Thoughts on an American Job Applicant on Chinese TV

27 Jul 2011

非你莫属 Screenshot

I’ve mentioned before that I occasionally indulge in the Chinese dating show 非诚勿扰. There’s another one of these reality TV-type Chinese shows that I watch from time to time called 非你莫属 (English name: “Only You”). On this show, each entrant is a job applicant given a chance to explain the type of job he’s looking for and interview with a panel of 12 bosses right there on camera. If all goes well, the bosses make offers to the applicant, and details of salary are discussed right on the show. Finally, the applicant is given a chance to accept the final offers or decline them and leave the stage.

This show is appealing for a number of reasons. There is quite a range of applicants, from young kids with no experience, to senior citizens, to the destitute and desperate, to the physically abnormal. Quite a few of the applicants just plain don’t have much to offer. The “bosses,” who are on the show to promote their own companies, can also say some interesting things. Perhaps one of the most compelling aspects to me is seeing what kind of job offers are made on the show, and what salaries the applicants will accept.

After watching this show for a while, I was surprised to see recently that there was a young American applicant. Unlike 非诚勿扰 (the dating show), which has had quite a few foreigners on the show, I’d never seen it on this show. The applicant was a 25-year-old white American male named Nathan (Chinese name: 尚德). Having lived in Beijing for a while, Nathan spoke pretty solid Chinese, and had no major issues communicating on the show. But the bosses’ reactions to Nathan were not quite what I expected.

非你莫属 Screenshot

Before I go on, some links are in order:

* A Sohu TV link to the video (the segment discussed here is 01:06-16:05)
* A Google Docs link to the Chinese transcript (01:06-16:05)

The Bosses’ Reactions

First of all, I should mention that foreigners on Chinese TV are generally given quite a lot of slack. In general, they’re made to look good, given face, not expected to do a lot, but still rewarded with smiles and applause for whatever it is they do on TV. I’m not saying this is right, but it’s certainly something I’m used to seeing on Chinese TV.

Not so with Nathan. The host’s first reaction to Nathan’s introduction (clearly recited from memory) was, “you learned all the bad habits of Chinese TV hosts.” It was a light-hearted jab made in the spirit of fun, but it was probably an unsettling start for Nathan. He went on to explain that he wasn’t quite done with his undergraduate degree in Beijing, but he was looking for a job in advertising where he could help a Chinese company market to foreigners. He said he was interested in planning (策划). This elicited a response from the off-camera commentator:

> 看来不管是美国人还是中国人,只要没什么职场经验的,下意识的在找第一份工作的时候都会选择做策划。

> It seems that no matter whether you’re American or Chinese, if you don’t have any job experience, something subconscious when looking for your first job will make you choose planning.

The line of questioning that followed pretty quickly became quite critical. One of the bosses asked about Nathan’s strengths. The exchange went as follows:

> 陈晓晖:你能告诉我你身上的带有的你自己认为的优点是什么?

> Chen Xiaohui: Can you tell me what strong points you feel you possess?

> 尚德:就是可能逻辑性比较强。

> Nathan: Well, I guess I’m quite logical.

> 陈晓晖:比如?

> Chen Xiaohui: Can you give an example?

> 尚德:比如,就是我觉得来到这儿,汉语不是我的母语。我能跟你们就是⋯⋯

> Nathan: For example, well, I think that coming here, Chinese not being my mother tongue, and being able to [talk] with you, ummm…

> 主持人:嬉皮笑脸。是是是。是的,是的。

> Host: And flash that big smile of yours. Yes, yes.

> 陈晓晖:你这么说已经证明了你的逻辑性不是很强。这两个没有什么相关的关系。

> Chen Xiaohui: Your response has proven that you’re not very logical. Those two things aren’t related.

非你莫属 Screenshot

While the boss’s point is fair, it’s clear that Nathan got a little tripped up and wasn’t able to formulate a quick answer to the question.

Immediately following that, another boss questioned Nathan on what he could offer a potential employer:

> 葛晓非:因为我看了他大概介绍,在美国是没有读大学的。不好意思,这可能是你的小secret。但是就是说你在美国没有专业,你到中国来你的专业是中文。

> Ge Xiaofei: I’ve read your introduction, so I know you didn’t go to college in the U.S. Sorry, maybe that’s your little secret. But, I mean, in the U.S. you didn’t have a degree, and after coming to China you majored in Chinese.

