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Firstly, I was born and bred in California. I consider myself American and I'm fluent in English and speak in an american accent.

Unfortunately (well actually I don't feel unfortunate about it other than this case), my parents are Chinese and I have a Chinese name (surname and given name).

I'm trying to move to China to become an English teacher and been sending resumes across and it's been very difficult. Largely I get ignored. However, some of my friends who have "white" names, well they can't seem to get enough offers. We have very similar resumes all having gone to the same college and done the same TESOL qualification.

This leads me to believe that it's the name that's putting people off. It kind of makes sense. Who would you want to be teaching you English? Mr. Smith or Mr. Wang?

So yeah I don't know what else to do? I've actually started listing the languages I know on my resume like this

  • English (fluent)
  • Mandarin (intermediate)

Mandarin is actually not required for the job and I'm actually fluent at it. But it's just there so I can highlight the fact I'm fluent in English.

But no, doesn't seem to help.

It's gotten to the point I feel like maybe I should change my name, at least on my resume, and then after I get a phone interview, I can mention that my name is not my formal name. Somehow that just feels a tad degrading doing that...

What else could I do?

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Perhaps you could add to the cover letter, in Chinese, a large "Born in the USA"? –  Oded Feb 24 '13 at 13:17
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I know that many Chinese coming to the UK adopt an English name if only to make it easier for us natives to pronounce. Couldn't you adopt an English name and use that on the applications? –  ChrisF Feb 24 '13 at 17:41
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In the US, persons applying for jobs that may require clearances (such as Defense or Aerospace jobs) tend to put "US Citizen, Clearable" prominently on their resume (assuming they are indeed US citizens and are able to obtain a security clearance). This is particularly important for "foreign-seeming" names. Perhaps in your case adding "US Citizen" and "Native English Speaker" very prominently would help you get past the first glance. It may also be helpful to make your name less prominent. –  Alex Hirzel Feb 24 '13 at 22:01
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For this reason, during the pre WW2 British Empire era, it was quite common for some people to adopt an English sounding nickname. Would Freddie Mercury have gone as far in the UK with a name like Farrokh Bulsara? You don't actually have to legally change your name.. just call yourself by a nickname and be a little dodgy about it in the CV for a while. –  Muz Feb 25 '13 at 9:08
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@AakashM: Work culture in China. All you have to do to be an English teacher in China is look white. Not even kidding. There are even jobs where you have to be white, sit in a business suit during interviews, and pretend to be the boss. There's a strong positive discrimination towards Caucasians in much of China. –  Muz Feb 26 '13 at 9:03

6 Answers 6

I wouldn't say "fluent". I'd say "native English speaker." And I'd say it in the first line of the resume. Something like: Objective "To obtain a job teaching English in China where I can leverage my native English speaking skills." Similarly, make sure it is prominent on the cover letter if you have one.

The reason I say this is "fluent" tends to be used as a word to describe someone who learned English and obtained fluency.

I don't like the idea of changing your name for the resume. It decrease credibility when you do get the interview.

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The point about "fluent" vs "native speaker" is a very good one. –  jcmeloni Feb 24 '13 at 17:45
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@JeanneBoyarsky Unfortunately, your solution won't work in the OP's case. Please read jmac's and my answer. I hate to see the OP and others being misled by this answer. The issue is the image/perception problem. It does not matter what he says on the resume, he just won't get the English teaching job in China only because he is a Chinese. It not only occurs in China, but also in Asia. I have the same problem. I go to a French to learn French. –  scaaahu Feb 27 '13 at 3:22
    
@scaahu fair enough. fluent vs native is still good advice if the OP applies for a job in the US in the future. the resume shouldn't say fluent if means native –  Jeanne Boyarsky Feb 28 '13 at 2:57

Others gave you general answers. I am going to answer the specific part of your question.

I live in Taiwan.

My answer is going to disappoint you. However, it's better to learn the cruel truth now than later.

The same thing happens in Taiwan. Many Europeans who do not speak fluent Engilish can easily get an English teaching job in Taiwan while an ABC (American Born Chinese) (you're by definition an ABC) cannot get any of those jobs.

The reason is, those students and their parents do believe that those whites speak English while Chineses do not. Period. It is the perception problem rather than your ability to teach English.

I don't know how to make you feel better. I think you need to accept this fact as early as possible so that you won't waste any more time looking for English teaching job in China.

I believe the situation will get better when people realize that you would do a better English teaching job than your counter parts do because you speak Chinese.

However, it won't change overnight. I think it will happen in the next decade.

Your Alternatives

  1. Use your other skills (such as programming) to get into the job market in China first. Then find a teaching position as the second job. This is not impossible. Still very hard.
  2. Run your own English school. Start from being an English tutor there. Expand the business to larger customer base ...

