however! By then, I'd met, and been hopelessly enamored with, the future Mrs Tall (she was a CU student, but not one I taught. We actually had our first date during her final week at CU -- thank goodness she didn't get away!). I knew I needed to stay in Hong Kong. But there was no chance of me staying on at CU, so it was out on the job market for me, this time needing enough money to pay my own way in full.

I didn't have to look for long. I found an editing job with another university, and that led to my current position. Again, I had a big institution supporting my visa applications, so I didn't have much trouble getting new ones.

Since MrB has done a bit of 'what if?' speculation above, I'll indulge myself as well. I think if I'd have stayed in the USA, I'd very likely have gone back to grad school and slogged it out to the bitter end, i.e. either a PhD or total ignominious defeat. Looking back, I have no regrets whatever on missing out on this scene!


How about you? How did you get to Hong Kong?

Comments

how i got here

In my case, the company I worked for at the time sent me to Tokyo in the summer of '94, my first trip to Asia. I absolutely loved Tokyo and wanted to live there. I spent months looking for a job there with no success. And then, my company had an opening in Hong Kong. The job description seemed to have been written with me in mind. But never having been to HK, I asked if the company would fly me out there for a week so I could check it out. They agreed but I didn't need a week, after a couple of days I told them I would be happy to move here.

After a year they wanted to move me back to the US. Luckily it was boom time for the economy and rather than leave, it was relatively easy for me to find another job. On the day they told me officially that they were going to "send me home," I was able to hand in my resignation instead.

My next job was also an expat job and after three years they wanted to move me. So on my current job, I insisted on being treated as a local hire. "Why???????" they asked. "Because I love Hong Kong and I want to stay there. I don't want to be moved around every two or three years." I think that my showing this commitment to HK actually helped me get hired for the job.

Why do you deserve the job?

Thanks Spike:

So on my current job, I insisted on being treated as a local hire. [....]  I think that my showing this commitment to HK actually helped me get hired for the job.

That comes back to the key point in the job-search process - why should a potential employer choose me over all the other applicants? There are two, related parts to that: building up my advantages, and dealing with the concerns that the employer has.

What concerns could the employer have?

  1. Why should I go through the hassle of applying for a visa instead of just hiring a local resident?
  2. Will an expat fit in with my local team, or be a prima-donna that just causes problems?
  3. They can't read or write Chinese, how will they communicate with us, and our customers?
  4. Are they serious about working in Hong Kong, or will they get homesick after three months and go home?

I'm sure there are more, but these are some examples. The tricky part is that although they're likely at the back of the interviewer's mind, he's not likely to ask you such direct questions in the interview. Spike's approach of asking for local terms and explaining it was because he didn't want to leave HK is a great way to neutralise concern #4 above, without the interviewer having to mention the concern out loud.

How anout other readers? How did you find your first job, and how did you win over the interviewer?

MrB

How I came here

 

I graduated w/ a BA in East Asian Studies (Chinese concentration) in the late 1980s. Went to Taiwan for about a year to do the "teach English in buxibans & figure out my life" thing. While in Taiwan I decided I would want to come back, but in a "real" job. I didn't like the buxiban system very much.

 

So, I went back to the USA and worked for a few years and got a degree that is the basic requirement for my profession. Then I got a job in Chicago. It was OK, but I was ready to return to Asia. I saw a job ad in my professional magazine & wrote a letter and sent my resume & got the interview. About a month later I got the job. The institution I worked for processed my work visa which menat having to go to the Bristish consulate  (this was back in 1992). I arrived here and began work. I've been working at the same place ever since. I was recruited on "local terms" for a 3-year contract & after that it was made permanent. In the meantime I met SK-Baba ('though we weren't a mama or baba yet) and got married and I changed my visa status to "dependent" on an HK permanent resident (to have the freedom to change jobs if I wanted - which never happened). Eventually after having done my 7 years I achieved permanent residency.

 

I'm so glad I came here for so many reasons. It's my home & that's why I consider myself an "immigrant" rather than an "expat". 

 

Do you need to speak / write Chinese?

Skmama,

Just wondering if your job needed Chinese-language skills, or it was a job where English as a native language was a plus?

Finding a job where Chinese isn't required (and English is a requirement, or at least a plus) is a must for most foreigners hoping to work in HK. The few examples above already show the common options:

  • Teaching English
  • Editing (an other jobs related to) English-language publications
  • Providing a service to the Expat community (my second job here was with a company providing IT support to mainly expat companies)
  • Work in a regional role (Spike's job, my third & fourth jobs). With a caveat - if the region means 'Greater China', Chinese language abilities (including Putonghua) are likely a requirement. If your region includes SE Asia and Japan too, English is more likely to be ok.
  • Work in a multinational company, where English is the daily language used for E-mail, meetings, etc.
  • Act as the interface between an English-speaking company (eg Australia-, USA-, UK-based), and local companies whose management can speak English.