> 主持人:汉语。

> Host: Mandarin.

> 葛晓非:对,是汉语。那你跟这种在座的大学应届生比起来,你连个专业都没有。那你只有英文。但是应届大学生里英文讲得好的多了去了。像他这种状况,其实求职也是非常吃力的。你倒不如说,你就是有一个实习机会,或者我想去什么样的公司,对吗?我觉得这样简单一点。否则谈来谈去,一直就不知道他适合什么想什么。

> Ge Xiaofei: Right, Mandarin. Then compared with this year’s college graduates here, you don’t even have a major. So you just have English. But there tons of university graduates with good English. In circumstances like his, finding a job is rough. However, if, for example, you were looking for an internship, and wanted to work at a certain kind of company, I think that would be simpler. Otherwise it’s always going to come back to not knowing what he’s good at and what he’s thinking.

非你莫属 Screenshot

At this point the host came to Nathan’s defense (sort of):

> 主持人:没关系,晓非。就是说可能他作为一个25岁的美国人,在中国只待了4年。[…]然后你在这种情况下,有的时候,我们自己的年轻人也有职业求职模糊的状态。所以他模糊也正常,对吧。

> Host: It doesn’t matter, Xiaofei. I mean, he’s a 25-year-old American, and he’s only been in China for 4 years. […] When you’re under these kinds of circumstances, sometimes our own young people are unclear about what kinds of jobs they’re looking for. So that he’s unclear is totally normal, right?

As the show progressed, the different judges asked various questions and returned to the point of Nathan lacking much real job experience. One of them stated:

> …国外的孩子跟国内的孩子大同小异。大家都是一样的,眼高手低。眼高手低。他想要的东西和他能做到的实在是不匹配。你需要了解你自己能做什么。

> Foreign kids and Chinese kids are essentially the same. They’re all alike, with big hopes but little ability. Big hopes, but little ability. What he wants and what he can deliver on just don’t match. You need to better understand what you can do.

非你莫属 Screenshot

In the end, Nathan was offered a few rather unappealing, low-paying jobs, and elected to leave the show without accepting the offers. After he left, these are the host’s final words on his appearance:

> 我们千万不要因为求职者是一个外国人而对他自动地给他加分或者减分。他和我们中国内地的求职者是一模一样的。只要是相同的年龄。永远有相同的优势:有冲劲;但是永远会犯相同的错误:不知道自己究竟要干吗?

> Just because an applicant is a foreigner, we absolutely cannot give him extra points or take away points. He is exactly the same as our Chinese applicants. At that age, it’s always the same advantage: a strong drive. But they always make the same mistake: not knowing what they really want to do.

My Reaction

My first reaction was, wow, they were kind of harsh. It’s not that they said anything untrue. It’s that Nathan really wasn’t worse, qualifications-wise, than a lot of past Chinese applicants who fared better on the show.

Nathan’s Chinese is quite good for the amount of time he’s studied, but he was at a clear disadvantage here. 非你莫属 didn’t dumb down the questioning at all or give him any kind of “foreigner advantage.”

This is interesting to me, because you don’t see it a lot. It led me to ask a few questions:

1. Is the attitude toward foreigners changing? Such a change is inevitable; could this one insignificant event be hinting that such a change is already underway?

2. Is this a ratings stunt? Would taking a tough stance on foreigners on the show appeal to the audience? (this really isn’t so different from question #1.)

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to read too much into one TV show or over-inflate its significance. But I did find this case intriguing, so I sent an email to Nathan and asked him a few questions. He was kind enough to answer my email. I reproduce his responses (edited slightly for length) below.

Nathan’s Reaction

Could you tell us your background? How long have you been studying Chinese, where, and how?

Sure. I am twenty-five years old, from the US. I have been in China for about four years. I taught English for two and a half years, the last year studying Chinese with a tutor. After that, I have been studying at Beijing International Studies University (北京第二外国语学院). Next year I will graduate with a degree in Chinese Language. I have been making up quite a few credits as I did not study at a formal institution before coming to BISU. Although I did study at Global Village in 五道口 Beijing (semi-formal I suppose) for a short time.

What made you decide to go on 非你莫属?

I went to 非你莫属 as an audience member with friends from our school tv station. I normally participate in various activities at our school. Some of the employees there suggested that I try for myself – I figured “Why not?”.

So are you saying you weren’t actually seriously applying for a job? You kind of just made something up to see what would happen?

