I just received an Email from Abdul, an American computer science student. Thanks for your questions, and I think the answers might help anyone, so I’ll answer them on my blog. Questions in bold.
1. I noticed that a great deal of Chinese internships are geared towards recent graduates. What year/grade were you when you had your internship in China? I’m currently a 2nd year student, and it’s not very uncommon to find an internship in the US at this stage. But is it the same for China?
At the point of my internship I had 5 semesters of study behind me, but I didn’t have my Bachelor degree at that time. In Germany an internship before graduation is mandatory for any student. My Chinese friend from Shanghai who studied in Shanghai also did an internship before her graduation. This seems to be common practice all around the world and employers know that.
When you look for internships, you should select those that require a programming language you already know. In my case I knew Java and a little bit of php. So I only applied to offers where Java or php was required. My preference was Java, php was more of a backup choice. If they request knowledge of a specific framework, then don’t take that request to serious. If you happen to know the framework in question more power to you! But if you don’t apply anyways. Tell them you know the programming language well, but you need a little bit of training for that specific framework. I got accepted for a internship with a focus on BlackBerry, but I didn’t know anything about the BlackBerry API before.
2. Do you feel that being a foreigner is an advantage or disadvantage with respect to searching for an IT internship? Surely you don’t need English at a native level to function well in the IT industry, so would they rather hire a Chinese rather than a foreigner?
The question here is, what can you bring to the table a Chinese person can’t? And there are a number of qualities I can think of.
Yes, Chinese people learn English, and many of the young people can speak some degree of English. But the number of people with good English is very low. And those who can speak English well, they mostly study English and have little IT skills. If you program some software that will be sold in the US, then it’s people like you who do the user interface and the user manual. Possibly you will be responsible for talking to customers from outside China by Email and Skype.
Also keep in mind, there a lot of Westerners in China doing their own startup. And they still like to hire Westerners because they want people who think like them.
3. For the internships that you applied to, did you have to apply in Chinese at any point, and write a Chinese resume and what not? If so, I probably need to work on that. Soon.
Generally you can assume that a job offer written in English is offering a job position where English is used. In fact an IT student from the Western world most probably can’t speak much Chinese and employers know that. In my case I didn’t need Chinese for the job at all, however it was really useful to get everyday communication done efficiently. This was particularly helpful to tell the taxi driver where I want to go, to buy things at the market or when ordering a meal in the restaurant. Also, it helped a lot when talking to Chinese people in the bar at the evening.
4. How qualified were you at the time that you applied? Were you a Microsoft/Google shoe-in with a shining resume who decided to take it to China, and no company in their right mind could deny you? Or were you mostly a normal student who would’ve also had to search for a while for an internship in your own country? And with that in perspective, how many applications did it take for you to land your internship personally?
I think I was a pretty average student. I do not run any startups in my spare time and the average mark was a B, a few A and a few C mixed in. I send all my applications to companies in China. I didn’t even try to find any internship in my home country, because at that time I was learning Chinese for 2 years already and I thought of it as a great opportunity to combine an IT internship with language learning at the weekend.
I took a lot of time selecting the best internship offers. Here is an outline of what I did:
- Searched job and internship websites for internships in China, where there was a focus on either Java (first choice) or php (my second choice). Also searched for companies in China offering IT services and then checked their job offer page.
- Removed all offers, where there was something fishy. For example the offering company’s website looked like made by the boss’ son. Or no contact person named. Or the contact person uses a hotmail email address.
- Removed all offers, where to many additional skills were required.
- Removed all offers, where there was no compensation or very little compensation offered. The rationale behind this: If they don’t pay you, you might end up as the person making coffee, because your presence doesn’t cost them anything. I know this is hard today, more applicants than job offers and therefore a sellers market.
- After that process 15 offers were left. Sent 10 job applications to the best offers. Got 4 positive replies back. Accepted the best one of those.
I put a lot of effort into the search. I think I spend 3 or 4 days from morning until evening just collecting internship offers and I ended up with 100 or so. After that I removed a lot of them and applied with 10 companies.
Having learned 2 years of Chinese at that point was to some degree helpful, but I met a number of Westerners doing an internship who had as little as 1 semester or no Chinese learning at all under their belt.
5. From what I’ve heard, China is a “here and now” kind of place, but as a foreign student from the US, where we start applying for internships starting from the fall (many deadlines are in November), this can be a huge conflict. Is it possible to get an internship reasonably ahead of time, before I would have to commit to an internship I found here? Or would you have to risk it all and wait until the end of spring/beginning of summer to get an internship, and hope for the best?
I applied in October 2008 and started my work in March 2009. Turn around time on my internship applications was 2 weeks on average. My university insisted on having my application process done at least 1 semester ahead of time, but I just ignored that.
I’m sure you can find an internship in China with a little bit of effort. You can also ask your professors, if they have connections to a university in China. Also consider Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Go through the usual job websites, but also use google and hunt for companies directly. Get started with keywords like: internship my-preferred-programming-language some-city. I have compiled a list of job websites: Chinese job websites. Despite a little outdated it should be helpful.