On to the Next: Transitions in Taiwan

Szymon Bielecki, a 26 year old Polish National, has lived in Taiwan for 7 years. During this time, he graduated with his Bachelor’s degree from a Taiwanese university, landed his first full-time job as a headhunter, and has now transitioned to a Marketing position at a large Taiwanese electronics company. For those new to Taiwan, or for those who want to understand how to make successful transitions in Taiwan, there’s lots to learn from Szymon’s example.

My journey in Taiwan started in August 2013, when as a 17-year-old kid I landed at Taoyuan Airport to complete a year-long exchange program. A year in Taipei made me fall in love with Taiwan so deeply that I could not imagine not returning here. 

Fast forward eight years and I’ve been here for nearly one-fourth of my life. Previously, I worked as a headhunter at a large international corporation. Currently, I am a Content Marketing Specialist at BenQ, a large Taiwanese electronics manufacturer. This is my second full-time job I’ve had in Taiwan since graduating in 2019. So how did I get to where I am?

Student Life

Once, over coffee, I was asked by a Taiwanese friend, “How did you manage to land a full-time position at a large, international corporation right after graduation? Your degree isn’t from one of the more prestigious Taiwanese universities, such as NCCU or NTU. What’s your trick?”

I know it’s a massive cliche, but there is no trick: there are no replacements for hard work. My student years were not the easiest or most pleasant years of my life. There were no scholarships available for undergraduate students from Poland at the time, so at some point during my third or fourth year in university, I had six part time jobs; some I took for the money, others I took to build up my CV. Of course, I also had to stay on top of my school grades as well.

When my classmates were really enjoying themselves on their lucrative government scholarships, I was working my butt off. I missed most parties, events, gatherings, and other social events. I don’t think I had many friends at that point, but I was focused on my goal. I wanted to have a  “proper” job that led to a good career, and I wanted to stay in Taiwan – I didn’t want to choose between the two.

One of my part-time jobs was a paid internship at the world’s largest staffing agency. For a year, I was being groomed to become what is known as a headhunter, or more officially, a Talent Acquisition Consultant, with a focus on the manufacturing and semiconductor industries. The story of how I got the job is a little funny. During my third year of uni, I was applying for internships. I landed an interview at Microsoft, which was handled by the recruitment agency where I later worked. After returning home, I googled the recruitment agency, checked their openings, and found a year-long internship program, which I applied for. 

A year later, upon completion of the internship at the staffing agency, I was told that it was my attitude that got me the job. Apparently the person who ended up being my mentor and manager saw me as entrepreneurial, persistent, open, and willing to learn and work hard, all of which caused her to go against her own boss’s disapproval of me and give me the job.

Actually, my manager defended me yet another time: Upon completion of the year-long internship, my manager stood up for me again and got the agency to offer me a full time position on her team.

Start of The Career – Headhunting

This company had never hired a foreigner in Taiwan who needed a work permit. I had to do at least as much research as our HR team. And I must give credit where it’s due – the All Hands Taiwan article on the points system probably made the difference between HR giving up and actually starting the paperwork. It’s definitely a must-read for all the international students here! 

After I began working, I specialized in mid- and high-level technical and corporate positions at tech companies, with a focus on consumer electronics and semiconductors. I served mostly local companies with international hiring needs, and international clients with staffing needs in Taiwan. Doing this helped me play to my strengths”. What do I mean by that?

As international talent in Taiwan, we will often be at a disadvantage in the job search, especially for entry-level business positions. And at large international companies? Good luck. An important part of job searching is to find something that you can do (or are willing to do) that no local can, and find a company that has that need. 

I figured, I probably won’t be able to compete with my local colleagues for regular clients – they can communicate with local clients better, have more experience than me, and have access to information that I don’t. However, I found my niche in doing what no one else was doing – international recruitment. It was simply too “mafan” (麻煩) for my Taiwanese colleagues. But I was willing to do the extra work and take calls at some really weird hours. Within a year, I landed several new clients, managed a few large accounts, and completed a couple placements in Taiwan and abroad, which amounted to an award for top-performance in the All-Taiwan technical recruitment branch. Along with that came a very satisfying bonus. 

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

However, after a couple months, I started to have strange feelings where my heart would be if I had one. I was not happy where I was. I was missing creativity, teamwork, and was tired of competing with my own colleagues for every penny. (Buy me a coffee, I’ll tell you what more about my headhunting experiences). I started looking outside of the agency and applying for jobs that I’ve known I wanted to do since high school: marketing.

Finding a marketing job in Taiwan can be tricky. First of all, even though companies do not write it in their job ads, most internationals are looking to hire a local. Think about it – if Coca-Cola opens a marketing position, for example, aren’t they looking to market to local consumers? Who understands local consumers better than… a local consumer? These jobs are, unfortunately, not for us foreigners.

