Looking for Job Opportunities Overseas? Rent An Expat

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2012-09-1612

I have a ton of friends and a handful of relatives who are now expatriates who live in different countries around the world. While I’m based here in the U.S. today, I’ve had the chance to work in my native country as well, in another life. And what they say is true, the expatriate’s life is never short of fun and excitement.

A Rather Strange Job In A Foreign Land: How About Expatriates For Rent?

Well for those so inclined for such overseas job opportunities, I came across what seems to be an expatriate’s dream job, if you’re all for working in China. Here’s what seems to be a strange story about some companies hiring “white guys” to represent them in China as part of upholding their company image. In other words, there are jobs out there for “fake businessmen”:

Not long ago I was offered work as a quality-control expert with an American company in China I’d never heard of. No experience necessary—which was good, because I had none. I’d be paid $1,000 for a week, put up in a fancy hotel, and wined and dined in Dongying, an industrial city in Shandong province I’d also never heard of. The only requirements were a fair complexion and a suit.

“I call these things ‘White Guy in a Tie’ events,” a Canadian friend of a friend named Jake told me during the recruitment pitch he gave me in Beijing, where I live. “Basically, you put on a suit, shake some hands, and make some money. We’ll be in ‘quality control,’ but nobody’s gonna be doing any quality control. You in?”

overseas job opportunities

But is this story really all that strange? These “employees” are “trained” to put up a face in a different country, pretending to play important roles for the company they are a part of. And it seems to be a scheme that works. It seems that in some places, the presence of foreign, seemingly high-ranking employees can make a big impression. So if some companies can get away with renting a white guy to fill that spot, then why not?

This may not sit so well with those who are inclined towards political correctness, but the fact is, international business is a purely different animal from the kind of business we run on our own turf. In Asia, for example, “image” is an important matter, and putting up a face that screams success, even if it means to hire people that portray that kind of image, is considered a wise business strategy. While it sounds a bit weird and even deceitful to pull something like this, it’s probably a widely accepted practice that happens in China (just an assumption I’m making).

In a way, we do the same thing here in the United States. Companies often hire people who fit a certain look or image, especially when the job entails selling a product or service. You have to look the part aside from the fact that you’re also expected to act the part and to be productive. There are norms we have to follow when we’re at the office and it’s all part of the program. To get hired, we need to conform to what’s required. We need to look professional or at least fill the expectations of those whom we are working for (especially those who hold our careers in their hands). So just how much different is this from the case where you can “rent a white guy” to exude success in a faraway land? Even if that guy knows next to nothing about what their company does? Again, all for show.

For fun, check out this office page and observe how all these people are looking the part for their jobs:

IT consultant
Can you spot the IT consultant?

So let’s take an informal poll — if you were ever offered a job that capitalized on your appearance or allowed you to play a role that didn’t take that much work to do but still paid you well, would you take it? Sure, on one hand, it sounds like a job that is based on show (or even dishonesty), but it’s all part of what’s accepted and deeply ingrained in a particular business environment. It may just be the closest you can get to receiving free money.

For more on odd things to rent, check out this “rent vs buy” article I wrote a while ago.

Created June 15, 2010. Updated September 16, 2012. Copyright © 2012 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

traineeinvestor June 16, 2010 at 2:30 am

I’m shameless – I’ll take the job if it pays enough, but it would be a mistake to think of it as free money. It’s not adding to your skills and comes with an emotional cost (doing useless work is not exactly a great ego boost) and sounds very boring. Also, I’ve spent enough time living in mainland China not to want to live there for very long (maybe 6-12 months for the experience).

That said, I can’t imagine anyone giving me a job based on my appearance.

finallygettingtoeven.com June 16, 2010 at 4:42 am

White guy in a tie…I love it!

I have been trying to get hubby to live the ex-pat lifestyle and he is a little resistant. Maybe i can get him to go this route, after all he played the part in the states so he should have had plenty of practice.

