This is a guest post by Aaron Michel, CEO and Founder of Pathsource.
With the real unemployment rate being pegged by Forbes at over 12% the US economy is not friendly to people who lack a plan for how to get a job. Every year tens of thousands of expats return to the US without a career strategy and, instead of being in control of their future, life happens to them.
Too many people return to the US from careers in business or teaching abroad and receive the post-travel hangover of a difficult job hunt. It’s both a big problem and an avoidable one.
Our goal in this article is to break down your options for returning to the US and give you all of the tools you need to successfully break into the US workforce.
If you’re thinking about coming back to the US, here are some best practices that will help you prepare.
If you work in a business-related role in China your options are…
1. Monetize Your Connections
Talk with US businesses before you return. Look for medium size companies which have a product that might be a good fit for the Chinese market or which may be looking to build out their manufacturing options.
Reach out and explain how your connections can enable them to monetize. For instance, depending on your role and your contacts in China, you could reach out to a Silicon Valley company producing hardware and offer to help them find the best value manufacturing options in China and manage those relationships for them. Or you could connect to a beverage company and help them find distribution options in China, either in a consulting role or a permanent channel management role. It depends on the nature of the connections that you have. You’ll be well served by doing that outreach before you leave China, so that you can set up relationships while you’re there and then manage those relationships once you return to the US.
2. Advise a Company That Is Setting Up a Branch in China
You may not have great connections in China but you have valuable insights into Chinese culture. This can be worth millions to the right company.
For instance, one of my favorite examples comes from Taiwan. If the sandwich chain Subway had translated its name directly when it started in Taiwan, it would have literally meant, “Shit Is Very Tasty”. Not an optimal tagline for a sandwich company.
Subway, of course, had more than enough money and good advice to avoid such a pitfall but many companies don’t. That’s where you come in. While you may lack connections, you can review and even lead their market entry plan because you bridge the gap between the US and Chinese cultures. Or at least that’s the story that you can sell to potential employers.
3. Bring Products and Services from China to the US
You really do bridge a gap. You’ll be part of a small community that lives in and understands the US but also has deep insight into what drives China. Guess what? There are 3.8 million Chinese Americans living in the US right now. That’s a sizable market looking for products specifically tailored to them.
Think about what products and services existed in China that don’t exist in the US. Then create them here, either by starting a company or by joining one and leading new product development in this specific area.
4. Find a Job that Doesn’t Utilize What You Learned in China
This is a path that often leads to pitfalls, but it doesn’t have to do so. If you have a skill set that has real value and is entirely separate from your knowledge of China, there’s no reason you can’t succeed. For instance, if you’ve been doing mergers and acquisitions for Samsung and want to do that in the US, you may be able to make a great case that those skills are transferable to the US market.
The key thing is to start the job search early, figure out what you want to do, identify the skills that are most likely to get you the job, find companies that are a good potential fit and start the networking process.
If you are an English teacher in China your options are…
1. Teach English in the US in Public Schools or Colleges
As someone who has taught English as a Second Language (ESL) to many students in the challenging context of a foreign country, you have a desirable skill set. Any number of US schools need teachers like you, who can help ESL students rise to the challenges that face them.
2. Teach English to Chinese Immigrants in the US
This option can go in more than one direction. You could start a small business in a heavily Chinese community like San Francisco and teach a number of people English.
Alternatively, you can tutor people in a one-on-one context.
3. Find a job that doesn’t relate to English or your work in Asia
This is, of course, a more difficult path. In one sense you’re starting from scratch. In another sense, while your job search may not directly incorporate your English teaching experience or your time in China, you can still utilize those as assets.
By going into a foreign country to teach English, you demonstrated a rare sense of courage and initiative. These traits tend to be prized in many hallways in corporate America. As you start your job search, make the case that you’ll bring these characteristics into your new job with your future employer.
4. Advise – use your understanding of Asian culture
See Advise a Company That Is Setting Up a Branch in China above. It applies to you too!
5. Make a transition from Teaching English to A Business Role While in China
Depending on how much longer you intend to stay in China, you can evaluate the option of going into another field in order to better set yourself up for success when you eventually re-enter the US.
While the process of transitioning roles as an expat while in China requires 1-2 blog posts in and of itself, suffice it to say that you can and should make the most of the level of initiative that it required for you to go to China in the first place.
Additionally, you can look for skills that are highly valued by companies in China and begin to build them out. For instance, China has a glut of PHP developers but very few Ruby on Rails (RoR) developers. This poses a problem for global companies, which are increasingly moving towards RoR and other newer languages.
You could teach yourself RoR for free using a range of free online tools. Then your knowledge of China combined with your command of the English language and RoR skills could get you a very high level role with a company in Beijing or Shanghai.
Regardless of which route you take, you should use PathSource, the free mobile app that we’re rolling this October at PathSource.com/app.
You can check out our Kickstarter campaign. PathSource connects the dots between education, careers, lifestyle and budget. With over 2,600 proprietary informational interviews on video with people in every job you can imagine, our free app will make your re-entry into the US much easier – no matter what career path you may be thinking about pursuing.
By going to China to work, you’ve joined an elite group. Now that you’re thinking about returning, it’s time to use that to your advantage.
Aaron has started multiple online education companies, raised capital and was accepted into the MassChallenge accelerator. In the past three years, Aaron and his companies have been featured in USA Today, ABC, TechCrunch, The Wall Street Journal and other outlets. Most recently, Aaron received the Boston Business Journal and Mass High Tech’s Innovation Allstar award. Aaron graduated from Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He can’t wait for PathSource’s Kickstarter campaign to get rolling.
He lives with his wife Susan, with whom he is contemplating one day buying a dog, or if she gets her way, a cat.