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After understanding the situations foreigners would meet when working or seeking jobs in Taiwan, the author provides some observations and suggestions for foreign talents.
As with most complex problems, there are many things to consider when looking for answers. On a macro level, there are people and organizations slowly improving the situation for foreign professionals in Taiwan. Groups like All Hands Taiwan, the various Chambers of Commerce, Taipei City Mayor’s Office, and Crossroads are pulling things in a positive direction. The amount of lobbying that takes place in Taiwan on behalf of the foreign community is impressive. The situation is improving slowly thanks to these types of influencers and organizations. There is also the factor of learning from successful examples. If a company hires a foreigner and they perform well, they are more likely to hire other foreigners in an attempt to replicate the success. This growth is hopefully exponential. Performing well in a management job here helps all of your fellow foreigners in the long run.
On an individual basis, there are many things you can do to improve your chances of getting a good job and building a successful career. Learning Chinese is probably a good idea in general for improving employability and quality of life. Networking is also a very good idea; knowing the right people can certainly open doors and guanxi remains an important force in the professional world. Studying something new and adding qualifications to your resume doesn’t hurt; things like coding courses, Google Analytics certificates or even a full MBA. If your resume is lacking in relevant work experience for the career you want, then adding anything to it will do you favors. Doing an internship or part-time project in your relevant field could make a world of difference. If you are a writer or artist, then focus on building a portfolio.
Acting and dressing professionally would also be advisable. If your haircut, jewelry and general attire aren’t super appropriate for a professional setting, then you are only making things difficult for yourself. Cut off those festival bracelets, take out the earring and buy a nice suit (these are actually all real examples from my past).
Of course, none of the suggestions above are unique to the situation in Taiwan – the same advice would be relevant to any job seeker. So let’s get a bit more specific: what are the particular things that make you more employable in Taiwan? I’ll share a story from an American Marketing Director friend of mine who managed a team of Taiwanese and a team of foreigners in her company. She told me that decisions were made at the management level and then she would delegate roles for her two teams. The Taiwanese team would listen, write notes and then get on with it. The foreign team would listen, give their opinion and then argue about the strategy chosen by the higher-ups. My friend found this extremely frustrating and became reluctant to hire any foreigners who seemed to be too opinionated and individualistic.
The relevance of this story is that you shouldn’t expect to change Taiwanese working culture. If your behavior and attitude are too alien for the local Taiwanese colleagues to deal with, you won’t last long in a company here and certainly won’t be getting promoted any time soon. The best examples of successful foreign professionals I’ve seen are the people who adapt and understand the local culture. More specifically, this means understanding how to communicate a disagreement and how to speak with a Taiwanese boss. The subtleties are interesting and varied but ultimately you want to be considered an insider without losing the advantages of the outsider.
Ultimately, the best way to approach looking for a job is using a combination of perseverance and creativity. I’ve covered the reasons why companies don’t often hire foreign talent, now it is your job to persuade someone why they should. Perseverance is paramount because often you’ll need to apply for lots of jobs, interview many times and work hard to improve your professional profile. Enduring failure and rejection will no doubt be a challenging and frustrating part of your job search. If you can overcome the defeatism that comes with rejection, you can slowly climb towards your goal and learn something from every setback.
Creativity in a job search refers to the ability of a person to try every option and think outside the box. For example, have you thoroughly covered all of these options:
1) Applied for jobs on LinkedIn and 104.com.tw
2) Used your current network to its fullest
3) Taken the time to build a new network of contacts through LinkedIn and events
4) Spent the time to craft an attractive resume and LinkedIn profile
5) Researched which companies hire foreigners
The fifth point on the list above is usually the advice I give my foreign connections that they hadn’t previously thought of. If you’re going to look for opportunities in Taiwan, it makes sense to look for companies with a history of hiring foreign professionals. You can use LinkedIn and Google to do some market research; which companies currently employ foreigners and in what capacities? It makes sense that these firms will be easier to persuade to hire you. I previously worked for a large business in China where I was the first foreign hire. It was great fun, but it was a new experience for everyone involved and as a result lacked structure.
Another angle might be to look into the start-up market. If you speak to experts within the start-up community here in Taipei, they will share the same prognosis of the market: lots of great ideas but a significant lack of business acumen, sales, and marketing ability. If this sounds like a great opportunity for you personally, then you are starting to get the picture. Look for opportunities everywhere, around every corner. For a confident but inexperienced foreigner, a partnership with a start-up venture might be the right move. The start-up can use your natural sales acumen and creativity and you can have the advantage of being given a chance to shine. These kinds of jobs will probably not pay well initially, but your priority should be getting a foot in the door and earning relevant experience.
