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Career Choices For Expats In Hong Kong: How To Get Back To Work

family life career choices expats hk
Family LifePost Category - Family LifeFamily Life - Post Category - Career & MoneyCareer & Money

There’s a job out there for everyone – even those seemingly “imperfect” employees.

Don’t get me wrong. When I say that you might be an imperfect job-seeker, it’s not a reflection of you, your expertise or your personality. It’s just a statement on the hiring process in Hong Kong. If you’re looking to get back to work, or perhaps fancy a change, we take a look through your career choices, options and some challenges you might face.

Read more: What To Know About Getting Back To Work After Having Kids

family life career choices expats hong kong challenges

So, what do most hiring managers, recruiters and head-hunters in Hong Kong look for when searching for their perfect candidate?

  • Demonstrable role experience (ideally someone who has recently left the exact role they are recruiting for).
  • Similarly, demonstrable sector and industry experience (someone who has always worked in the exact sector and industry they are recruiting for).
  • Relevant qualifications (not skills acquired in different situations or experiences that could be transferable to the job being advertised).
  • Willingness to work full-time from their office or job site (no part-timers and/or people looking for flexibility).
  • Willingness to work overtime (again, no part-timers).
  • Business fluency in written and spoken Cantonese, Mandarin and English (depending on the role you’re applying for).

The Challenges

We all know that skills and expertise can be acquired anywhere and are easily transferable. However, recruiters rarely see it that way and most job seekers rarely land new roles through traditional and formal recruitment channels. This is partly because they can sometimes be perceived as “risky” placements. So, job-seekers must have the ability to communicate that they are right for a job – but what you say in a meeting may be quite different from what’s on your CV. This is because even before you get to the interview stage, you need to convince an AI-powered recruitment system. These are designed to filter out anybody who does not meet all the selection criteria, in other words, someone who doesn’t tick all the boxes. So where does that leave you?

As a possible non-Cantonese or Mandarin speaker, a career-changer, someone who has had a career break and who may also have time commitments outside of work, you are unlikely to tick all (if any) of these boxes. However, from the dozens of stories I have heard from people like you over the past two years, I know that despite how it might sometimes feel, you do have job options. By having self-awareness (knowing what sets you apart from the rest), being open-minded (to try new things), persistent (to carry on despite setbacks) and leveraging the power of your networks, you too can successfully enter, or re-enter, careers that you enjoy.

Read more: Interview Tips: How To Land Your Dream Job

family life career choices expats hk advice

Option 1: Freelance and remote working

Technological advances have opened possibilities for people with different skills to deploy them remotely as freelancers, part-timers and/or on flexible contracts. One Hong Kong-based company that recognises the need of both job seekers and companies for these kinds of working arrangements is Bauhinia Solutions Limited. This boutique firm offers virtual assistance to “solopreneurs” and small companies by supporting clients in digital marketing, executive assistance, web design, book-keeping and client relationship management.

Similarly, sites like Fiverr, Freelancing and Upwork connect freelancers with short to long-term projects in areas such as admin, digital marketing, customer service, engineering, IT, legal, sales, translation and writing. As most of the skills required can be deployed remotely, freelancers can build a truly global client base.

Option 2: Regular jobs

If you are looking for face-to-face interactions and a reliable income stream, working remotely and freelancing may not be right for you. These are some options for you to consider if you are looking for a regular job in Hong Kong:

  • Teaching
  • Leveraging your professional network
  • Use connections from your home country
  • Corporate back-to-work programmes
  • Upskilling yourself

Let’s take a closer look at these options:

family life career choices expats hk teaching


A popular option available to non-Cantonese or Mandarin speakers – and especially native English speakers – is to become a teacher or a personal tutor. A glance at the openings posted on sites, such as Indeed, CPJobs, Jobsdb and GeoExpat, shows just how many opportunities are available in these professions. Once they have acquired the right teaching qualifications, many find this option attractive as it can offer the possibility to work part-time and yet provides a regular income.

Leveraging your network

If you do not have certain qualifications and are not able to retrain to acquire them, even as a non-Chinese speaker, you may still be able to get a job in a wide range of other industries. It does take much longer though and requires perseverance. For example, a client of mine who worked in strategic marketing for a multinational corporation prior to taking a career break found an operational marketing role in a government department. Her job search took 18 months and making nearly 20 applications. She used that time to seek professional advice on how to improve her CV and LinkedIn profile and even on how to best interact with recruiters.

She re-engaged with her old network and expanded it by attending at least one networking event every week. When opportunities presented themselves, she took on freelance projects that showed off her skills, bridged the growing gap on her CV and at times got her foot in the door of a company she wanted to work for. Ultimately, while her network didn’t get her the job, she says she wouldn’t have been able to land it without its support, information and guidance.

Network through Chambers of Commerce and Consulates

One way that many expats expand their networks here is through their National Consulates and Chambers of Commerce. Not only can people from your own country be a great source of potential friendships and support, but they can also be fantastic sources of information about job opportunities that may only be communicated within your community.

family life career choices expats hk networking

Back to work and career transition programmes

Some companies are creating opportunities for both local and expatriate professionals to re-enter and transition into new careers by offering structured return-to-work and training programmes. BNP Paribas, FDM, Morgan Stanley and Natixis are just a few examples of companies that have run back to work programmes in the past year. These programmes specifically target professionals who are looking to re-enter the workforce after a career break. They offer anything from seven weeks to three months of training with the opportunity to secure a job at the end.

Using a slightly different approach, the St. James’s Place New Entrant Programme offers individuals, with no previous experience of providing financial advice, the opportunity to become Wealth Managers with their company with a specially designed 9-month programme.

Retraining or upskilling yourself

Of course, you don’t have to wait for a company to provide a training programme to help you find a job. The opportunities to retrain and upskill yourself are endless. There are plenty of courses catering from beginner level to more advanced learners available online on Coursera, Udemy and Udacity. Prefer studying with others? Look at the wide range of options at HKU Space.

Read more: Building A Budget: Steps To Becoming Money Savvy

family life career choices expats hk startups

Option 3: The entrepreneurial route

Finally, starting your own business is another way to get around the job requirements mentioned above. Albert Wan, formerly a civil rights lawyer who successfully ran his own legal practice in the US, is a case in point. In 2016, he relocated to Hong Kong when his wife accepted a history professor position at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Seeing this move as an opportunity to try out a new industry, and fuelled by his passion for reading, he launched the Bleak House Books website and opened a bookstore in San Po Kong.

While Albert’s story is inspiring and impressive, it does not mean that anyone can turn their hobby into a profession. Though Hong Kong is very conducive to entrepreneurs, running your own business can be risky. Furthermore, many entrepreneurs will tell you that being your own boss doesn’t necessarily equate to working part-time or having a healthy work-life balance. If these things are important to you, you may be better off exploring some of the less risky options above.

Read more: Starting A New Business In The 852 Just Got Easier For Mumtrepreneurs

Featured image courtesy of styles66 via Pixabay, image 1 courtesy of via Pexels, image 2 courtesy of bruce mars via Pexels, image 3 courtesy of nappy via Pexels, image 4 courtesy of via Pexels, image 5 courtesy of Binti Malu via Pexels

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