Both alternatives are long shots. However, you can start to do them now instead of waiting for calls from China in the next 5 years.

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But how would a potential Taiwanese employer treat someone that lied about the surname? Do you think it would be a big problem? Could he even somehow try and shrug it off as a typo? So for example Leigh instead of Lee or Wayne instead of Wan or Wang? –  Quibblesome Feb 25 '13 at 13:53
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@Chad I edited my answer after reading your comment. –  scaaahu Feb 26 '13 at 2:29
    
@Quibblesome Lying won't work because even if the OP gets the job, his students will walk away after he starts teaching. There are hundreds of English schools in Taiwan, no one hires ABCs. It's a perception problem and a cruel reality. –  scaaahu Feb 26 '13 at 2:38
    
Much better thank you. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Feb 26 '13 at 14:14

Add a section to your resume called Cultural Experience. In this section you can point out your lifelong experience with American culture and American English. It would probably include this (adapted from your question):

I was born in California and consider myself American. I have native fluency in English and speak with an American accent.

You could also add information about other boots-on-the-ground knowledge you have of US culture that would be relevant in the context of teaching English. This is also where you can put that summer you spent in France or Argentina, or the culinary training you did, or whatnot. I would put this section towards the top of the resume, and refer to it in a cover letter also.

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Executive Summary

Private language schools sell the image of English as much (if not more) than they sell actual English education. As a Chinese-looking person, you would likely make a poor salesman of the English image, and don't have a snowball's chance of getting hired. However, there are other routes you may be able to take to teach in China if you'd like.


There are four main types of English Teaching jobs in Southeast Asia:

  1. Private Language Schools
  2. Private International Schools
  3. Private Universities
  4. Government-run Organizations

Private Language Schools

These are by far the most common. There are many different types of these schools, from cram schools (juku in Japan, hagwon in Korea, buxiban in China), to conversational schools to everything in between. Generally speaking, "native" speakers are hired to teach English conversation.

These schools are 100% for-profit, and sell the image of English as much as they sell actual language training. Many use deceptive billing practices, complicated contracts, and high-pressure sales to make money without providing much in the way of service (see Nova, among others). Many are shady and do not provide their employees with the wages or benefits promised, and sometimes don't pay their employees at all. Point is, a lot of these places are fraud wrapped in pretty wrapping.

This works because many customers are just as interested in the feeling of English as they are in actually learning the language. As a result, a lot of these companies will make more money hiring a non-native English speaker who fits the image than they will with an extraordinary teacher who doesn't. And the image of English is Caucasian in Southeast Asia.

For these companies, no amount of changing your name will help. You are not the product they are looking for. You are not going to help them sucker students in and milk them for all they're worth. Sorry.

Note: There are plenty of good schools out there I'm sure, who actually focus on teaching English. They are also the minority. China < Korea < Japan when it comes to 'legitimacy' of English teaching jobs, and the major Japanese chains are going bankrupt and/or contracting because of a drop in demand. Not saying that Japan is better than Korea or China, just that from an English teaching perspective, the general consensus from people who have taught in multiple countries is that the working conditions follow that hierarchy

Private International Schools

Most private international schools are popular with expats and are located in more urban places. They are also usually swimming with applicants. There may be exceptions, but for the most part these schools will not care too much about your ethnicity as long as you are a qualified and experienced teacher of the subject(s) they are hiring for. Qualifications depend on the country and school.

Since you are talking about teaching English and sending out many applications, I am guessing this category doesn't apply to you (if you are a qualified teacher, however, I would suggest giving this a try).

Private Universities

You can also get hired by universities if you have the necessary qualifications (usually a Masters in Language Education or something similar). However, this path is also fraught with all sorts of danger. At least in Japan, foreign teachers are almost always put on contracts, and will not receive tenure at a Japanese university. While the pay is good in the meantime, the nature of Japanese employment law means that they are reluctant to hire someone they can't get rid of in the future, and due to the nature of university (students are only there a few years), there aren't so many consequences to rotating professors in and out to minimize long-term risk to the school.

This may be different in China and Korea, but my guess is that you aren't applying for university jobs.

Government-run Organizations

The Japanese government hires foreigners to teach on the JET Programme each year. You are assigned as an assistant language teacher in a public school, but due to education laws are always going to be an assistant. There may be similar programs in Korea or China, but if so I have never heard of them. At any rate, at least for the JET Programme there doesn't seem to be a bias against people of Japanese descent (there are plenty of 2nd and 3rd generation Japanese, many of whom know the language). If there is a Chinese version, this may be a good bet to have a chance, but I wouldn't hold your breath.

