The Fast East is booming now, and if you’re lucky enough to be able to travel and get an internship in China, you’ll need to know a few things before starting in the professional world! One of the main things to keep in mind is to be aware of cultural differences, especially if you come from a place with different ideals. Here are some helpful tips – both specific and general – to get you acquainted with China’s business culture in no time as an intern in China.
As you would in most countries, when you meet someone it’s customary to give out a handshake. While this is practiced in China, there are slight differences to the way you might go about it. First, contrary to the “western” handshake, it’s not about asserting your dominance via “the bone crusher.” Rather, the Chinese usually keep their handshakes light and friendly. In addition, you should also keep in mind that the Chinese respect those who are polite and modest. A certain degree of self-deprecation is customary and even expected in China.
Always show respect to your elders and those in high rankings, as hierarchy is a basic pillar of Chinese custom. If you continue to be polite, patient, calm, and controlled in all situations, your coworkers and boss are bound to notice your skillfulness – and from there, you can create long-lasting professional relationships – a key for becoming successful as an intern in China.
Also, before you go off to China and begin introducing yourself, ask a Chinese friend or a local to help you think of a Chinese name – preferably one with meaning behind it. This way, it will help you become more acquainted with your coworkers.
In terms of what to wear during your internship in China, keep your clothes a bit more on the conservative side. Depending on your China internship, you could go more casual or more professional. Either way, what you wear probably won’t matter too much, as long as it’s within reason.
Business Cards – Yes, there’s an entire section here on business cards:
A business card isn’t just a piece of cardstock with a logo and name on it – at least not in China. In this country, the business card is treated with respect, always face up, and treated like a delicate relic. When you either give or receive one, remember to use both hands, and under no circumstances should you slap it in your back pocket or immediately slip in into your folder. And definitely no writing on it! Also, when you’re distributing your business cards to a bunch of people, make sure to present your card first to the most respected and highest ranked person in the room. All participants at the Absolute Internship program are provided with a set of professional business cards during the Orientation.
In some cultures, it’s okay, even expected, to be late to meetings. However, in China, it’s better to be punctual. Being an up-and-coming superpower, there is definitely minimal messing around when it comes to work. With this in mind, make sure you’re always on time going into meetings, getting into the office, and getting your work done on time. If there are any bumps in the road that might prevent you from delivering, just give your boss a quick call in advance – it goes a long way.
Also, in terms of work culture, the Chinese definitely buy into working overtime. Usually the hours for working are 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. However, it’s not uncommon to see your Chinese coworkers work until 7:00 or even 8:00! There’s this tacit understanding that you’ll give your job your all, which brings us to the next point.
Face is extremely important to the Chinese – they do everything in their power to come across as respectable, ideal human beings. For example, rather than saying, “no,” they may respond with, “I’ll see what I can do.” So naturally, you might need to get used to deciphering hidden messages in body language, tone of voice, and posture.
Furthermore, during your time in China, you may want to exercise the ability to air on the more soft-spoken side of things. To locals, being calm and soft-spoken is more a sign of strength than trying to dominate the conversation with volume. Also, if you pause to think before you speak, they will see this as a sign of wisdom. When one answers a question hastily, it tends to be construed as thoughtless and rude. Sounds confusing? No need to worry. Communication and China Internship Business Etiquette is covered during your Absolute Internship Orientation.
In China it is common to give gifts to people, but there are certain rules you should follow before picking out which gift you might want to get your boss or coworker.
Your gift shouldn’t be too expensive – just buy your boss or friends something nice and simple to remember you by; this way, it doesn’t create this idea that they may owe you something big in the future. Normally, though, small gifts are reciprocated.
For an ethnic Chinese person, never wrap the gift in white, black, or blue, as these are mourning colors (you should still wrap the gift, though!), and it’s better to give sets in even numbers (except for 4, as it rhymes with death). Also, refrain from giving anything having to do with time (like a clock or a watch), because it goes along with the theme of death. Oh, and ditch anything that’s sharp or has a blade while you’re at it!
Last note: give your gift to the receiver at the end of the meeting, and with two hands extended towards them. This is considered the most respectful behavior.