GETTING THERE, stories from the interview process

Applying for a job in China is… different. Sure the basics are the same: you send them a resume, you have an interview, you sign a contract, but just about everything else is a little wonky.

1. Employers require a lot of personal information: A recent photograph, age, and gender are required to be included on the resume. Other personal question may be asked during the interview. One question we were asked was: “The last couple we had here had a baby and went home to become parents, will you be doing this?” Talking to one potential employer on Skype Chat, we were asked to start a video chat. We answered the phone call and turned on our video but could not hear or see anything. We stared at the screen with confusion wrinkling our brow, waving and saying “hello, can you hear me?” Finally the caller hung up. Next thing we know we’re getting a message back from her saying “You are very cute couple, I took nice picture.” (probably of our confused faces)

2. School rules are different in China: Before our first interview we had printed off a list of questions to ask about the school from Oxford Seminars, the program through which we took our TESOL course. One of the questions was to ask about discipline policies at the school. With a bit of a language barrier to deal with we first had some trouble explaining what we meant by “discipline policy”. When we had finished explaining our contact answered us with “Oh I see I see. Well once we had a teacher who was mad because his girlfriend broke up with him or something, and he was drunk so he threw a chair out the window. But he apologized and just paid for the window, but that only happened once.”

3. Language Barrier: We have come across, in a few interviews, the situation where  a number of individuals interview us and discuss our answers in a language we don’t understand. The most extreme of which was when interviewing for a position in Xinjiang, China. We had our video Skype on but our interviewer did not have video, the result: we couldn’t tell how many of them there were. Our interviewer did not have very good English, and when we presented our prepared lesson plans they were too advanced for her! I had to quickly switch to plan b, and do a drawing of body parts with them singing the “Head and Shoulder Knees and Toes” song. Nate just presented his lesson as planned powering through the contingency of confused voices in the background. Every time we asked or answered a question our interviewer would have to consult with the others to determine the meaning of our questions or correct English words to respond with. In the interview for the job we ended up taking there were four people watching. I must say it is extremely nerve wracking having a group of people discuss your fate infront of you in a language you don’t understand.

4. The immediate job offer: In North America you very rarely get the job offer on the spot. In China every interview we have had has concluded in “When can you start?” which brings me to my next point, the misunderstanding of start dates.

5. The misunderstanding of start dates: “We can start no earlier then June of 2013” I kept repeating in virtually every e-mail or interaction. “Ok ok yes I understand,” was always the response. I still got directed to schools that were looking for someone who could start immediately. I still got asked if I could start in March, or April. Even after I was assured the position we were applying for started in September, when I received the contract it told me to arrive in March. I’m not sure if this was related, but employers also seemed incapable of answering questions properly, and tended to answer either or questions with a “yes.”

6. The awkward Skype greeting: Every contact we have made requested to be added on Skype. Planned interaction or not, as soon as I signed on to Skype I would receive a “Hello,” or “Good Morning,” followed by a “How are you.” This might not seem too strange, except that if I did not ask any questions this was how the conversation would end. The contact never seemed to have a reason to start a conversation.

I guess this is our first glimpse at the culture we will be entering. Perhaps by this time next year we will understand the customs a little bit better. Maybe I will even have picked some up myself. I’ll let you know.

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