Chinese university students suffer job search anxiety as economy softens

Friday, 16 Nov 2018

Anxiety is gripping university students set to graduate next year, as 8.6 million new degree holders are set to encounter a softer job market, particularly among the real estate sector as property developers downsize their campus recruitment plans.

October is a traditional month for Chinese employers to tour university campuses in search of prospective hires from the upcoming year of graduates. Outwardly there is nothing different this year, as recruitment posters are displayed all over the campus in Beijing’s top universities. Inwardly, there is a different story.

The slowing housing market and a general downturn in economic momentum since August have prompted a more cautious attitude among developers, especially when it comes to recruitment.

For example China Evergrande Group and Guangzhou R&F Properties have halted recruitment, according to a report by China Business News reported in late October, which cited internal company documents.

But a review of the hiring calendars among Beijing’s top universities showed that developers still have a presence.

In a recent “campus talk” organised by developer Yango City Group in Tsinghua University---China’s equivalent of MIT, a 196-seat auditorium was packed by eager jobseekers. Many even had to stand in the hallway.

During the question and answer session, executives of the Fuzhou-based developer – ranked 14th nationwide by sales, – were confronted by direct questions over the bearish sentiment hanging over the industry.

“The days when developers could easily make huge profit is over. The industry now is returning to a normal and rational stage. It’s still a good industry,” Zhu Rongbin, president of Yango City Group, said.

In another campus talk at Peking University, students directed similar questions at Shanghai-based developer Seazen Holdings Co, the nation’s No 8 ranked developer by contracted sales.

“Now is hardly the coldest winter. 2014 was much worse when I joined the company. Also, you should know that winter is the season closest to spring,” said Xu Feng, a former student of Peking University who now works for Seazen.

Wang Baolong, a master’s student majoring in physics, said he shifted focus to strategic positions in real estate companies after he interned at a securities firm for three months without getting an offer.

“The financial sector is in a dire condition. The property sector is not good, but I think there are more opportunities,” Wang said.

Gong Ruoyu, an engineering student at Manchester University, who attended the Yongo City job fair, said he had applied to 20 developers without success.

“A lot of these talks are just a formality for branding purposes. Some of my classmates interning in developers said internees have already taken up most of the headcount,” he said.

Asked if he had a preference among employers, Gong said he would take any job offer in the property industry, as there was little much room for choice.

Gong said he would consider any opportunity and did not have a target company in mind.

Lily Jia, a finance student from the University of Sussex who was attending the job fair, said she won four offers from developers last year, but had yet to receive a single offer this year.

“I made it to the group interview of Sunac China, but none of the four participants passed. I doubt if they really need a person for this position,” she said.

A report by Zhaopin, a human resources service, found that the prosperity index for the real estate and construction sector slumped 28.8 per cent in the third quarter over the previous quarter, underperforming the 20.8 per cent decline of all sectors. However, it outperformed the 31.5 per cent retreat of the internet and e-commerce sector, and 30.7 per cent fall for the securities sector.

The quarter on quarter contraction is the first since 2015, according to Zhaopin, which noted that the third quarter usually sees an uptick.

A human resource manager with a major developer, who requested anonymity, said it is normal for real estate firms to replace staff with new graduates. In addition to factors such as cost, developers are hiring workers with new skills, such as computer science, biology and agriculture as they diversify their businesses.

“Companies still care about campus recruitment because they prefer employees that highly identify their corporate culture and value, so it is better to cultivate people with few experience,” Li Qiang, marketing head of Zhaopin, said.

Seazen said it was seeking to hire 1,000 staff this year through campus recruitment, compared with 300 last year.The developer is the fastest growing among rivals according to October sales tracked by consultancy CRIC.


This article originally appeared in South China Morning Post online

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