Internships in China are the most common avenue for young people finding a non-teaching job in China. Many companies in China leverage an internship program as talent identification and are willing to overlook inexperience to hire proven talent.
Internships are generally much easier to secure than full-time employment but the common barrier is again the visa problem. A holiday visa is technically not intended for internship purposes and Hong Kong is now cracking down on those making a visa run to extend their internship.
In certain cases, interns from the Mainland regularly flying to Hong Kong for a holiday visa now only receive 7-14 day visas. Unfortunately, companies rarely sponsor foreign interns due to the leg-work involved and compliance issues. Therefore, your best bet is to again go through a private language school for a visa or if you are studying in China under a student visa at a university, use your summer holiday between or after semesters.
You can find internships in a variety of ways, including networking events, referrals from friends, online job sites and even a cold email. The key though is identifying the appropriate host company. For example, while the China Policy internship program in Beijing is an excellent and rewarding program, as a small firm they can only offer full-time positions under very special circumstances.
A large firm such as Weber Shandwick in Beijing though has a proven track record of using internships as talent identification and hiring interns and might be a better long term choice. On the flip side, you might be doing more engaging work and have more responsibility at a smaller firm like China Policy than at with some of the bigger guys.
You may also want to resist the temptation of interning for a big company that is known to be downsizing in China. For example as Siemens is downsizing in China (as with many foreign electronic and other manufacturers), the Siemens Beijing internship program is unlikely to lead to full-time employment at this moment. You can normally gauge a company’s hiring demands by asking around, checking how often the company posts new positions on their website or directly asking the question when you get to the interview stage.
In addition, you should also look out for internship hosts who can act as multipliers. A chamber of commerce is an ideal multiplier because they may be able to refer you to companies. Government trade commissions are another good example.
While government internships rarely lead to full-time employment, your supervisor and colleagues should be well-placed to refer you on other companies in the private sector. The key is to work hard and build confidence and trust with your supervisor so they can refer you on to other potential employers.
Finally, internship experience in China significantly adds to your resume and job prospects, and a reference letter from an employer in China will go a long way to helping you find your first break in China.