What others am I missing?

MrB

Chinese not required by highly desirable

 

Chinese speaking, reading & writing was not required, for my job but in the terms one often sees in job ads it was "highly desirable".  I used my Chinese in my previous job in Chicago as well.

Extra languages are always a plus.

 

 

don't need chinese

following MrB's suggestions:

When Hong Kong was the Crown Colony: Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service HMOCS

Today:

1.   Fitness instructor.

2.   Chef.

3.   Setting up your own business - for the expatriate communities.

3.1 Match making services.

3.2 Local heritage tour.

3.3 Job consultancy.

3.4 Art / Wine seller.

and if you are not a English Native Speaker on a dependent visa?

Hi Everybody:

I just read the full story and it gave me a lot of useful tips and ideas.

But what about if you are not a English Native Speaker?

I just moved to HK, my husband was transferred and when i hear the news i was thrilled and excited.
Its my first time in Asia and i want to travel together and get to know many places and culture.

At the moment i am on a dependent visa and i was told that i could work here, but not start my own business. (could someone confirm this)
That was my original plan, back in UK i was working on Import & Export, trying to introduce new organic or social responsible products from Latin America to UK. It was on an early stage, but i have the contacts and the knowledge of the region and the business attracted interest.

From what i found out in HK most of the works related with Latin America or Spanish required a lot of traveling, strange schedules and Mandarin or Cantonese as a plus.

Many people suggested me to teach or be a tutor; a type of work which will give me flexibility if i work on my own, or lots of extra time if i work for a school or language centre. For English is kind of a problem they normally want a ENGLISH NATIVE SPEAKER, therefore i am thinking of Spanish cause is my mother tongue. I also speak Italian, English and basic German and i think that is an asset as a tutor, but again I dont know if i could work as free lance or sole trade?

In any case i think that I want switch from the dependent visa to have my own. Is better not to be dependent on one visa only, but to have two to double chances for staying longer in Hong Kong. I really like this city and because current market situation i dont want to be dependent on HIS WORK to make my /our dreams come true.

Thanks for more tips and advice.

re: and if you are not an English ...

Here are some relevant links:

Good luck, and please come back and update us once you have your work sorted out.

MrB

Thanks for your advice. when

Thanks for your advice. when i am done with sorting my flat i will star my job hunting and i will let you know.
After discussing with some people i think think that teaching spanish or tutoring can work in HK
Thanks
Mishico

I'm not exactly an expat...

I am originally from HK but I've lived in the US for many years and is a permanent resident there. At the end of last year, I graduated with my BS in computer science and was working at a company in Missouri as a IT help desk. Now me and my family just moved back here, my husband already got a job teaching English since he's a NET. But for me, I'm just not so sure what my options are. The job market here is so competitive and I'm afraid that my education background is no match for local applicants. Since I am a HK permanent resident, and I am also Chinese, I lack the advantage of "being white".
I guess my question is, where should I look for work where they would utilize my skill as a IT tech and as a fluent English, Mandarin, and Cantonese speaker?

IT Tech jobs

Hi Fili

 Quote:  I lack the advantage of "being white". Unquote

 

It's not often an advantage when job hunting.  IT skills, fluent English, Putonghua and Cantonese?  You shouldn't have too much problem right now, I find IT people a bit thin on the ground.  So long as you have relevant employment experience, you should not have a problem.  Suggest you register with some specialist agencies such as InfoTech (send your cv to adachong@infotech.com.hk).  Also JobsDB and Monster are good search engines.

Good luck!

 

Fiona

 

New in Hong Kong

Good morning guys;
I'm chinese, I'm born in Hong Kong and I left when I was 3 years old.
I went to Paris (France) and I passed 12 years there. After I follow my parents to Québec(Canada).
I got married last year, and I follow my wife in Hong Kong.
I don't have a high education level. I worked for the same company since 12years.
My first language is french,after cantonese (spoken only),after english(middle level)
I can't read chinese and I don't know Mandarin !

What can I do in Hong Kong ?

Thanks;
Stan

re: New in HK

Stan,

Sorry I don't have an instant answer, but I guess I'd be looking at some combination of your skills. French language, whatever your last job was, contacts with Quebec, personal strengths. Who needs them? French companies with offices in HK? Import/export opportunities? ???

There's also voluntary work in the meantime if you want to keep busy and meet some new people.

Good luck, MrB.

Learning/Teaching French

I believe, Stan, you are on solid footing to teach French. But having lived in HK where schools and parents place emphasis on degrees and experience, you might have better luck with some private schools. I really hope you can find a job in this field.
I took French courses in Canadian high school taught by Anglophone teacher who, while dedicated, had limited time and were restricted by the education curriculum. I never regret that latter on in life, I learned French from someone who came from Trois-Rivieres (very French community) not just for the grammar part but also for speaking skills.
We can be very good learner of another language including perfecting the grammar, but may also find it difficult to speak fluently because in my younger days, we were shy to open our mouth to speak French "comme il faut". I think it is still true today. You could be the person to teach it right.

