Thursday, April 23, 2009

Beyond teaching III: Reasons to employ a foreigner

My first job was doing the quality assurance, but that had again been special as they wanted a foreigner. Once I finished there I decided to actively seek jobs in local companies where it wasn't specified a foreigner was needed.

As a foreigner my role was set out clearly: international sales or marketing - I spoke pretty good Chinese but read badly and couldn't write, nobody was going to give me a job selling insurance to locals. And that was only half the story: even if i could do the above perfectly i would be cancelled out for cultural reasons: they would assume I couldn't raise my glass at the right time; tell them to buy it because i was their friend and i would owe them a favor; call them 'big brother' all day and indulge in the necessary ultra-polite oneupmanship; discuss why it was a good time to buy it because the Chinese calendar and a bunch of fortune tellers said so, etc, etc. And i agreed with this: I didn't know how to discuss their subjects as well as them and i had no interest in learning.

I would be applying to hi-tech companies only. It was the area of the economy that was growing fastest, and, if any industry in Taiwan could be called glamorous this was the nearest.

Finally, I wouldn't be applying to Acer, Asus or BenQ or any other large famous Taiwanese company - If you wanted to work in international sales for them the competition was huge with Taiwanese going to study in America for 10 years just to get the chance to work for peanuts for 70 hours a week; either that or, if they needed a foreigner they would go direct to America and recruit one.

Acer did need foreigners in Taiwan, but it was very clear in the job ad: technical writer or copywriter and there wasn't the chance to switch fields.

I would be applying to some small or medium sized company - who were desperate, stupid or smart enough to give me a shot.

Still it wasn't easy. Even though they needed an international sales manager they had no idea a foreigner would apply - they were so surprised by it that in 90% of the cases they simply rejected you. When you asked them why, they said, because they didn't employ foreigners. Remember there was no equal opportunities commission in Taiwan.

For the ones who invited you for interview a pattern emerged.

Scenario A

The actual boss of the company gives you the first interview. This is not a good sign.

"So how do you know about my company?" said boss. "This is so lucky."

You have an advert in the newspaper, I felt like replying, but i would be polite."I have always wanted to work in software and you are one of the best in graphics."

"Wow, this is really interesting," he would say. "So you learnt about me in England."

"Yes," I would reply.

"So lets go out for lunch," he would say.

We would go to lunch and he would phone up his friends and they would arrive, buy me a drink, toast me and then leave. As each one entered he would say to them, hey, they know about my company overseas.

During lunch you would be polite but get more and more stressed there wasn't an interview taking place, desperately trying to steer the conversation back to the interview.

At the end you would ask him if you had a job and he would say, "Yes, we can be friends. Come round to meet my family later."

Scenario 2

You spent three hours at the company telling each of the five people who interviewed you how you had increased profitability and led teams for a numerous large firms back in the UK, then they would say: “I think you will be good. You are native speaker and we have a lot of manuals and some press releases to do.”

“I am sorry, I am looking for a marketing position, not copy editor. As i said I have experience and qualifications for...” I would say desperately trying to keep my patience after having stated it on my resume, and then spelled it out over the phone: I wasn’t looking to be a technical writer. After a while I thought perhaps Taiwanese were all trained lawyers existing on the technicality – say you don’t want to a copy editor and they will assume that doesn’t include technical writing, and vice-versa.

The interviewer would say: “Well marketing is very difficult to get into in Taiwan. Your Chinese has to be exceptional.”

And i would reply: "Hence i said to do North American and European Sales...Well, thanks for interview. Sorry, but this is the field I want to enter.”

As i left they would stare at me incredulously as if to say, I know your resume was full of bullshit why don't you want the technical writing job.
Scenario C

You always have to tell them the following:

“Why do you want to work in Taiwan?”

“My girlfriend is Taiwanese and she wants to live here. She gave me a choice and now I like the place.” It had taken a while to think of this excuse – Taiwanese bosses were very aware that their companies did not have very good reputations and paid low wages so were pleasantly surprised and suspicious that you would want to work for them. The truth: “I have fucked around for the last few years so now I need some work experience. Or, I am a loser who can’t get a job in my own country” – had to be avoided as did overdoing promoting your western experience leading them to believe you would leave quickly.

“Anyway, this is a very good company! You know how high the taxes are in England?”I added.

“Do you how to deal with Taiwanese people?”

“I know you have to be very polite with Taiwanese, not so direct, but I don’t think it is so a big difference. You are smart people, reasonable, open-minded and more modern than you think.” The guy gave me a look that oscillated between you are a real good bullshitter or you are na├»ve as hell. I could keep a straight face by keeping the concept of relativity in mind: I had spent time in India and China.

Scenario D

Again after talking to me for a long time:“You are good but you do not have a technical background.” This stumbling block was the strangest – I was applying to do marketing and sales, I had a business degree, but I wasn’t suitable because I didn’t study electrical engineering.

Scenario E

Once you had been through 3 or 4 hours of interviews - and finally convinced them to give you a job, the next problem started.

“Can you work in Taiwan?” they asked.

“You will have to apply for a work visa for me - but it is easy, i will tell you how to do it.” Some personnel departments came to the decision this was too difficult, and, even after I had got a copy of the regulations, and showed them how to fill them in completely, they didn’t want to go through the process, as if dealing with the Economics Department was like opening a portal to hell.

After a week or so I would then contact the boss who interviewed me, and we would play conversation ping-pong for half an hour:

“Personnel says they have to apply the special visa for you.”

“Yes, they do, but it is easy. I have already told them how to do it.”

Boss calls personnel and calls back Josh: “Personnel says you don’t have Taiwan identity card. You are not married?”

“No, but you can get a visa for me. They just don’t want to do it.”

Boss to personnel: “He says you can apply for him – he gave you the paperwork.”

Personnel: “He gave us some paperwork, but we don’t know what to do with it.”

Josh to Boss: "I told them what to do with it. I can explain again."

Boss to Josh: “I’m sorry.” He sensed he was hearing bullshit but decided he didn’t have the time or energy to pursue things himself.

Short interruption: Yes, there was another pattern above: they always still invited you for interview and waited till the end to address issues you raised in the first five minutes. I later asked the wife why - and she replied, They are giving you face as you have already come. To which i would reply, I don't have a face problem. Just tell me direct and let me go home and lie on my bed.

Anyway, a couple of months later i had a job.

Unfortunately, i found another foreigner scenario a little too late.

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