I was serious about applying for a job, but I was very skeptical about being offered anything realistic. Had I been offered 旅游体验师, I would have accepted it. I talked to a headhunter who specifically works with foreigners in China at a reputable firm. Basically, if you were to find someone who was most familiar with my situation, you would ask her. She said that I should ask for 20,000 RMB a month. That is how much I could bring in as an English teacher. I doubt any of the bosses could make me that offer. Actually, the bosses are almost always much less serious about the process than contestants. They are just there to 打酱油 and get free press for their companies. Also, being on TV is fun.

I did not make anything up. I chose a job after careful discussion with a friend and the headhunter that I know. When I first came to the 非你莫属 office, I said that I wanted to teach English. But after talking with a friend, I decided saying I wanted to teach English was a bit unexciting and I should go for it and chose a job that I thought was interesting. I have been working at our school TV station as a co-host for a new program and in other small capacities. I have also done a few other media-related things that I was told were unrelated while onstage. I might have chose a job like host, but I watched an old episode where a young man from QingHua got nailed because the companies couldn’t offer any kind of hosting job. I know that the host would have given me the stage, and I would have been humiliated because my current language skills and background are definitely inadequate. I am very realistic about my current job opportunities, skills, and goals. Having talked with the headhunter, I thought that I had chosen an appropriate job for myself. I have no experience, but really, it you have no experience this is the show to be on. People with solid experience and good qualifications who go on this show always seem to be offered a low salary with a low position. I figured that they would offer me a low salary, but I never expected to get so much criticism or a job so unrelated to what I wanted.

Your opening lines were pretty obviously recited from memory. Did you memorize a lot of lines to use on the show? How did that work out?

I did not memorize any lines to use on the show other than the opening introduction. Had I known what direction the questions would go, I would have memorized a few responses. But, given the spontaneity of questions and test on the show, it’s nearly impossible to prepare much. Also, poor performance needs no memorization (humor).

Did you you think the 老板 [bosses] (and the host) were fair to you?

I think that neither the host nor the bosses understood why I came on the show or what kind of job I was seeking. I am uncertain of whether the opinions that they voiced on the show were their true thoughts. However, when I went backstage they continued to maintain the stances that they took while onstage. I was baffled during a large portion of the interview because I have never heard statements from the Chinese like learning the Chinese language and culture is unimportant. Views stated were both ignorant and uneducated. Learning Chinese language and culture has been very useful to me, and I expect it to allow me to find a better job. Furthermore, I have never had issues finding a good job in China.

There was one portion of the show (天生我有才), where was I supposed to perform a magic trick I used to use to teach my students English. I was never allowed to perform it as the producer did not want too much foreign language in the show. I believe that this had a dramatic effect on my overall performance because I would have provided another subject to discuss other than my supposed weaknesses – mainly, the difference between Chinese and American teaching methods. If I performed the trick it would have shown my skills and cut me a break.

Was a lot of what they filmed edited out? Was what we saw representative of what really happened?

Yes, I a lot of what they filmed was edited out. I suspect the time I was onstage was approximately between half an hour and fourty-five minutes. I thought that it was fairly representative of what happened, although a few small things were changed – for example: I was the one who mentioned 五毛党. Also, at the end you will notice that they cut to footage of my hands while I said that the last offer was 不靠谱 – that was because I never said that.

What are your thoughts after participating on the show?

I am not really sure what to think about the show. The benefits being I received an email from you, I improved my Chinese, and I also received an email from a very promising company. The disadvantage being the pain of receiving so much criticism from the bosses. The most important thing (because the jobs were not fit for me), was maintaining my image while onstage. I am still unaware as to exactly what kind of person I portrayed while onstage.

Did you get a lot of email responses after the show?

I have not received too many email responses from the show, although all the responses so far have been positive. Most are job offers or letters of support and friendship.

What is your advice to other foreigners thinking of being on 非你莫属 or other similar “PK-style” Chinese TV shows?

I would suggest a media background for anyone interested in participating in 非你莫属. It is unlike shows like 非诚勿扰 that offer safe havens for foreigners wanting to get on TV. Adequate preparation and a bit of luck is also helpful. Be prepared to be completely misunderstood. You must control the atmosphere as much as possible and send off good vibes while appealing to the masses. I would never consider appearing on a show like this with 100% intention of finding a job. One of the reasons for appearing on the show was to improve my Chinese, another reason was to see if I could reap any benefits from meeting people on the show and the emails which I received afterwards. The jobs offered to me were completely worthless. I have been in contact with another contestant on the show, and he said that he was very unhappy with the new job offered. I think that my experience was basically the same as other contestants, with the exception that I was unable to show my talent. Many people believe that being such a dope on TV could ever happen to themselves, but all it takes is a bit of bad luck to produce a bad performance on a TV show like 非你莫属.

