Interviewing for Work in Taiwan? Make Sure You Avoid Some Common Pitfalls

With Chinese New Year just around the corner many Taiwanese are hanging in for their year-end bonus before switching over to a better job. For foreigners too, now’s the time to be looking for new opportunities as many companies will be wanting to fill places for jobs that can start in the New Year.

Getting the breadth of your experience and abilities recognized (and rewarded) can be tough in any company and in any country, but possibly even more so for newly arrived foreigners in Taiwan. Especially if you are looking for work outside of the field of teaching, where there is a lot of information already available.

So it is important to start your job interview on the right foot and here are some suggestions how.

You Should Realize That “Specialist” is Just One Step Above Intern

You’ve already been working the past few years — you may have also just finished hard-earned post-graduate studies — so all-in-all you’d class yourself as a bit of an expert in your field.

You’re at your interview, things are going great. The HR person likes your resume. It’s satisfying to know that you’ve been recognized for your specialist skills. English Specialist. Marketing Specialist. PR Specialist. e-Commerce Specialist.

Don’t get me wrong, these are all very respectable positions – assuming you’re just starting out with absolutely no experience at all. In Taiwan “specialist” is the position they give to entry-level employees such as recent graduates. To a large extent, your starting salary and path and speed to progress will be defined by this starting point. If you already have several years of work behind you, Senior Specialist, Project Manager or Assistant Manager might be a better start.

Interview Tip: Title does matter, even if everybody says it doesn’t. Just make sure the one you agree to have printed on your business card matches your years of experience. Check where the position fits into the business hierarchy that you are planning to join. How does this ranking compare to where you came from? What does it take for someone born locally to reach the same level?

Try to Fight Against Being Defined as a One-Skill Wonder

It’s nice to be considered an expert. But who wants to be known as the only person in the building who can do “professional English”? Yes, everyone knows your English IS BETTER than everyone else’s. In fact, due to the basic assumptions about why a Taiwanese company would hire a foreigner in the first place (everyone’s English is pretty bad) you may never be known for anything other than for your native language skills.

No doubt you’ve got a heap of other strengths. Just make sure everybody values them too.

Interview Tip: Get a really clear definition of your key responsibilities for the position you are taking. Ask for it in writing. Are the requirements technical, industry-specific, or regional in nature? Understand why your company is hiring. Is “English” the only skill set they need? Strive for recognition in other functional areas that are not just language/culture specific.

Working Tip: Think twice about being available to everyone for internal language services. A professional company should see translation and language localization as an investment and have specific people responsible for that, especially if it is a key part of the core business. It’s nice to help out when you can – but is it your job to provide the only English voice in the entire company?

You’re Only Worth as Much as Someone is Prepared to Pay for You

Starting salaries can be hard to know because Taiwan companies tend to negotiate these on an individual basis and don’t typically publish a number. What’s more, it’s almost impossible to convert overseas salaries into what Taiwanese companies are prepared to pay. The discrepancy in currency alone is enough to discourage any self-respecting employee. The situation will be marginally better at the Taiwan office of a foreign company working from a global salary system.

That said, lower taxation and relatively lower costs of living (such as health care, transport, and food) can even out this imbalance to make an after-tax Taiwan salary seem more acceptable.

But how are salaries calculated? And what can you ask for?

Most likely, your prospective company will work on a formula based on a monthly unit. To complicate things more, you can negotiate (or will be offered) any number of months to be paid per year. This might mean that you are paid 13-14 months during a 12 month calendar period, which is typical for the IT industry. Bonuses can be paid above and beyond your basic salary, and usually as a factor of your monthly salary (for example: half a month’s salary; 6 month’s salary, etc.) and is usually paid in full by Chinese New Year. The key is to focus on what you want per year, and then the company can crunch the numbers until they calculate a monthly figure and number of months you will be paid per year. AGAIN, the MONTHLY FIGURE will be used to determine your year-end bonuses, so be mindful of that when accepting your monthly amount.

There are minimum salary levels for hiring foreigners that come as a part of the conditions for issuing an ARC. Companies will also rate you against their internal salary scale based on experience and academic credentials, rating PhD graduates higher than bachelor graduates for example.

Yet on many levels supply and demand is the key mechanism in operation here. If the company you are interviewing with is in dire need of your skills and experience, they will find a way to pay for you.

You will find that expectations for your performance will be reflected exponentially to the amount you are paid. So the higher your pay the bigger the expectations are for you to deliver on your company’s investment. This can mean greater responsibility and autonomy, but it usually brings with it higher pressures for accountability (often in $$$ sales generated) and more interaction with the boss (who views you as an expense and wants to know what you are up to). Be clear that this is what you want.

Interview Tip: Find a way to calculate your worth to the hiring company. Only then will you be able to negotiate from a position of strength. No matter what you are offered as monthly salary, work out the total non-bonus (the so-called base salary) amount that you will earn each year. Find out what other likely bonuses and incentives are paid for your position. Does the total amount compensate for all the expected unpaid work hours, small number of holidays, and other company-specific obligations that come as part of the package?

Good luck with your job hunting!

This article is written by Stuart Hill. You can visit his website here.

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