Looking for Work Visa Sponsor

Dear Mr. B,
Hello. I read your article on starting out in HK with gusto.

I have been to HK many times and would love to find work here. How do I get a work visa for HK?

I am a Product Designer and have sent many applications to companies in HK. But I often get a reply that they will prefer a local over an expat. Does visa sponsorship carry a lot of expenses and trouble for a hiring company?

How can I boost my chance at getting employment in HK? Please help.

re: Looking for Work Visa Sponsor

Hello Julius,

If you haven't already, check this thread in case there are other options for getting a visa that you haven't already thought of.

"I [...] have sent many applications". Were they sent from overseas, or in Hong Kong? Unless you're applying for a position that is advertised internationally, applications from overseas are likley to be ignored.

"they will prefer a local over an expat." - yes, in most cases there is a preference for local staff. The hassle of getting a visa is one reason, but often it's just the easiest excuse to give. Here are some other reasons.

Are you getting any interviews?

If not, and you are applying locally, then when you call the employers after you receive the rejection, what more do they tell you about why they rejected your application?

Do you explain you're not looking for expat terms (are you?), and ask if it is still possible to come in for an interview?

If all else fails, are they able to suggest any other companies in your field that do employ foreigners?

Good luck, MrB

Still on Work Visa Sponsorship

Dear MrB,
Thank you for your swift reply.

Yes, I apply from overseas to jobsites that offer HK employment. It is implied that it is an international search since there is no disclaimer that says only locals or HK residents need apply.

Yes, I get phone interviews but you have a point that I should stress that I can be treated as a local hire instead of expat package. I will do this next time I have another phone interview.

One agency advised that unless I change my residency, I will not get much attention from recruiters. Should I take this cue and head off to HK and go on a search?

One HK company offered me work instead in their China factory. I almost accepted this until I learned that I have to work continuously for 28 days to be able to get 2 days off in HK at their company expense. Pretty abusive and exploitative isn't it?

What other avenues can I take so I can work in HK since I love the dynamism of the place and the stimulation of being in a cosmopolitan environment.

Please advise.

Thanks.

re: Work Visa Sponsorship

Yes, I think you'll have a much better chance if you're here in person.

If you do decide to visit, make the most of it. eg

  • go back to the people you've already interviewed with, explain you're visiting, and ask if you could give them a call when you're here to see if they have any vacancies. Then call again from HK. If they say no on either call, ask which agencies and / or other companies they'd recommend you contact while you are here. Then at least you can start the next call with 'Peter Chan of XYZ Corp suggested I give you a quick call...'.
  • if you are replying to new ads, mention when you'll be visiting, and ask if you can meet then

Call the agency who suggested you be in HK to tell them you're going to visit, and find out if there are good / bad times of year to visit for jobs in your industry. eg a lot of multinationals slow down hiring towards the end of the year, waiting to see what budgets will be approved, and who will be managing which team in the following year. eg many people in HK wait until after Chinese New Year to change jobs so they get their Chinese New Year bonus.

Just common sense really. Good luck,

MrB

PS Please write back and let us know what does and doesn't work, to help other people in the same position.

Want to move to HK

Hi, 

I'm 23 years old male living and working in Iceland at the moment. My country of origin is Lithuania. I have been working in Iceland for over 3 years now.

How did i get there: i had a job offer from a company where my friend was working and he recomemded me, and they fix visas and job permit for me without any problems. I have been studying electronic engineering at that time, but after 1 years i had to quit (lack of money). So it was a good opportunity for me. But as it is now i am only a high school graduate. In Iceland i have been working in few companies, in 1 of those for 2 years. So for those 3 years i was working as a mason and painter (some carpentry too). i have met many asian people in Iceland. I had a Thai girlfriend who was living there for 15 years. We went to thailand together. I have made many friends there. So one good friend of mine (thai friend) went to work in HK.

In Iceland my employer said that after my contract is finished they wont be able to keep me. Since in Iceland i wont be able to find a job, because or the financial crisis and unemployment i decided to move to asia. I was thinking about this for a long time actualy. 

What do you think my chances are of getting setled in HK? Imade some friends threw internet in hk and they helped me alot too, i have started applying for a jobs on jobsdb, and i think about going to visit after my contract is gone, before Christmas it is.

What i want to say is that i am realy in love with asia and one way or another i will move where.

thank you for your time

Baure 

Employment Opportunities

And, mrb, an unfortunate element just thrown into the mix is that a lot of companies are enforcing a hiring freeze until things pick up again.  Also, people will be more reluctant to move just in case they find themselves in a new company facing actual headcount cuts and a 'last in first out' approach.  Interesting times for recruitment issues.