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Your answer is really about the similar situation in Japan. I would agree with you that the situation in China is about the same as in China except the last one - gov run orgs. Given that the OP was born in the US, it's next to impossible for him to get a gov job there. –  scaaahu Feb 26 '13 at 5:26
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Jobs 1) to 3) are certainly universal (not just Japan, Korea and China as well). Job 4) I know exists in Japan, but their may be an equivalent in China. I assume WizZy is looking for a job in 1), and in that case I don't think the answer will change regardless of country (Korea, Japan, China). Selling English in Southeast Asia is just as much about image as it is about English. That is not limited to Japan. –  jmac Feb 26 '13 at 5:29
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I pretty much agree. –  scaaahu Feb 26 '13 at 5:56

Often HR/recruiting gets so many applications that they sort out a large percentage in a very fast first pass. In this case they might just take quick glance at some criteria, like obvious strange formatting, spelling mistakes, names, missing degrees, etc...

If they get a lot of application from mostly native underqualified Chinese (I don't know the job situation there, but it's possible) they might indeed just sort out everyone with a chinese name. Please note, that I am not saying every native is underqualified, but if a lot of people search for a decent job you get lot of applications where the applicant does not fit the position.

So, I am not certain that the answer from Quibblesome quite deserves it downvotes. I don't think the answer by Kate will help, they might just toss your resume into the garbage bin before ever getting to a section like this. Even with the answer from Jeanne I am not all sure they will actually read this. But I also don't think the minor deceit proposed by Quibblesome is a good idea.

Instead, I would just add an additional page title "Before reading my resume" and explain your situation there precisely and most importantly in a very concise way. Don't hesitate to use a somewhat larger font than usually, but not too large. I would use very simple formatting for that page. Put this page at the very start of your application, even before the cover letter. Make sure that it's the first page they read. The correct way to do this may depend on the form of the application. I have seen people do this with their age or certain disabilities and it often works.

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It's very possible that they might indeed just sort out everyone with a chinese name. All the flyers of the English schools I saw here in Taiwan have the white faces on them. No way they're going to hire Chinese. I give an upvote for this. –  scaaahu Feb 26 '13 at 3:09

I know its sneaky and it might not be the best advice but if you're really having difficulty with the application process then forge your name at the top. Then in the final section of your CV (general interests usually) correct your name. Something like:

Contrary to the cover page my name is actually: XYZ. Sorry for the deceit but I've been having trouble getting people to actually read my CV with a Chinese cover name.

This helps you get past the discrimination yet at the same time you've still been upfront to anyone that has actually taken the time out to read your CV. If someone is still unaware of your real name at the interview then it's their bad because they failed to read the whole CV. You can then counter the negative aspect of:

you lied about your name

with

well you obviously didn't read my CV then ;)

Thereby levelling the "professionalism" playing field.

If you've got enough places to apply to so that you might be able to experiment with some then it might be worth a shot.

To be honest though a lot of this question is about Chinese culture and I'm not really qualified to answer, neither are probably most of the people here. Might be worth speaking to someone immersed in the modern working culture of China to see which ideas would actually fly.

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Your idea won't work. Please see my answer. Even if the OP gets an interview, his application would still be rejected when they find that he is a Chinese. But, you're right that most people here do not understand it. For that, I was going to upvote the answer. However, I always have the honesty is the best policy philosphy. Your advice encourages OP to lie. +1 then -1. I decide to take no action. Sorry. –  scaaahu Feb 25 '13 at 13:32
    
Well its more.... "if you're going to lie then do it this way". I'm not suggesting its a good idea in the first place. I did really enjoy your realistic response in your post. Its very important to understand the culture when discussing the workplace and I feel as though a lot of users here just treat every question like the US market which has a very specific culture (it even has key differences to Europe for example). –  Quibblesome Feb 25 '13 at 13:51
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You are basically saying: "I do not trust you not to discriminate against me based on my race so I am lying to you." That is not a good way to start a business relationship. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Feb 25 '13 at 14:59
    
That's a very black and white way to view it. What I'm actually saying is: "I appreciate you're probably behind a wall of mindless HR people who will trim down the entrants based on potentially discriminating criteria. Once the CV finally gets to someone who will read it, I trust they will appreciate that they are just looking for someone that can do the job properly. Therefore to those people I will provide my real name". Its the same reason that my "get an interview" CV is different from my real CV (that I provide at interview and is more detailed and honest) –  Quibblesome Feb 25 '13 at 15:25
    
and if you're wondering my "get an interview" CV has nothing negative in it, just lists experience and is essentially the "back-flip" of CVs. Showy, impressive. My "real" CV weighs my pros vs my cons, I give it out at interviews incase other decision makers of the team are unable to meet with me. It focuses on things like: "my communication rocks and i'm happy to lose arguments" as well as "my maths and binary is kinda crappy so don't expect me to revolutionize the performance of some algorithm with some sick bit shift magic. –  Quibblesome Feb 25 '13 at 15:52

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