I studied in China for about three years and spent four semesters in the U.S. When I was a college student in China, I remembered my professors always warned us how hard it was going to be to get a job. They said a lot of companies pick one applicant out of 300 or more. Data from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security of the People’s Republic of China reports the 2009 graduate employment rate is 87 percent. Do people believe that? Obviously, that is an extremely high estimate.

Put the words “China job fair,” in Google image search. What do you see? A big convention center filled with people. This is typical in China. Usually the room is divided into lots of small grids. Those are where the public relations people from each company are located. The big room has no air conditioning and temperatures reach at least 80 degrees. Hoards of college graduates shuffle around the space by the thousands. This kind of career fair is often held from May to July. (In China, students only graduate in June.)

I remember the first time I went to a job fair. I got there 30 minutes early, but there was already a big crowd outside waiting to get in. Once the gate opened, a flood of people rushed in. I was afraid I was going to be trampled by someone.

These job-searching graduates come to the job fair with a stack of well-designed résumés, cover letters and recommendation letters from high-profile professors. They go around and drop off their packets on every table, in the hopes of getting a call for an interview.

In this daunting atmosphere, there are two ways to go for Chinese college seniors who are afraid of seeking jobs. One, go to graduate school. Two, study abroad.
But graduate schools ask for more tuition than undergraduate programs and provide no scholarships. Because there are no scholarships, many students become teaching or research assistants to help supplement their income. Even though these jobs don’t pay well, students must have good GPAs and connections to get these jobs.

Studying abroad, meanwhile, only works for students from famous universities who have a good GPA and GRE scores above 1400. The few that do get full scholarships that pay their tuition, health insurance and living expenses. Some students even send money to their parents in China. A lot of people try to leave the country. 

The thing professors usually do not tell students is what your wage is if you do get a job. Since there is no minimum wage in China, people are often paid little. Companies offer $500 a month for the first year. If people that have been picked think this is too low, they’re stuck. The companies have 299 other candidates willing to take whatever they can get. Depending on your performance, your wage can stay the same for years.  

Five-hundred dollars is not a number I made up. I know a lot of graduates making around $500 a month as full-time employees in their first year. Actually, the hardest thing is not finding a job but living on this small amount of money, especially because the price of everything continues to rise as the Chinese economy strengthens.

Hangzhou, my hometown, is a major city with a population of about 8 million. Rent plus utilities is around $250 a month, and food is about $150. A cell phone bill is usually $20 and transportation about $15 (which only includes bus fare). In addition, they also have to buy social insurance, which is about $70. Social insurance is equivalent to social security here, except more expensive.

A month later, they are in the negative and either end up in debt or asking their parents for money.  
Compare it to the situation in the U.S., even with the economy the way it is. The fact that China’s economy had a 9 percent GDP growth last year but people with degrees still can’t get jobs is alarming. It puts everything into perspective.