Nathan in Person

Shortly after I got in touch with Nathan by email, he just happened to visit Shanghai, so we met up. He was a really good guy in person, and I could tell that he must have been super nervous on the show. He spoke Chinese with my wife, and his (Beijing-accented) Mandarin really is quite impressive.

For me, what’s most impressive is that he had the courage to go on 非你莫属 after only having seriously studied Chinese for less than three years. I’ve been in China almost 11 years, and have gone through grad school in China (including a thesis defense), and still would be very intimidated by the thought of appearing on that show!

Thank you to Nathan for doing the interview.


One TV show aside, though, Chinese expectations for foreigners’ spoken Chinese are only going up. Students coming to China to study are arriving with better and better spoken Chinese skills “fresh off the boat,” and more and more fluent foreigners are appearing on TV. I do wonder how far off a new set of expectations for foreigners is.

I’m curious if my readers have noticed similar trends. I don’t watch a ton of TV (I swear!), so I’d be very interested in hearing about what others have observed.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I don’t know about TV as I almost never watch any, but I do think Chinese expectations of foreigners are changing, in some ways for the better, in others for the worse. But I am detecting, in my little sphere of existence in southeastern Beijing, a greater expectation that foreigners actually have something useful to offer (other than just being a foreign-looking clown in front of a class), make some attempt to adjust to the fact that we are in China rather than isolate ourselves in expatria and demand the Chinese adjust to meet our demands, and behave to the same standards of professionalism the rest of the world is expected to maintain. There’s a ways to go before all of that actually comes true, of course, but these expectations seem to me to be slowly growing.

    And by “in some ways for the worse”, I mean pendulums swing. It would be nice if they hung in the middle, but they don’t, and the swings have their extremes, for example in the bosses’ unduly harsh treatment of Nathan.

    My wife is a BISU graduate and doesn’t often have much positive to say about the place, but then again BISU is where I did HSK, and my experience of that department was pretty good, so I’m prepared to believe that their Chinese for foreigners department is of a higher quality than their English department.

    • Thanks for the input!

      Yeah, I’m feeling some of the same, and I thought this incident was a good little microcosm of the phenomenon.

      I think the changes happening now are exactly the same ones Japan went through at the end of the 80’s (?), and Taiwan a bit later. As a country really comes into its own, it can stop fawning on foreigners and relying on them for the sake of appearances.

      • Maxim Fridental Says: July 28, 2011 at 8:12 am

        Something similar has happened to Soviet Union, although in our case it was obviously not appearance, but a belief or expectation that westerners have some kind of sacred knowledge allowing him to have such a superiour life standard. And yes, this attitude has changed after a closer look and regaining the selfesteem.

        But yet again, the Russian society (and I suppose, also the Chinese) is very stratified. It might happen that the upper tier are dreaming of this attitude change, and have behaved accordingly on the TV show, leaving not only you, but also fellow chinese somewhat baffled.

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  3. Great interview John, I watched the Sohu clip as well. The attitude of these bosses reflects a realisation of Chinese entrepreneurs that their market is almost exclusively Chinese (most of the bosses ran websites) – having a foreign employee, especially without business experience, won’t do them much good. Foreign expats are not enough to support an online company, and I hope Chinese start-ups are moving beyond the time when they hired token white faces to parade in meetings. If a foreign applicant lacks fluent language skills (and the knowledge of Chinese consumers that comes through language/culture), then they will probably need to be providing concrete ideas, not just asking to do ‘planning’. This is already clear in how many Chinese natives are China CEOs for multinationals, replacing the non-Mandarin speaking expat.

    • Good point. I guess Nathan tried to make himself more relevant by saying that he wanted to help a company deal with foreigners, but the truth is that most of these companies deal almost exclusively with Chinese consumers and/or businesses.

      This is one of the great challenges for any foreigner looking to work in China long-term: how do I make myself more relevant?

