Internships Abroad

5 Steps to Securing Internships in China

Joana Melo

Joana was born and bred in Lisbon, Portugal. Ever since her graduation with a degree in English, she has been jumping from country to country (before the chance to see it all is missed!).

Whether you're still in school or recently graduated, internships will be at the forefront of your mind as you start to think seriously about entering the work force. Internships are a fantastic "test run" in a potential field of work: if you have a burning desire to get your hands dirty in the field instead of the classroom, looking to bolster your all-star résumé, or unsure of what you want do with your life and need some concrete experience, internships are the way to go. But not just any ol' internship with the whole grabbing-coffee-filing-papers gig. We're talking about taking your internship abroad. We're talking about having your internship in one of the most powerful global economies. We're talking about getting internships in China!

After all, Confucius did say “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Confucius didn't get dubbed a genius by accident. Maybe that is why China is still, to foreigners, a land of opportunity. China is large, brimming with opportunities, and luckily for you - short of qualified professionals in some areas. This is the place where you can get that perfect Chinese internship that you always dreamed of.

Interning is always a plus for your résumé and doing so in a foreign country quite different from the Western world works in your favor. It shows you have an open mind, are able to tackle new projects and have a go-getter personality (you know, the kind a lot of recruiters and companies are looking for). Plus, it can be a great conversation starter at your next business networking event! Read on for 5 steps to securing internships in China.

1. Know Where to Look for Chinese Internships

Business-wise, China is still much of a guanxi society, meaning it is more about who you know and what relationships you have then how good you actually are at your job. The bad news is that the best way to build your guanxi network is to already be in China. If that's not an option for you before your internship, you can still take advantage of three big allies from your homeland: your school, local American companies with operations in China, and the internet.

YOUR SCHOOL: The first ally worth leveraging is your own school / college. Begin discussing your plans of interning in China with any relevant mentor that you have a relationship with: your Chinese teacher, head of the biz department, your advisor. Tap into their networks and their knowledge of opportunities for Chinese internships. Your home institution may also have some kind of “deal” with Chinese companies and can help out with your internship. Head over to your Career Center and check what they can do for you.

Your home university may also support third party internship providers, such as CRCC Asia or The Hutong School, already. If this is the case, it is likely you can get college credit for your internship! In some cases, your financial aid may help alleviate the costs of interning abroad as well.

AMERICAN COMPANIES: Your second big ally is American companies that you know are prospering in China. Take advantage of opportunities to apply directly to these companies from home, interview at their headquarters, and talk over internship conditions in person. This is especially helpful if you already have a dream company in mind: it could be a start to a long track record with the same professionals!

THE INTERNET: Your last partner in crime for finding internships in China is the internet. There are multiple websites that list many internship opportunities in various Chinese cities. Be sure to read reviews of internships in China written by past participants, which can help you debunk if a company is a scam or not (which can be an unfortunate reality). If you want to take matters into your own hands and organize your Chinese internship independently, you can check out websites such as The Beijinger, which offers users large classified sections. Americans should also check out the Chamber of Commerce website!

2. Choose Your Field of Interest

Don't go into China hoping for a willy nilly internship at a joe-blow company. Have goals, and be specific. Be confident when self-assessing your current skills set and proactive on identifying which skills you hope to gain at your internship. The key to standing apart from other students applying for internships in China is to do your homework: research the field from multiple perspectives. Know how Americans view the industry from abroad, know how the field fares on the global scale, know the history of the field specifically in China and get a pulse for where it's heading.

Know what the industry and/or company is lacking and be prepared to show them how you can deliver new knowledge and ideas, be it from previous work experience, or you own academic path. Express genuine interest in not only developing an understanding of the field itself, but also the Chinese culture. Choose to find an internship in a field that will benefit from the cross-cultural understandings you will gain in the multicultural workplace.

If all else fails, try to find an internship in a popular field in China.

China is large, brimming with opportunities, and luckily for you - short of qualified professionals in some areas.

3. Send in your Resume!

A good rule of thumb is to always personalize your resumes to match the company you are interested in interning with. Rather than using the same template for every single application, try and write up specific cover letters unique to specific companies. Researching the company and being familiar with their brand and mission will help you to add that personal touch for each application. Be sure to highlight your willingness to relocate to China and the duration of time you are able to commit. Generally speaking, being willing to intern 3-4 months (aka your entire summer) will prove more successful in your job hunt than a few week stint. A longer time commitment is beneficial to both you and your employer on personal and professional development levels.

Quick Tips to Tweak Your Resume for Your Chinese Internship

  • Add your photo. Resumes in China are expected to include a headshot of your smiling face. Be sure to look professional and, of course, employable!
  • Show off a little. Include certificates and "official looking" papers if you are applying directly to a Chinese company: they eat up these face value certifications. Be willing to tack on notes in Mandarin explaining the documents if they are written in English.
  • Less is more! Stick to your most recent and related achievements in your Chinese resume. Always highlight your past experiences with Chinese classes/work. Showcase your commitment to understanding the culture.
  • Flaunt the numbers. Include not only your overall grades, but any marks in Chinese-related courses. Chinese companies looking for interns may use this as a way to "choose" favorites if ever in doubt.
  • Translate. Send in a Mandarin version as well, even if your vocabulary is more simple or your grammar isn't perfect. This is especially useful for those who wish to practice their Mandarin everyday in the workplace.

After you read, re-read, and give your resume to a friend to proofread (you can never have too many eyes!), save it in .pdf format. Now's the time to start working on the body of the email you'll be sending the company. Don’t make it too long: introduce yourself, the position you are applying for and mention that your resume and other documents can be found in the attachments. Before pressing that Send button, make sure you didn’t forget to actually attach the file!

4. Get the Paperwork Done

You have been accepted to intern in China! Hurray! Now comes the bureaucracy…

Before confirming your acceptance of the internship offer, be sure to begin openly discussing your visa options. Depending on the amount of time you are able to intern in China, you will be eligible for different types of visas. It is worth noting that by applying with third party providers, you will have extra help in walking you through the process of visa application (as it can get kinda hairy). They may cost a bit more, but having their guidance in situations such as this as often touted as worth the extra dollars.

Be sure to follow the instructions for your visa application exactly - one missing document, or poorly scanned passport, can lead to rejection. Never fear though, you can apply multiple times!

As an intern in China, you should be able to get a Business (F) Visa in your home country. Sometimes companies will also ask you to head to China with a Tourist (L) Visa, and will send you a proper "invitation" to visit.

Since American citizens can stay up to 90 days with a tourist visa, companies prefer to change the type of your visa while you are already in the country. If they do propose this, make sure to confirm that they will cover all the costs of switching your visa. You may also be asked to fill out a Foreigner Physical Examination Form and should check with your doctor to make sure your vaccinations are up to date.

5. Fly and Enjoy

The sooner you apply, the sooner you will know if you can get in, and the sooner you can buy that plane ticket! As always, buying your ticket early on can save you money you can later use for more fun, non-work expenses.

When you arrive, work hard, play harder and don’t let the China “grayness” get you down. Tap into local young professional networking groups (there are a ton in expat-friendly Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong!). Develop strong relationships with your coworkers, inside and outside the workplace. Cultivate strong schmoozing skills (er, guanxi!). Be intentional with your time not only in the office.

Pat yourself on the back, download all subway and maps apps onto your mobile device, never leave home without your Chinese-English dictionary, and be prepared to rock out Chinese internship!

Additional China Resources