Uncertainty and Hope: China’s Fresh Graduates Struggle to Find Jobs in Bitter Graduate Season

College education has long been hailed as a certain social mobility path in China. The belief that an elite university paves the way for a decent job is widely accepted by Chinese people, although advocates for diversification in personal development have been speaking up in recent years.

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By taking Gaokao, the annual college entrance examination, millions of students gain their tickets to universities. Yet, as they graduate, they are faced with a challenge of finding a job, which seems even more grueling at a time of a global pandemic.

China’s Education Ministry revealed that there will be a record 8.74 million graduates leaving college in China this year. As the country faces a crippling economic slump with its first quarter 2020 GDP shrinking by 6.8% and companies folding business to survive, the dismayed jobseekers fear challenges laying ahead.

Uncertainty behind the screen

After applying for more than 50 jobs, Gao, a fresh graduate, was finally on board.

Gao stayed at her home in Yan’an City of Shanxi Province after she failed this year’s postgraduate program entrance exams and had been constantly browsing recruitment platforms, hoping to get an online interview with human resources managers.

A recent report released by LinkedIn China showed that 50% of graduates questioned in their survey notice the impact COVID-19 on their job search and think it will take a heavy toll on the job market. Besides, 28% of them concerned about the uncertainty of employment due to lack of interview tips for online recruitment, limited information and networking opportunities.

“Please briefly introduce yourself,” “What are your advantages over other candidates?” and “Why do you choose our company?” 22-year-old graduate Jiang carefully answered these questions via Zoom recently, hoping to hit the lottery.

“Online recruitment is highly effective and budget-saving,” Jiang said,“but there are drawbacks, I can’t feel the company culture for the lack of offline experience. In this situation, I am not sure if this job really suits me.”

With people confined to their homes and non-essential social gatherings restricted, online recruitment has become virtually the only way for companies to hunt for new talent. However, remote work and online communication with employers creates a lot of confusion sometimes even trigger concerns over the employees legal rights.

Graduate Yang in China’s Guizhou Province told a local paper that she found a video-editing job in a media company via BOSS (zhipin), a Chinese online recruiting app. After she had worked for a month, her employer delayed her salary payments under various excuses. Yang and her colleague planned to sue the company.

Internet industry in the lead

Impacted by COVID-19, graduates of 2020 are flocking into internet companies, while the traditional industries such as tourism and catering are losing luster, according to LinkedIn China.

Though the pandemic has forced numerous businesses nationwide to lay off workers, China’s giant internet companies are posting more job openings thanks to the booming demand for online services amid the period of social-isolation.

TikTok-owner ByteDance announced a new recruitment plan opening 10,000 positions on April 15 as the pandemic drove hordes of new users to spend extra time on its popular app. Earlier in February, it launched an online recruitment campaign providing graduates with more vacancies and allowing them to work from home until the lockdown was fully lifted.

JD.COM, China’s prominent e-commerce player, also went on an online recruitment spree.

JD.COM has been striving to exploit the possibility of online recruitment and we promptly leveraged the approach to meet graduates’ demands this time,” said Shentong Wang, Head of Employer Branding at JD.COM. “Applicants can submit their resumes and have video interviews with our hiring team. Once they are assessed qualified for a job, they can sign a contract with us online, becoming a member of JD.COM.”

While the online hiring campaigns benefit graduates and score social credits for companies, hiring managers are overwhelmed.

“We received a high volume of resumes this year. Yet, many applicants did not meet the basic requirements we noted,” said a manager of a foreign company in Xi’an. “I think graduates should chose jobs based on their competences and interest rather than applying aimlessly.”

Employment Rate on Hold

Class advisors keep reposting recruitment information into Wechat groups to satisfy students’ demand for employment and many universities require graduates to update their employment statuses timely. A Beijing-based graduate told Pandaily that he received a message urging him to fill in a sheet and report his employment status to his university recently.

The employment rate of graduates is an important metric of university reputation and it also indicates how the education system and economy are evolving.

Back in 2003, when China was battling with SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), the country reported a graduate unemployment rate of 35.8%. Now COVID-19, echoing SARS in many ways, also weighs on China’s job market as demand for new workers declines. What’s left for China’s graduates now is to reflect on what they have really learnt over their years in school and prepare for economic recovery.