I hit a wall for about half a year. I wasn’t getting any replies. I was strongly committed to staying in Taiwan, but I started wondering if there was any chance for me to start a career in the field I really want to work in. I saw positions that interested me and were open to foreign applicants in China, Hong Kong, and Singapore. I wanted to apply to these positions, but I never did: my heart belongs to Taiwan.

I stepped up my efforts, started freelance writing, began taking online courses, and reprioritized my job search. In my recruiting role, I always repeated the same thing to any foreign job candidate I met: “If you want to land a job in Taiwan in a business field, you need to target a local company.” So I applied that same mantra to my own job search. Replies trickled in, but no offers. That’s when I started looking into my network.

Since my second year of university, I‘ve been regularly meeting one of the directors at BenQ, my current employer, as an English conversation partner every Sunday. During our time together, we often discussed what BenQ was doing, and as someone really into marketing and branding, I often asked about what’s going on with BenQ’s marketing. We held hours of conversations on marketing topics, did case studies together, read articles, and prepared presentations and speeches.

At some point, I mentioned I was looking to move on from headhunting to marketing. My partner asked for my CV, and promised to pass it on with a good word. 

But did he do it purely from sympathy and friendship?

It Ain’t As Simple as “I like you”

I’d like to believe that he had confidence that I was the right person for the job. For three years, I’ve been building rapport with him and proving my skills and suitability for the job, as well as my integrity. Anyone who ever was asked to recommend someone else for a job knows that it isn’t an easy decision to make – after all, it is your credibility on the line if the person doesn’t deliver.

One funny story is that during one of our discussions, I actually came up with a name for the newly rolled out UI, which is now being used on a large scale. Coming up with a name for a product for BenQ really helps when you’re applying for a job related to branding and writing there! 

But my conversation partner knew I had drive, I had the mind, the skills, and determination to take on the job. He trusted me to do my best and not disappoint. 

I got the job. I am here, and I’ve been happy ever since.

Now, many of you will think, “Of course, I’ve heard that in Taiwan you get jobs through connections.” There is some truth to it, but there is also much more to the story. Here are some thoughts on what you should do to transition into a new field.

Key Factors for Transitioning Jobs

For your connections to feel confident enough to vouch for you, they need to trust you. They need to know you have integrity, you are reliable, and you are determined and driven. 

A good word can get the hiring manager to look at your CV, but nothing else. Your CV needs to show that it’s worth a company’s time to interview you. It’s tough when you’re transitioning, especially when you don’t have a lot of experience. What you will need to look for and highlight is transferable skills – what you’ve learnt from previous jobs can translate into useful skills in the job you’re applying for.

A proven track record is a key factor. If you cannot find work full-time in the field you want to transition to, freelance in it on the side. Land some cases and build your portfolio to show that even though you did not do it full-time, you have completed work to showcase your skills and expertise. In my case, that happy accident of a UI name I mentioned earlier was reaaaaaaally useful. Running a blog and a couple of social media pages was also a massive plus.

Train yourself. I completed a business degree, which does not automatically translate into a content job. I did a whole bunch of certified online courses on Coursera, as well as some from Google. While taking a course may not showcase your skills, at least it shows your interest in the field and your determination to learn about it.

Manage your expectations. When you don’t have experience in the field you are applying for, you will be treated this way. I’ve heard of middle-aged teachers looking to transition to business positions, and expecting managerial positions and salaries higher than what they made teaching. I took a pay cut in order to land a job in the field I am interested in. But after less than a year, I have made up the difference almost fully with a raise and performance bonuses. You cannot expect a super fancy position without experience (sounds weird having to say this, but yeah, here goes).

Be open minded, sometimes opportunities come from the least expected places. A beer shared with a newly-met fellow expat at your friend’s barbecue cookout might just transition into a job opportunity. Can’t get the job at your dream company? Maybe you will accidentally come across someone who is working directly with them. It’s a small world in Taiwan. 

Don’t give up. My mom always told me that a job search is a full-time job in itself. We all know the job market is tricky, especially for foreigners in Taiwan. Apply for any job you are interested in, personalize your application for that specific job, strategize, and don’t give up. If you get one offer out of the 100 applications you’ve sent, it may just be worth it. 

Finally, a former-recruiter pro-tip: There is no such thing as a perfect applicant. A 100% match with job description requirements doesn’t exist – especially with the budget the companies sometimes have. Just remember the company posted because they want to hire. They are not an enemy, and they need you as much as you need them. Just let them see it.

Szymon Bielecki is a Content Marketing Specialist at BenQ. Reach out to him on LinkedIn.

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