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In recent years, Chinese returnees known as ‘sea-turtles’ have attracted plenty of media attention. With their foreign education and overseas experience, they’re often portrayed as hot property in the job market. But more recent reports suggest that their experience might not be enough to land a plum job in China, especially for those starting out on their careers.

Xiao Qing is a recent graduate in journalism from Jinan University. She recently told Southern Weekend about an interview she attended for “a small post” as a store manager at Japanese retail chain Uniqlo. To her surprise, Xiao found that she was competing against candidates with postgraduate degrees from abroad – one from the UK and the other from Australia. WiC’s conclusion: if young graduates with expensive degrees from overseas are fighting for positions in retail, think of the competition for jobs among the huge number of graduates spilling out of China’s universities each year. This year will see an expected seven million looking for work, a record number.

Late last month, the Chinese Academy of Social Science’s Blue Book of China’s Society said that only 76 per cent of those graduating in 2012 had found a job, reported the South China Morning Post.

Week in China

Companies in China typically conduct most of their hiring between September and December, as well as just after Chinese New Year. And with the most recent hiring period just concluding, Southern Weekend points to signs that graduates are facing a tough time finding jobs. The newspaper cites a science and engineering job fair, held in early December, at Guangzhou’s South China University of Technology. Although 20,000 job hunters turned up, the number of companies present at the fair was down by 20 per cent, and the number of jobs on offer lower by 15 per cent, according to an organiser.

That seems to contradict the more positive picture painted by China’s recent economic figures, which have shown some improvement. HSBC’s Purchasing Managers’ Index in December was at its highest level since May 2011, for example, suggesting a sustained recovery in the important manufacturing sector. But some sectors look dormant in hiring terms. Aviation is a good example of an industry that is holding back on new hires. So too are wind and solar power, currently undergoing a downturn. And with a stock market that has been sluggish for some time, it should be no surprise that companies in the financial sector are also being more selective than usual in picking up new graduate recruits. Southern Weekend cites the applicant test for China Merchants Securities. Its journalist was shown a list of all those who had applied: the first two pages were crowded with graduates of famed US universities, like Stanford and Columbia.

In such a tight job market, graduates are looking to make themselves more attractive to potential employers. One popular route is to get even more education: last weekend, a record 1.8 million students took the kaoyan, the national exam for post-graduate courses, reports the South China Morning Post. Around a third of the candidates believed that taking the exam would improve their career choices, according to a survey quoted by the Hong Kong newspaper. “This year’s competition is quite fierce, because the job market is weak. Many of my coursemates haven’t got jobs yet so doing a master’s degree can buy us a few years’ time,” one said.

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