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Job Search in Asia

Given the recent economic downturn in the U.S., the global job market has plummeted to record lows in recent years. Asia, being one of the most popular geographical preferences among HBS grads, following closely behind the U.S. and Europe, is facing considerable challenges in holding up its headcount and salary packages. I will focus our discussion on major business hubs such as Mainland China, Hong Kong and Singapore, although some graduates go to Korea, Japan and Taiwan every year. It should be noted that the office that you are hired into does not always represent the city where you will be spending most of your time. For example, as a private equity associate in Hong Kong, you will probably be working in Korea 80% of the time. Traveling is almost inevitable in Asia.

So what kinds of industry in Asia do most HBS grads join after graduation? Due to the physical remoteness of the recruiting personnel, most students tend to apply for positions in Asia through the U.S. headquarter of a multinational corporation, thus lending themselves to a bias towards U.S. based companies. In order to attract talents to work and live on the other side of the globe, many of these Asian offices offer expatriate packages to compensate for the increased cost of living and housing expenses. This practice is most commonly seen in professional services firms, i.e. investment banks and management consulting firms.

One of the biggest gems in Asia is the Chinese market. With a population of 1.3 billion people, China is being viewed as the fastest-growing market for many industries. Entry into the WTO further validates such expectation. Despite the current recessional mode around the world, China is still experiencing a 7% growth in GDP. The entire global economy is vying to claim a piece of this huge potential market. Therefore, in pursuit of a career in Asia, be prepared to spend the bulk of your time in China, especially in Shanghai and Beijing, unless you are working in a largely self-contained economy like Japan. Our recent recruiting experience has also suggested that Japan is another active employer. In recovering from its market trough, Japanese companies are aggressively seeking professionals with foreign experience. The most effective way to obtain a job in Japan is to attend international career forums such as DISCO which is held annually in Boston in the fall.
Your job search strategy will vary depending on the industry that you are interested in. For traditional banking and consulting jobs, you can go through on-campus recruiting and meet with their U.S. representatives. If you are looking for other opportunities, however, you definitely need to be more creative and proactive in your search. The best strategy is to obtain contacts from HBS alumni or fellow classmates. Since it is almost impossible to get an offer without physically meeting with the firm, you should plan a trip to Asia with all your interviews lined up, preferably during your Winter break. Many of these firms may not have headcounts at that point, but scheduling an information session may prove helpful for future conversations. For summer internships, it should be noted that Asia is generally less open to the idea of temporary employment than the U.S., unless you join a U.S. firm with Asian offices.

Tips on job search in Asia:

(1) Since Asian offices are generally smaller, they may not necessarily recruit through career services. Do not assume that they are not hiring. It does not hurt to send your resume directly to them for consideration.

(2) Language skills are key. As much as Asian firms appreciate students with valuable working experience from abroad, they prefer hiring graduates with the relevant language skills. Try to take language classes to improve your fluency and prove your commitment to the region.

(3) If you claim that you speak a certain Asian language, be prepared to have it tested during an interview.

(4) Show your commitment to Asia. Make sure that you have a compelling story on why you wish to work in Asia after graduation.

(5) Although some sort of country experience is preferred, many companies are willing to talk to students without Asia work experience. Conduct detailed research on the different Asian economies and cultures to ensure “intelligent” conversations at the interview.

(6) The interviewing process is typically shorter for Asia job opportunities as the recruiting team will only be in town for a limited period of time. Treat each interview, including phone interviews, as your final round.

December 3, 2001
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