My name is Andrew Owen and I am from the UK. I am currently working part-time as Marketing Director for Swiss start-up A La Carte Maps GmbH.
My wife has spent most of her working life with just one company (Avon Cosmetics) and she is the reason we came to Shanghai back in October 2006. She is part of the AP Regional marketing team which means she does a lot of travel in the region, especially as half her team are based in the Philippines.
Even though I was working part-time in the UK, it was always my intention to continue working in China to keep the “little grey cells” working and to avoid a potentially large gap on the CV.
After a couple of months of finding my bearings, attending chamber events and the obligatory mandarin studies I spotted a job with the British International School which is where my two daughters go to. I have post graduate marketing qualifications but I didn’t have any prior experience in the industry. I had some B2C experience from the UK and being a parent counted for something. I loved the job at the school and was sad to leave but alas the goal posts moved and they wanted me to work in Beijing and that was a non-starter.
I subsequently worked for 6 months in specialist recruitment providing interim managers for projects in China and another 6 months working for an SME research company (competitive intelligence), both in a business development and marketing role. Then the financial crisis hit and companies stopped spending money on research etc - so that was a dead end. I would add that I was lucky with both roles as they allowed me to work a lot of time from home or with flexible hours.
My current role is not well paid but is very varied and interesting and most importantly I can decide when and how long I work - so long as I do 90 hours per month. I am heavily involved with PR for the company and in finding retail and distribution partners. Here in China I have set-up supply contracts with retailers, hotels and even the Community Center Shanghai. I have also introduced the company to distributors in Asia Pacific and major retailers in the USA. I am also a seller of product in my own right and I am a vendor a various expat and school related events.
In recent months I have gone back to studying Chinese but this time through a recommendation rather than the usual corporate contracts. This time round I am learning characters and I have to say I am really enjoying it despite the homework.
Not knowing how long we will be here or where we will be next but it is infinitely better than having stayed in the UK. The uncertainty can also be a problem when trying secure really good jobs here in China which I have personally experienced.
Firstly I would say be flexible and be prepared to use your skills and experience in areas you might not have previously considered - there are jobs out there you just have to look hard and wide.
Secondly, I would have to say keep up with the mandarin studies beyond the survival phase and if possible take a stab at learning characters – the whole environment suddenly becomes less alien when you can read some of what is around you everyday.
And thirdly, I think it is important to keep topping up your transferable skills – like keeping your IT skills up to date, which is something that has been very useful so that I can assist the kids