  4. “I would suggest a media background for anyone interested in participating in 非你莫属. It is unlike shows like 非诚勿扰 that offer safe havens for foreigners wanting to get on TV.”

    Indeed.. quite the opposite, this show looks like the first few weeks of American Idol, where they show the ‘rejected’ candidates (which is fun for the audience, of course). For Chinese locals, watching a foreigner getting grilled in Mandarin and taking arrows like, “You’re not a very logical man” or “It seems you have no career path” is great fun. An actual job interview, alas, would be incredibly boring to watch on TV—that’s why shows like the Apprentice and Hell’s Kitchen are dramatized with relationships, etc.

    Bottom line, give the guy huge props for walking into the lion’s den.

  5. Longtime lurker and first time commenter here. I agree with the above commentators who noted that the main challenge, especially for young foreigners, is proving why you are relevant here in China. And I think it’s a big adjustment for foreign people who come here to find out more and more the answer is: you’re just not very relevant. It’s a big reason why I am thinking about going back to the US even though I have spent a few years studying, learning and now working here.

    Every day I run across young people looking for jobs who don’t have professional-level Mandarin (and speaking even at an advanced level in everyday situations is not the same as professional proficiency), who don’t have clear career goals, and who don’t have much special experience they can offer Chinese companies. There isn’t anything wrong with that—everyone starts their career sometime, somewhere. I got my start here, too! But I get turned off by how entitled a lot of candidates are about their “worth” here. They speak some Chinese (almost always overestimate their ability, though), they swear they’re creative and energetic and motivated (because foreigners are automatically creative, but Chinese students are all robots, right?), they “understand the market” and language and culture…and therefore that should be worth at least 15,000 RMB a month. And when the reality is that they need to start for 5,000 or 6,000 RMB a month, and work in a position with a lot of grunt work or a dismal title, then they want to hold out for something better. I’m just not sure that there is “something better” in China for these young applicants anymore.

    There will always be ways for foreigners and Chinese people to collaborate. There will always be a demand for people who understand “the other side” in business and in academia. For that reason, it’s important for students to come here and learn about Chinese language and culture. But to me, the economic reality indicates that Chinese students are getting more skilled, and Chinese industries are developing and professionalizing quickly. Just look at the MNCs here: even upper management is quickly becoming populated with mainland Chinese professionals instead of overseas hires. There is less and less need for foreigners here who can “show the ropes” to Chinese people. And that also means it’s harder for people to build a career here. So now people like Nathan will have a harder time making their case here in China.

    • As my friends in HK say, in China you get rich by being an entrepreneur, not an employee. Perhaps the notion of getting a ‘good job’ with a Chinese company is just dream. I work for a foreign company, as do many of my friends.

  6. Hi John (and Nathan if you’re reading),

    Any chance you’d be able to pass on the contact details of that 老外 headhunter in Beijing that you mentioned?

    I’m struggling with the same “relevance” question myself and wondering why I spent so much time learning Mandarin at the moment.

    In a similar vein to what Michael A. Robson said, I only earn decent money here because I work for an Australian school (mind you, I have the ability to teach something technical, not just English – the problem is how to combine my Chinese with my technical skills). A lot of my older, over-paid, non-Chinese speaking Australian colleagues who don’t really understand the job market outside of Australia say to me “why are you doing this job, with your Chinese, you could be…”. I hear this phrase a lot. But I ask you – could be doing what? Perhaps that headhunter could help me answer that question and find out out what I’m worth.


  7. Hmm hmm hmm. “Just because an applicant is a foreigner, we absolutely cannot give him extra points or take away points. He is exactly the same as our Chinese applicants.” That’s all fine and well I suppose, but are these people aware that outside of China, Chinese people are still given a LOT of slack? That goes especially for academia and universities (which is what most Chinese over here in Germany are engaged in).
    Can’t make yourself understood? Writing skills far below that of Western students? Lack of creativity and independent thinking? No problem if you’re a Chinese student. I’ve seen many a Western lecturer that positively grilled students for lack of precision and rigour, and yet listened politely to the ramblings of the Chinese student that nobody understood anyway.

    Same standards for everyone? All for it – on all sides please.

    • Problem is, I think, your example there comes from studying. Of course universities tend to cut foreign students slack; leaving aside from the ‘leave no student behind’ ethos, those students’ higher tuition fees are an essential source of revenue for the university. The equivalent situation to this one in the west would be a graduate employer employing a foreign person with less than perfect English over an identically qualified native speaker. I can’t see that happening except in really specific circumstances- i.e. when they really needed someone from that country.

