2013 statistics show the number of yearly Chinese college graduates at 6,990,000, a new all-time high. But students graduating from top schools are having trouble finding work too. One student who received her undergraduate degree from Nanjing University and then went to University of Cambridge for her graduate education, returned to China and started looking for work immediately upon graduation in November of last year. “In interviews, I wouldn’t dare mention my experience at Cambridge, ” she said, “Many companies wouldn’t be able to accept it, and so I wouldn’t talk about it either.”
“You graduated from Cambridge, why would you want to come here?”
When 25 year old Lin Xi (pseudonym) finally found work, both she and her parents could finally breathe easy. Looking back on the months spent searching for a job, Lin Xi sighs deeply. Actually, the way many people see it, it shouldn’t be so hard for Lin Xi to find work.
Lin Xi graduated with a degree in a liberal arts subject from Nanjing University in 2007. She was a top student, and was also constantly active in school activities and foreign exchange programs. Without any trouble at all, she applied to a graduate program at one of the world’s best schools, University of Cambridge, and was admitted with scholarship to a social sciences program, something that few students of the humanities can boast.
Then, just as she was feeling proud of her successful graduation, she started searching for a job and found the “halo of a famous school” is a bit heavy.
At first, Lin Xi searched for jobs exclusively at Fortune 500 companies. Banks, large-scale chain supermarkets, fast moving consumer goods companies… she sent out nearly a hundred resumes, applying to positions in human resources, marketing, even a few in management training programs. But except for a few responses, the majority of her submissions were “lost at sea”. And those few companies where she did get interviews went nowhere in the end. Lin Xi gradually came to realize, without a background in a business-related major, she was filtered out in the first round. “In such a situation, it makes no difference if you went to a top school.” She slowly “took a lower stance”, going for some office jobs at mid and small-sized companies. At that point, when she went to interview, the first question was always basically, “You graduated from Cambridge. Why would you want to come here?” Regardless of Lin Xi’s attempts to explain that she hoped the position to be a platform on which she could gain experience, in the end, they found various reasons to tactfully reject her.
Lin Xi was starting to go a bit crazy, “Eventually, in my self introductions, I preferred to just say that I had graduated from Nanjing University.”
A returnee from a top school unable to find work, she’s not alone
Lin Xi is not the only such case. Among her Chinese classmates from Cambridge, more than a few had trouble finding employment. She thinks that many companies have too high expectations of those coming back from study at top schools. They think the students have been abroad, attended a great school, and so their abilities must be much be greater than others. In fact, for these returnees, the period of adjustment still hasn’t ended. Adding to the the fact that the work is basic and somewhat trivial, these returnees will definitely have some gaps in their work abilities.
Last month, Lin Xi found an opportunity to work in the educational administrative office of a university. After considering it for a while, she accepted the offer. “Finding work this year really isn’t easy.” The things her coworkers say sometimes make her uneasy, “It’s a waste of talent for you to be working here.” For now, she has decided to be content with the position. But if anyone asks her again, she’s not going to bring up her graduate studies at Cambridge. This way, she can “alleviate some of the pressure on herself.” Still, she doesn’t regret her educational experience at all. “I’ll rise above the rest some day with my broader perspective and accomplishments.”
Mr. Kong, who is responsible for human resources at a mid-size Nanjing company, said that the hiring season this year hasn’t been easy for him either. “Top school returnees” like Lin Xi, especially those without specialized training, are not few. Companies love talent, but they also have misgivings, worried that they may become a “temporary stepping stone” for such students, and afraid that after these individuals have become proficient and developed a network, they’ll leave immediately. For this reason, they don’t “dare” to hire them. He also explained that for students coming from top schools, educational history an important criteria for showing overall quality, and one does not need to be secretive about it or take it as a psychological burden. The path to employment will become easier if these job seekers make clear the direction of their development, set goals and make a plan, and let companies feel their sincerity.
Original Publication Date: 5/16/13