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Click-start your career at Alibaba with its new internship programme that targets future e-commerce stars

Published on Friday, 19 Feb 2016
Cindy Chow, executive director, Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund. (Photo: Sky Lip)

Alibaba is launching an internship programme in Hong Kong via its non-profit initiative, the Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund. Cindy Chow, executive director of the fund, answers questions on the benefits of the programme for young Hongkongers and sheds light on the development of the e-commerce industry.

Why did Alibaba launch the internship programme in Hong Kong? 

It was launched to help entrepreneurs and young graduates in Hong Kong realise their dreams and visions, and experience life and work in mainland China. Unlike other summer internship programmes, which typically offer two to three months of work experience, the Hong Kong students and graduates we select will spend 6 to 12 months at our Hangzhou headquarters or our Guangzhou office.

They will need to think about more than just how to handle day-to-day work in the office and mingling with their colleagues.  They will have to go through practical steps like flat hunting and establishing their own social circle beyond the office, and really get to know the local community. It will be a more fruitful experience.

Who can apply and what kind of opportunities are available?

The programme is open to any third-year university students, graduates or full-time master’s degree students who want to spend six months in mainland China to find out what it’s like to work there. 

We are offering technical positions, ranging from software engineering to data analysis, as well as placements in the user experience design team. For young people who want more hands-on experience in the e-commerce industry, we also have openings in product development and operations. There are also other supporting functions available, including human resources, content development and finance. 

We accept applications online, and shortlisted candidates will go through two rounds of face-to-face interviews. All of the interns will go on a two-day, one-night orientation camp, and be part of a “buddy programme” at Alibaba, where an existing employee will coach them on managing their work and life in mainland China. At the end of the internship programme, they will be asked to participate in a wrap-up session to summarise what they have learnt, and plan the next step in their career.

What is unique about the programme?

According to Alibaba’s quarterly results, active users have reached 400 million, which is bigger than the entire population of the US. This figure alone demonstrates the kind of exposure Alibaba can offer for those who are interested in the e-commerce industry.  Traffic scale really matters. When you have a market of this sheer size, it means that you can test virtually any new business idea or model. This is particularly attractive to this generation of young people, who have their own ideas about how online shopping should work, given that they have grown up with the internet and mobile technology.

The company has an extensive ecosystem that encompasses various web portals for consumer-to-consumer, business-to-business, and also business-to-consumer sales. It also provides electronic payment services, shopping search engines, cloud computing services and more. This, together with the innovative company culture, offers exposure to so many e-commerce elements.

Can you describe Alibaba’s corporate culture?

Everyone works with everyone in the Alibaba ecosystem. You get to learn how to implement an idea from farm to fork, and how to monitor its progress across the e-commerce ecosystem.

For example, if an intern wants to launch a red packet giveaway promotion on Taobao during Chinese New Year, they can talk to technical staff to understand how to make it happen. After that, the intern will also need to talk to the business development staff if they need to contact companies for sponsorship, and work with Alipay to work out the payment method.

Similarly, if you are with the operations team, you will get to understand how to open an online store on Taobao. You’ll see the logistics behind the scene, how to source your products, how to participate in the various Taobao promotional activities to boost traffic, and what you have to be mindful of when it comes to choosing your payment method. It is great experience, whether you want to work for an e-commerce company, or start your own business after graduation

What are you looking for in applicants?

For technical positions, relevant skills are a must. Apart from that, it is important that candidates show a passion for the industry, and an enthusiasm for living and working in mainland China.

What are your expectations for interns once they are part of Alibaba?

We expect everyone to take ownership of their work, like a true entrepreneur. You should be able to see beyond your own job description to what your work means for the bigger picture, and be prepared to step outside of your comfort zone for the benefit of the team. If something is not strictly within your scope of work, but you are able to do it to make a difference, there is no excuse for holding back. 

Innovation is key. For example, programmers will not only be responsible for producing code for a function or a button on Taobao. They are also expected to contribute their ideas based on their experience with the portal, and improve the overall experience from a coding perspective. It can be quite overwhelming when you know that your idea, and what you design, will virtually impact the e-commerce experience for hundreds of millions of people.

Outstanding interns will be given an opportunity to work within the Alibaba ecosystem after the internship ends. They will also have access to information on internal openings and job postings.

Why is it important for Alibaba to include Hong Kong workers in its talent pool?

Alibaba has a close relationship with Hong Kong, having first opened an office in the SAR in 1999 when the group was founded.

Hong Kong students and graduates have great potential in terms of designing user experience, given their unique cultural background. They understand the cultural needs of the Chinese community, but at the same time have long been exposed to different cultures from around the world, partly because they have better access to overseas media and social media websites. 

Although the bulk of Alibaba users are from within China, we are on a global growth trajectory, and our existing users are constantly seeking a newer, better user experience. Hong Kong has a lot to contribute in this regard as its young people are able to bring in global best practice without losing the Chinese touch.


This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Click-start your career.

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