Students spilled out into the halls of the Office of Career Services building to listen to panelists answer questions about the culture and work environment in China—which some described as competitive and reliant on networking.
At the OCS-hosted discussion Friday afternoon, representatives from McKinsey & Company, Johnson & Johnson, D.E. Shaw Group, and HSBC talked about their experiences working in China.
“Corporate China is much more cut-throat,” said Mike Chan, a Harvard Business School student who described his experiences with the corporate culture in China as more political than in the United States.
While the panel discussion was geared towards corporate occupations, many panelists said their advice was applicable to other fields in China.
Panelists emphasized the importance of developing interpersonal relationships with co-workers while developing a career in China, which they said can be especially challenging for students who are not from China and who have not immersed themselves in the culture.
“Connections and who you know is how the work gets done, so it’s much more difficult for a foreigner to break in,” said Lusi Fang, who is a student at the Harvard Kennedy School and has worked at HSBC in China.
Adding to the difficulties for foreigners to break into Chinese firms, home-grown Chinese university graduates continue to flow into the labor force.
“Yet, the Chinese educational system still has troubles. It doesn’t produce the type of creativity and innovation
that Western universities are still generating,” said Jevan Soo, a student at the Kennedy School and at Harvard Business School who has worked at McKinsey & Company.
Students working in China will also have a chance to witness a quickly changing economy, panelists said.
“Any given year you choose to go, it will be very interesting. This island near Shanghai was inhabited by goats,” Suri said. “Six months later, they had 22,000 workers building large dry docks on that same island.”
Despite the challenges that foreigners face in China, the panelists said success was possible as long as one put in the work. They also said that although some people initially get paid at a lower rate than they would in the United States, the hands-on experiences that one gets in China are often more engaging than those in the U.S.
Soo encouraged students at Harvard to make use of all the resources that are offered, such as fellowships and traveling grants for research in China. Panelists added that students and graduates should also take advantage of the Harvard Club and its network, especially the small Harvard community in China.
Attendee Xiaojing Yang ’14 said that the panel “relieves some fears of trying to work in China. And seeing people that didn’t have a strong background in China was comforting.”