If you are already on the career ladder in Taiwan and have more than a couple of years’ experience already, then perhaps I haven’t tackled your circumstances adequately enough. For this group of people, the real question is how do you build a solid and improving career here over several years? I’m actually going to tackle this question in more detail in a future article, so I won’t go into too much depth here. However, I’d still refer back to a previous point regarding compromising with the Taiwanese working culture. Over years this only becomes more relevant. Being promoted and given more responsibility within a company also means an increased need to communicate amicably within a hierarchy. The better you are at communicating with your boss, colleagues and subordinates, the higher you will climb in the business.
If you work for a company where the Taiwanese staff vastly outnumber the foreign staff, cooperating well with your local colleagues and having them see you as an asset to the company can be the most obvious key to achievement. If you can find ways to exploit your differences and strengths, it will most likely be recognized internally. Find yourself allies within the business to help you with the harder tasks and work hard to prove your worth.
It is quite clear that the current labor market for foreigners is a bit intimidating, which brings me to an important question: is the market changing for the better? If I had to speculate, I’d say the situation is improving for white-collar foreign labor. I personally would love to see more diversity in companies here. I’m a big believer in the advantages of a mixed workforce, hiring a variety of personalities and skills allows a company to utilize different employees for different needs. Having a charming and outgoing Sales Manager might be to your advantage while having your Finance and IT Heads to be more technically astute would make more sense. I’d extend this to foreign talent. For example, having a marketing team comprised of ten locals and one foreigner would allow a company to get a non-Taiwanese perspective on the ideas and strategies being discussed. A diverse workforce improves a business.
The government is also attempting to attract foreign talent to the island. There is a labor shortage in a number of technical professions and the birth rate in Taiwan is amongst the lowest in the world. Having said that, intentions don’t always translate into measurable results and improvements could definitely be made. Recent measures such as the introduction of the Gold Card program, setting up Contact Taiwan, and a general willingness by the government to engage in discussion with the influential individuals within the foreign business community. Some rumors working visa stipulations will be lowered by the end of 2020. The restrictions around minimum wage, two years of experience, and holding a bachelor’s degree are all being considered and reviewed.
Ultimately, any change will be slow and gradual. Successful examples of foreigners working here will lead to more companies taking a chance on hiring foreign talent. The best changes I’ve witnessed recently have been the result of efforts by a few close friends of mine. Daniel Miller runs a company called Pagoda Projects that partners with Universities from the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in placing interns into companies in Taiwan. I think this is brilliant. Before this kind of semi-governmental project came into Taiwan, there were very few examples of foreigners being given a chance in entry-level roles. I can guarantee that companies who hire strong-performing interns will be more likely to start increasing their openness to hiring foreign talent. Crucially, it is a much less risky investment for the Taiwanese business to hire an intern for six months. Interns are a company’s gateway drug into the world of office place diversity.
The next positive organization I’d like to mention by name is All Hands Taiwan. Before All Hands Taiwan came into being, you could feel the palpable frustration and anger emanating from the online job boards and discussion groups. On the Facebook group, “Non-Teaching Jobs in Taiwan” the comments under job postings were frequently confrontational and aggressive. The admins of the group work incredibly hard with their volunteered time and it was often repaid with ingratitude. I watched several comment threads get completely out of control. All Hands Taiwan aims to offer an alternative to this negativity, creating a community of events and discussions centered around collecting practical and actionable advice from people who know what they’re talking about. This has allowed the foreign community to grow and learn from each other’s experiences. I have high hopes for these kinds of efforts and will continue to do anything I can to support people like John Murn, who are combining good intentions with good ideas.
The decision about whether to stay in Taiwan or move home is one that many people agonize over. Once you consider that you might not be able to have a successful career here, it makes sense to weigh your options. For some professionals, moving to Shanghai, Singapore, Bangkok or back home might be the best play. The market in Taiwan for foreigners is worse than in many major international cities. The decision will have to be considered alongside many factors and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Moving back to your native country might be the best option if you wish to have an easier career ladder. It makes sense that ambitious professionals are more likely to hit their full potential in their home market. However, if you’ve already lived overseas for many years, going back home and attempting to start in a new market might be comparably frustrating. I would recommend everyone to analyze their situation and consider all factors. I give individualized advice about this kind of decision on a regular basis if you want to contact me on LinkedIn.
Taiwan is a hidden gem in Asia: It’s a beautiful, safe and welcoming country to live in, and surveyed expats report being incredibly satisfied with their quality of life. However, for those foreigners who wish to start and grow a successful career here, it can be quite challenging. There are approaches you can take to make the roadblocks easier to bypass, and the market is potentially changing for the better and becoming more open. However, this progress will probably be slow. The path you choose and the decisions you make about your career will ultimately need to be determined by your own individual situation. Maybe with some tips from a headhunter ;)
©2022 Business Next Media Corp. All Rights Reserved. No.102, Guangfu S. Rd., Da'an Dist., Taipei City 106, Taiwan