Overseas-educated Chinese return to low-paying jobs

2013-7-3 11:32:00 From: Global Times

For the past year 25-year-old Xi'an resident Zhang Peng has woken up to the same routine: turn on the computer, email resumes to companies and play online games while waiting for a callback.

He admits it's a far cry from his days studying in Switzerland. 

Like many returned students from Central China's Shaanxi Province, Zhang is shocked to be applying for jobs as low as 2,000 yuan ($326) a month after having spent a fortune studying abroad.

Despite his degree in hotel management from Cesar Ritz Colleges Switzerland, three major hotels have turned Zhang down due to lack of experience and high salary seeking. But Zhang is not prepared to lower his expectations.

"I didn't take it because I don't think I spent over a million yuan on education just to be a waiter," Zhang told local news portal xian.qq.com.

This year is harder than ever for college grads seeking work as a record 6,990,000 have poured into China's job market, while amid the slowing economy the number of jobs has dropped 15 percent year on year, according to statistics from the Ministry of Education.

In Shaanxi Province alone, nearly 290,000 graduates have entered the job market this year, where salaries average around 3,000 yuan ($486) a month, according to xian.qq.com.

Though Chinese students like Zhang and their families still continue to see such degrees as a leg up on competition, the intense swell of job seekers touting foreign diplomas in recent years has drastically changed how they are perceived; and what they're worth.

Go west, young grads

As job markets tighten in eastern cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, recent grads have already begun looking towards second- and third-tier cities for employment, where comparatively low salaries are offset by a lower cost of living.

According to the 2012 Chinese Returnees Entrepreneurial Development Report, 30 percent of returned students have sought employment in China's central and western regions compared to just 2 percent in 2009.

Provincial capitals such as Wuhan, Xi'an, Chengdu and Shenyang have also managed to further attract returning entrepreneurs with startup incentives and other preferential policies.

Furthermore, an increasing number of new grads are seeking opportunities in or near their hometowns, where knowledge of local dialect and social networks provide competitive edges.

"It's easier to start a business in my home city where everything is more familiar," Xiao Yongrui told the People's Daily, a recently-returned graduate starting her own business in Wuhan.

Dulled edge

Back in Xi'an, employers are reappraising the value once placed on overseas degrees and opting for candidates with practical experience.

"The only contribution they've made to the company is a suggestion to set up a break room," said one entrepreneur surnamed Liu, who has hired several graduates from foreign schools at his import-export company in Xi'an.

"Even with fluent English they can't even handle an account. A regular trade clerk performs better than they do," Liu told the People's Daily.

Much to the dismay of many returning graduates, the stereotype of a foreign degree providing a leg up in competition persists; something that breeds tremendous pressure among friends and family members who often have high - and often unrealistic C expectations for salary. 

While attending a Xi'an job fair specifically targeting returned overseas grads on July 23, one job seeker surnamed Mu, who holds a graduate degree from a well-known university, told the Xi'an Evening News she seldom tells people about her overseas education experience out of embarrassment for her current low-paying job.

Prospects are even less for graduates from domestic universities, who find themselves vying for the same jobs with returning students C and losing out.

"Graduates studying abroad bring new ideas and translation skills. A company definitely tends to hire returned grads when their expected salary is not that high," a human resources expert told xian.qq.com.

"Whether it is during job fairs or interviews, overseas graduates compete with us," said one graduate from a Chinese university. "They only ask for 3,000 yuan ($486) a month, so we have to ask for less [to remain competitive]. They really push us into a corner," he told xian.qq.com.

Expert advice:

-- Returnees should dispel any illusions that a foreign degree provides a competitive advantage, and rather assess their target job market and maintain realistic expectations.

-- Those planning to study abroad should place emphasis on education, self-improvement and accumulating work experience.

-- Career planning is necessary for new graduates to understand the market and salary levels of a target city, obtain an objective evaluation of their skill set and help broaden employment possibilities to which their expertise is relevant. 


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