  8. I have to agree with the bosses. Just speaking Chinese (and English) in China is not any advantage over Chinese job applicants. I consider myself lucky with my Computer Science background, because you can pretty much do it everywhere. So I just compete with other Chinese. You need good skills, because your Chinese competition all scored top marks in their university and are willing to work (very) hard!

  9. Tom H’s comment resonates with me: how to make yourself relevant. I think it’s the perfect draw from this episode.

    That said, it’s my impression that the antagonism of the bosses on 非你莫属 is not reserved for foreigners. I watched an episode a couple weeks ago (still prefer 非诚勿扰,我们约会吧,etc) and the bosses were really brutal to the (all) Chinese interviewees, nit-picking on little slips made by the applicant that I didn’t think were worth pursuing. Perhaps it’s on purpose, though, to see how the applicant reacts to any criticism, which could be relevant to the the job requirements.

  10. I helped judge in a speech contest at a university where I taught and the Chinese head teacher gave feedback to the students (even though she was an English teacher at the university level, her English was far less than fluent). She was super harsh on the students, picking out their flaws, even though some of the students could actually speak better than her. I think this is just how Chinese are treating their youth right now, very hard, and unforgiving at times.

    You should always cut a little slack to someone who is still learning the language; it takes many years to become fluent in Chinese. When I speak English with someone I know who is still learning, I talk in a way that will help them understand more. It’s ok to be frank with people, but also important to support them at the same time.

  11. Aside from the logic of not hiring an American due to the lack of a need for a vastly Chinese market, but whole concept of 崇洋媚外is definitely dimming down, which is good. China is gaining confidence on both the national and individual level, and people are realizing that there isn’t anything special about “foreigners”. I like to tell people about one of the most common things said to me in Taiwan is “Wow, your chinese sucks!” (it was my first year of studying). This in contrast to mainland China where people went out of their way to praise my chinese when I hadn’t yet said any.

    As americans, some of us may be sad to lose the worship of “laowai”ness, but I’d rather be treated like a person with everybody else.

  12. Damn. Made me cringe watching it- quite harsh. On a side note, I always feel the Chinese usage and sense of 逻辑 is different from that in English…which doesn’t entirely surprise me since so much of 20th century logic plays on ambiguities in the English language that I don’t think translate well.

  13. TheKippies Says: August 3, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    I feel like a main reason the bosses didn’t respect Nathan was because of his educational background. High-paying jobs in China usually require candidates with great educational background, but Nathan’s background really doesn’t differentiate him from any of the other millions of mid-level Chinese Universities graduates each year. I think most Chinese professionals would find it strange that he didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to go to school in the US, but rather chose to come to China for a degree. Many Chinese students go abroad for undergrad or masters degrees in order to increase their competitiveness in the China market because the quality of education abroad is still considered better than the quality of education in China.

    Although in an ideal world companies will look at an individual’s talents and capabilities when hiring applicants, in reality an applicant’s educational background is a big initial filter that many companies in China use – especially because there are simply too many applicants with top-tier educational backgrounds already vying for jobs.

    • The Shameless Cretin Says: August 5, 2011 at 2:01 am

      I agree with TheKippies that his educational background would appear suspect to Chinese or even Western employers (although kudos to him for soliciting offers). America is widely known to have the best higher education system in the world and China, well, not so much. The Chinese tend to look to evaluations like the Shanghai Jiaotong index where the best Chinese universities do not appear in the top 150 (Peking U and Tsinghua fall in the 151-200 range; BISU doesn’t appear in the top 500) while something like 2/3 of the top 100 are American universities.

      I think the first question they would ask, even if to themselves, is why an American would study at a middling Chinese university rather than taking advantage of an American university. There are a lot of Americans and Chinese in China with Ivy League degrees now, never mind the high-quality state research universities (Big Ten, Pac 10, etc.) and elite liberal arts colleges. In fact, I have to wonder what value this degree will hold should he ever return to the US.

      He deserves a lot of credit for going into the Lion’s Den, however, and frankly that performance — the act of doing this and holding up rather well I think — would carry more weight with me.

      Another thing I’ve noticed is a strong sense of Chinese triumphalism following the 2008 economic crisis. I’ve noticed Chinese attitudes toward the West and especially the US change almost overnight. This change should not to be underestimated. There’s been a perceptual shock.

