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Salary, job expectations unmet among Chinese returnees

A number of Chinese returnees have found the reality of coming home after obtaining an overseas degree is falling short of their dreams of a better job and higher salary. According to a recent report, Chinese students feel the employment edge they expect is being lost to savvier and more resilient domestically educated peers.

Just under a quarter of Chinese international graduates returned to Beijing (pictured). Photo: The PIE News

Just under 70% of respondents admitted they expected to earn more

A survey by Beijing-based think tank the Center for China & Globalization, and job search website zhaopin.com found that a lack of understanding of the local workplace and corporate trends plagues many Chinese graduates upon returning home.

Of 1,821 Chinese graduate responses, 66% said they were disadvantaged because they did not understand the current corporate trends in China. Meanwhile, almost three quarters of respondents said that their monthly salary was lower than expected.

“There is a Chinese phrase called ‘eyes are high, but hands are low'”

Returnees also report feeling disadvantaged by missing the career recruitment season, and not being able to adapt back into society in China.

Yiyang Chang, senior analyst at market intelligence firm Emerging Strategy, said part of the disappointment for these returnees could be unrealistic expectations.

“There is a Chinese phrase called ‘eyes are high, but hands are low’. It is used to describe people who are not as capable as they think they are,” she said.

With the number of Chinese returnees rising, totalling 432,500 last year – up from 409,100 in 2015 – Chang argued that a foreign degree won’t guarantee that graduates will stand out in the job hunt anymore.

“Foreign degrees are no longer rare but are still very expensive. It is normal that people made a big investment and expect good ROI, but investors tend to be too optimistic.”

Responses to survey questions about salary expectations suggest as much. Just under 70% of respondents admitted they expected to earn more. Only 1% said they are earning a higher salary than they expected, and 30% said their earnings match their expectations.

And just under half (48.4%) of returnees said they feel superior in the job market to those who didn’t study abroad, while 10.8% said they feel inferior.

Improved English proficiency among Chinese students with domestic degrees is likely dulling the competitiveness of returnees, said Jill Tang, founder of CareerXFactor, a recruitment company for graduates with foreign degrees.

“Chinese millennials are very well travelled now, so even though they have never gone abroad, they are much more open minded,” she said.

Returnees are also hindered by their lack of work experience in China, said Chang.

A large number of Chinese students study abroad after getting degrees in second and third tier cities, with many seeking work opportunities in first tier cities when they return which hold different job requirements.

“Having formal internship experience is not very common in HEIs located in lower-tier cities,” she said.

“These students might find it even more difficult to understand corporate needs and domestic workforce trends as their parents and friends cannot give them information that is specific to the first tier cities.”

Meanwhile Andrew Chen, chief learning officer at WholeRen Education, a US-based international student organisation and agency, said compared to the locally educated population, returnees are less assertive in the job hunt.

“Their grass-root peers are more aggressive and willing to take lower paying jobs to start their careers,” he said.

“Returnee students need to become more resilient because they are typically the only child in a wealthy, large city-based family, and don’t have the same grit as their peers when it comes to rolling up their sleeves.”

Over half of students (54%) reported being in jobs that are ‘fairly compatible’ with their area of study while 28.6% said that it was ‘very incompatible’, and just 16.9% answered that it matched their field of study.

“Their grass-root peers are more aggressive and willing to take lower paying jobs to start their careers”

Sales-related jobs are the most common among Chinese returnees– attracting 13.5% of survey respondents. Around 12% of those surveyed are in technical jobs, while 10% are in marketing, 9.4% in operational roles and 8.4% in administrative positions.

Despite the initial chagrin of coming home, 85.9% of returnees admitted their experience broadened their horizons, and 82.2% felt they had a language advantage.

And 79.5% said their newly acquired cross-cultural communication skills were are an asset.

Chen argued that these skills gained through a Western education will be beneficial for students in the long term.

“Comparing job placement results of returning Chinese students with those that have never studied abroad, it is clear that returnees are much more competitive and are able to climb the job ladder better after two to three years.”

Tang agreed, explaining that if international Chinese graduates can “bypass that landing period, the possibilities of them taking off will be faster than local graduates since they have a global mindset and vision, with relatively better soft skills and independence.”

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