CreditShout June 16, 2010 at 10:21 am

This sounds like it would be a good idea when you’re young and can travel and use your appearance to make money. It would be really fun to live in a foreign place for awhile being “wined and dined.” This gets a nod in my book!

Neeraj June 18, 2010 at 10:34 am

Thanks for your ideas. I desperately wanna job abroad. I need more money and only a job abroad can solve my problem. thanks for your suggestion, gonna apply it for my selection.

ConsumerMiser June 18, 2010 at 9:00 pm

SVB, now why do you have to ask a tough moral question like the one you posed in this blog post? This is actually very deep stuff–not what I you might expect from a personal finance blogger, but being a double major in sociology and political science with a concentration in economics, I’ll jump right in–but I will restrain myself and keep it brief.

I suspect most people would take the easy money and welcome getting paid for not doing much. This is what is wrong with business and politics for that matter. Many look at athletes as greedy and selfish when in reality everyone seems to willing to sell their souls for a price. This is why we need regulation. We cannot regulate ourselves or rely on people to do the right or moral thing.

Silicon Valley Blogger June 18, 2010 at 10:07 pm

@Consumer Miser,
My response — I am actually a big fan of psychology and behavioral finance. My hobbies beyond finance happen to be smack-dab in the realm of psychology — I enjoy “reading” people and situations, and am fascinated by the field of FBI profiling. I may have mentioned a few times that I enjoy crime shows because I love playing detective. So yes, I ask a lot of questions.

I do think that if a certain type of work pays well and is not immoral or unethical, then why not take it? The first sign that it’s not something for you is if it bothers your conscience or bugs your sensitivities. But everyone is raised with a different set of values so some people will find it hard to swallow a job that’s based on their external attributes vs their inner talents and capabilities.

Monevator June 20, 2010 at 6:21 am

Wow, if I knew I could do this job I’d move abroad tomorrow. Sadly I suspect the power of the idea outweighs the reality of work on the ground!

sharonsmall November 12, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Sign me up !

Jake Goode April 6, 2011 at 2:18 pm

I thought this was a joke until I ran across this ad, just a minute ago:

Expats need for a meeting in Shandong (Shanghai)

Posted On: Friday, 25 February, 2011
Expires On: Thursday, 26 May, 2011

Compensation : 2800

Our company needs to hire two expats, male, white for a meeting in Shandong, the meeting will be held on Feb 25 Saturday, We are also be able to reschedule the meeting to Sunday or Monday if needed.

You will be paid 400 USD for the job, the flight is 17:30 in the afternoon, (you can pick a day: Friday, Saturday or Sunday, whichever is good for you) arrives in Shandong in 2 hours, and stay over for one night in hotel booked for you, the next day you will attend lunch with our local clients and us. You can return to Shanghai 15:00 Sunday by train if you want or 22:00 by air.

You need to wear a business suit (or smart casual), nothing else to prepare.

We will pay you 400 USD (or 2800 RMB) in cash, plus flight tickets, meal, and hotel room.


white males wanted! nothing else to prepare

Silicon Valley Blogger April 6, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Now that is funny. Yeah, hopefully it’s not a job for a spy or something like that! 😉 Very peculiar though!

Investment Adviser Norwich John September 21, 2012 at 3:10 pm

An entertaining article – and some really interesting comments! Everybody are of course entitled to their views and the ‘morality’ of pretending to be ’employed’ by a firm that you know nothing about can of course be debated. However, it is hard to see any major difference between a well-known actor lending his/her face to selling a product (that they probably never use themselves?) and ‘playing’ a ‘quality-control’ exec. for a foreign company (as long as you DO NOT quality control anything of course – or pretend to do so!) 😉

Occupational therapist September 22, 2012 at 5:34 pm

If you are behind the scenes you can look and dress any way that you want. If you are the face of the product or company then you must look the part.

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