  14. John: Quality, thanks. I need to read through the Q&A after laying in the sun for a bit, it’s Saturday and my day off. Intriguing nonetheless, I watched Nathan’s video clip with the link you provider.

  15. Honestly, after doing as many interviews as I have of both foreign and Chinese applicants over the last few years, I agree with the bosses. I’ve interviewed dozens of foreigners for technical positions who have little experience, no portfolio, and want 5-6x what an equivalent Chinese programmer asks for. It’s really hard to justify. I know that the salaries available as a “white face in a classroom” distort the market, but that doesn’t matter to a hiring company for anything other than teaching/training.

  16. Mark Houston Says: August 7, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    Hi John. It’s been a while since I visited your blog, but I thought you would like to see this link –

  17. […] There has been an article floating around the business community about an American who was a contestant on a Chinese game show about getting a job.  It was written by John Pasden of Sinosplice and basically it did not go well.  You can read the full article here. […]

  18. It seems like the general consensus here is that if you are a foreigner with no real hard skills in China, then knowing Chinese is not good enough to land you a 20+k/month job (besides English teaching).

    I currently live in Beijing, and many of my friends (in their mid to late 20s with no “hard skills”) have jobs that pay way over 20+k/month. Some of these people, including myself, are also working for Chinese companies. And some of these people can’t even speak Chinese very well at all!

    What I do notice is that all of these people are great at networking, either through the expat or Chinese community in Beijing, from back home, or through their family connections. They are all very good in social situations and can reach out to a lot of people if they are seeking jobs/opportunities for themselves or their employers. Many of them have (or will) pursue entrepreneurial activities. I also know many Chinese that make this sort of money, at both foreign and local companies. And a lot of these Chinese can’t speak English well at all.

    In general, a lot of the companies on the TV show (mostly IT type Chinese SMEs) will only give good wages for people at the top (like Mark the ex-Google CTO). The bottom end they will pay next to nothing, and employees will have to ‘jump-ship’ for pay increases. With a few exceptions like Baidu, Sina, Alibaba etc., most young local Chinese people who are capable enough would much rather work at a foreign firm, where they will have more opportunity for long term career and salary advancement. Then maybe they could switch to one of these companies to a more senior role (or start their own company). At end of the segment, one boss was upset that Sean said that his company was not “international” enough. He said that he had a Harvard degree, and his CTO used to work at Google. This may be true, but I am guessing that the company operates in a very ‘local’ manner, at least in comparison to a company like Google.

    Basically, I guess my point is that in China (or anywhere), is that if you lack so-called “hard skills”, then in order to succeed and get the big bucks, you have to rely on a strong network. You have to be able to take this network and turn it into financial returns for your prospective company in order to justify a high wage. It doesn’t matter if you are Caucasian or Asian, able to speak English/Chinese (translators are cheap) – it matters what results you can deliver. There are way too many variables to generalize here.

  19. I am the said participant. I am 25, I suppose because I didn’t talk about my past work experience most people assume that I don’t have any. Surprisingly, I do. I guess it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. Perhaps the Chinese bosses were miffed about the fact foreigners make more money in China for seemingly no reason. I’ll take them in a fight like Chuck Norris versus a cripple any day of the week!

    • As far as I can tell, this might be the first comment about Chuck Norris on your website…

      You’re welcome!

  20. Ferdinand Says: August 20, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    Guys, do you know any way of accessing Sohu from a foreign country at a decent speed? I’m trying to access the site from Germany and it’s incredibly slow. The same is true for other Chinese video sites such as Tudou, Youku,…

    Any workarounds (How to get a Chinese IP?) are welcome!

  21. Jesse Malone Says: August 24, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    Nathan deserved his criticism. He should have treated this as a job interview, rather than a chance to show off his (rather unimpressive) Chinese language skills. For example, instead of interrupting the boss that corrected Nathan by using 市场部们 rather than 宣传部门, Nathan should have acted appreciative — this would’ve demonstrated that Nathan is coachable and eager to learn, while not defensive. There’s nothing Nathan could have done about his lack of relevant job experience, but, at the very least, he should have have communicated, at all times throughout the interview, professionalism and maturity. He failed to do either.

  22. Are we really that surprised about the dodginess of this whole affair? It’s a reality TV show, for goodness sake. Chinese, American, or what ever else, they’re cold exercises in squeezing the humility out of vulnerable people.

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