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Job Hunting Season
More college graduates are giving equal weight to career prospects and living costs when choosing their first job
By Zhang Shasha  ·  2019-08-13  ·   Source: NO. 33 AUGUST 15, 2019
Students attend their graduation ceremony at Tsinghua University in Beijing on July 7 (XINHUA)

Li Zhi got two job offers before he even finished his master's degree at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, one of China's top universities in Beijing, in July, undoubtedly inspiration to those who are still interviewing. But the 26-year-old was soon plagued with insomnia as he tried to make his final decision.

"I had never suffered from insomnia before; this was a really hard decision to make," Li told Beijing Review.

The two offers were both ideal for a student like Li with a major in electronics and communication engineering, which are equally sought after in the industry and offer similar salaries and positions. What made it difficult for Li was deciding where he wanted to live and work, since one job was in Beijing and the other was in Nanjing in east China's Jiangsu Province.

This dilemma is one of the first challenges for many first-time job hunters like Li. According to the Ministry of Education, there are a record high 8.34 million college graduates this year. Stabilizing employment has become a top priority for the government to firm up the economy and restore market confidence.

Migrant graduates

Finally, Li decided to join a subsidiary of ZTE Corp., a leading Chinese telecommunications equipment maker, in Nanjing, which means he will have to relocate to an unfamiliar city.

However, he is not afraid of settling down in a new place since he has lived in several cities over the past few years, in addition to Beijing. Born in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, he got his bachelor's degree in a university in Xi'an in the northwestern province of Shaanxi and spent his internship in Wuhan in the central province of Hubei. What most concerns him, though, is that he has no acquaintances in Nanjing and that it is much further from his hometown than Beijing.

According to a recent report released by 58.com, one of the largest recruitment platforms in China, 88.6 percent of 2019 college graduates prefer working where they studied because they are more familiar with the environment, and their friends, classmates and teachers may be able to play a helpful role in their future careers.

"But I have to plan for the future," Li said, "Most of my classmates chose to remain in Beijing, but the high housing prices and strict restrictions on permanent residence there are two big concerns for me."

Even in suburban areas in Beijing, where it takes nearly an hours' drive to get to the city center, mid-range houses sell for 40,000-50,000 yuan ($5,763-7,204) per square meter on average, and rent is also higher than other cities, he added. However, according to the 58.com report, the average starting salary for new graduates nationwide is 6,423 yuan ($925).

But it's a different story in many other cities across the country that feature high-speed economic development and rising comprehensive competitiveness. According to a report released in May by Yicai Media Group, a leading financial media outlet, many large and medium-sized cities, including Nanjing, Wuhan and Xi'an, are providing new college graduates with competitive salaries, promising job opportunities and preferential policies for housing and permanent residence.

For example, Nanjing has removed all restrictions on permanent residence for this year's college graduates and individuals with master's degrees and above who are living and working in the city. Other migrants can also apply for registration as permanent urban residents in the city in accordance with three other policies, including a merit-based point system that was established in March. The Nanjing local government also launched a new policy in May to allow those who have rented houses for five years or more to buy them with a discount loan.

Li is paying 1,900 yuan ($274) a month for his room in Nanjing, while a room of similar size and distance from the workplace in Beijing would cost more than 3,500 yuan ($504) per month.

"Although megacities like Beijing, Shanghai, as well as Guangzhou and Shenzhen in south China's Guangdong Province, are still the most attractive to graduates, other places are accelerating their chase to catch up with a robust momentum of economic growth and supporting policies, showcasing a growing appeal," said Zhang Wenlang, a chief asset analyst with Everbright Securities, a Shanghai-based brokerage firm, to Eeo.com.cn, a business portal in China.

Job seekers stop at various booths at a recruitment fair in Jinan, east China's Shandong Province, on July 6 (XINHUA)

Rational job hunters

Young graduates think comprehensively about income, career development and personal interests, which constitute the top three factors for choosing a job, according to the 58.com report. They are becoming more rational in choosing their first job.

Li once considered transferring to software development like some of his classmates since it is a blue-chip position in the Internet industry, which ranked first in salary growth among all industries tracked, according to the report, followed by finance and education. But in the end, he did not because he believes hardware jobs, with lower salaries compared to software positions, will have a brighter career outlook in the future. Even so, he did transfer to hardware design, which earns more than hardware processing.

In addition, 93 percent of new college graduates are willing to work overtime, according to the report, which they think is a way to learn more in a shorter time and improve their personal competitiveness amid an increasingly fierce job market.

Despite a growing number of college graduates, China's employment market remains stable, Lin Huiqing, Vice Minister of Education said at a recent conference. Despite growing external uncertainties, China's economy is resilient and there is a strong demand for college graduates, with the business environment for startups getting better and the government able to respond to various challenges and difficulties.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, in the first half of the year, there was an increase in the newly employed in urban areas, totaling 7.37 million and accounting for 67 percent of the annual target. However, in June, China's surveyed urban unemployment rate was 5.1 percent, 0.1 percentage point higher than the previous month.

As a next step, the government will focus on a new model to combine the Internet with employment to precisely match college graduates with employers. Meanwhile, attention will be placed on career development education for students so they can better understand the job market and their own abilities and limitations, and a special training will be offered to graduates who have difficulty finding a job, Lin said.

Overall, Li still feels somewhat confused and uncertain about future developments, which he thinks is a common issue for most new graduates. But what he deeply believes is that while looking up at the stars, one should also keep one's feet firmly on the ground.

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo

Comments to zhangshsh@bjreview.com

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