Getting to the Top: Career Advice from a Chinese Businesswoman

As a young teenager, Crystal Yi Wang’s parents did all they could to set her up for success. She, however, never quite seemed to excel in the several arenas they provided for her–her music performance lacked luster despite intensive lessons, and her endless English tutoring hours never quite raised her language level to that of her successful cousins studying abroad.

In my early life before my graduation from university, I never succeeded by my parents’ standards. I was just a very normal girl, who was never top of the school or best in my family. I was always living under the shadow of my good friends and my cousins.”

Despite a clear, high-aiming plan for her career, Crystal couldn’t land the job she thought she needed as a fresh college graduate. She took the best position available to her, however, and through working in various positions, came to realize that she had a passion for consulting.

Crystal shared a key lesson about the importance of having passion for your work: “You need to love the job you choose and have tremendous interest in the industry. Otherwise, you cannot survive.” She also emphasized that women who want to reach top positions need to be willing to work extremely hard.

As a businesswoman in China, Crystal shared that she often has to work extra hard for respect from other Chinese company owners, who can doubt her capability because she is a woman and a young professional. Speaking to other young professional women, Crystal explains, “you need to do a lot of work and preparation to equip yourself, even dress yourself older than you actually are. You are in a disadvantaged position in China’s business field if you are a woman, and you are in the most disadvantaged position if you are a young woman.” 

So, with these odds in mind, Crystal believes that four key behaviors and competencies enable a Chinese businesswoman in to succeed in the consulting field:

Work long hours. 

“Working 10-12 hours is very common in a professional firm. You need get yourself prepared that probably you need to work 15-18 hours when you are facing a project deadline. So both mentally and physically, you need be ready.”


“The long working hours do not only mean that there is tremendous work load you need to deliver on time, but also that you need to self-study a lot of material to understand a new industry probably in less than one week. You need spend a lot of time researching, reading, talking to industry experts, brainstorming, and digesting all kinds of information, before you even start to work on your deliverables. So you need to be a person with very short learning curve.” 

Build business acumen.

“Our team members usually have all kinds of different backgrounds from different top schools, Ivy Leagues, Oxford, Cambridge, those are the schools we usually find among our top performers. Their majors are diversified, in engineering, mathematics, or even chemistry. That kind of mix is what we are looking for.”

Crystal believes even fresh graduates with no business background can plan to succeed, they will just need to put in the time to practice and hone their skills. She also advises young professionals to study their industry, becoming fluent in its language and style.

Communicate well with diverse groups of people. 

“Businesswomen are assigned to all kinds of projects and need to be able to communicate effectively with all kinds of people. Crystal laughs, “It is not always as glamorous as people imagine. If it’s a project about the agricultural industry, then we need go to the village and talk to the farmers. Even communicating with company owners won’t always be a pleasant experience. So you need to be a very open person and enjoy talking to all kinds of people under different kinds of circumstances.”

Over the last 10 years, Crystal has grown her career to a level beyond what she could have imaged as a young the young high schooler who could never quite meet her parents’ expectations. She observes, confidently, that her salary now is 30 times of what she earned in her first job.

“I am not trying to say money is the most important motivation, but it does mean you will be awarded for your hard work no matter if you are a man or woman, a person with prestigious education background or just a normal fresh graduate.” 

Charlotte Cline-Smith

PR & Communications Manager

Cross-cultural consultant. ESL Professional. Writer. Editor. Working to share stories and grow together across cultures and communities.