Career Development Conference
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Mastering the Dragon: Better Career Counselling for Students Studying Internationally

[quote cite=’Socrates (470/469 – 399 BC)’]I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.[/quote]

An insightful statement for a Career Professional working in today’s globally dominated education system.

If a university is meant to represents a microcosm of society, this means your average careers professional needs the cultural dexterity and agility to work with, and to secure career outcomes for, students from multiple destinations, diverse cultural backgrounds, and a myriad of experiences shaped by their personal ‘exposure’ to world events.

Preparing for your career today requires a global mindset. A global mindset means thinking beyond the immediate, be that time, space, or location. From April 18–24, 2016, I attended a Chinese Career Development Conference hosted by LockinChina. My observations and learnings from that experience forms the basis of this article, and aims to highlight key learning, observations, and provide easy to replicate ‘Take-A-Aways’, that can be implemented by Career Services, irrespective of geographic location.

Understanding China

China’s population is 1.7 billion people. In 2016, 7.65 million will graduate from a Chinese University, compared to 4.95 million in 2007. In 2015, 523,700 people left China to start their studies overseas, representing a 13.9% growth since 2014, and equating to 63,000 students. This desire to study overseas is as a result of a number of drivers, key amongst which, is the desire to enhance their Career opportunities, experience and understand a culture outside of China, and operate as a globally capable graduate. With the continued economic drive, this experience continues to be highly sought after, and as such Career Services are now moving to the position of being able to pre-prepare future returnees for their 1st graduate role, outside their country of study.

In 2015, China saw 409,100 overseas students return to start their careers, representing an increase of 12.1% since 2014, and equating to 44,300 returnees.  

A report conducted in 2015 by LockinChina—a recruitment agency that specialises in supporting overseas returnees—estimates that of the 500K people that leave China each year to start their studies overseas, approximately 60% return straight after graduation. Of the 40% who remain, approximately 20% return after two years, with a further 5–10% who look to return after five or more years of absence. This means a staggering 90% of overseas educated Chinese students will, eventually, return home to China. As career counsellors in student affairs, understanding the Chinese job market and how to properly prepare a student to enter it becomes critical.

Our Australian University Careers and Employability Service aims to empower students to make SMART career choices and decisions, which means our services must support the aspirations of all our students—be they domestic or international. As Career professionals we need to understand and relate to the economic realities our students face and be equipped with the tools and knowledge to help them navigate pathways that are realistic and achievable.  As a careers professional with fourteen years of experience—with half of those years focused on the needs of Chinese students, first whilst working in the UK and now working in Australia—this has become a fascinating and motivating space in which to work.

How Are We Supporting?

The next question is now: how is your Career Services supporting your international students to make informed, critical decisions about the next stage of their lives and careers? This question is important, because having a service that understands the Chinese Internship and graduate jobs market, and the recruitment practices Chinese students will face on their return home, is important.

In March this year, the Australian Prime Minister led a one thousand person trade delegation to China. The purpose of the trade mission being to expose Australia, and in particular South Australian businesses, to Chinese markets. This was considered such an important activity, the SA State Government invited the three state universities to be part of a State supported Chinese Internship Program. The University Career Services, working in conjunction with the Australian China Business Council, designed a program to ensure the businesses who were signed up for the trade mission were fully supported to do business whilst in china, and to make the most of the opportunities that the mission generated on their return.

Chinese Students studying a range of subjects were aligned to those businesses to help them better understand how to conduct business in China, how to read cultural nuances, how to conduct negotiations, how to ensure they maximised their exposure to potential buyers and investors. This was an incredible experience for our students and invaluable knowledge capital for the South Australian businesses who participated, with the long term hope that this will stimulate economic growth, student placements, internships, and long-term graduate jobs.  

At the Conference

Attending the LockinChina conference offered me an “up to the minute” understanding of the current job markets in China, the practices used to recruit thousands of graduates hired by the 300+ organisations attending the Career Expo’s in Beijing and Shanghai, meetings with employers who actively seek out overseas educated Chinese returnees, as well as the hundreds of thousands of employers who post three million jobs onto Chinese Job boards daily. All of this information was invaluable to deepening my knowledge and understanding as well as on my return, being able to better shape our service, the employability programs we run, and our teams ability to work with our students and to empower them to take control of their careers.

Lockin set up meetings for us with employers from all sectors: Multinational Corporations (MNCs), State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), Inter-Governmental International Institutions (IGOs), Government Institutions (The Civil Service), Start-Ups (China’s Start-Up-Army), and privately owned enterprises.

The presentations, workshops, and panel sessions provided me—along with other delegates from the US, Canada, Europe, Australasia, and Asia—with a wealth of knowledge, insights, and easy to implement take-a-ways to ensure their Chinese students would have the skills and understanding to set them up ahead of their return.

Me at the Lockin China, Careers Expo, Shanghai
Me at the Lockin China, Careers Expo, Shanghai


For those of us who witnessed a graduate recruitment scenario, the impersonal nature of Chinese recruitment practice was a shock! No resume or cover letter was required and the initial process was executed by a machine, tasked with screening out up to 80% of the on-line applications.   

For the 20% or so that made it through, the next stage was a structured interview, which contained five set questions delivered—for our benefit by humans, but normally—by a machine, for which each candidate had one minute to answer each question, after which they were timed out. The reason, we were told, being that during peak graduate recruitment seasons, an interview panel could be faced with up to 100 candidates a day and so, to get through the numbers, they had needed to find a more efficient system.

Peak Graduate Recruitment Season

  • Gold: September – November: during which 60% of jobs are released,
  • Silver: Post Spring Festival through to April: during which a further 20% of jobs are released,
  • 20% of jobs are held back for continuous or ongoing recruitment to meet demand.

Successful candidates from the previous two rounds then had an opportunity to be part of an unstructured interview during which they were encouraged to talk about their university experience, career ambition, and how they can enhance miàn zi (面子) (face) for the organisation.

It was explained by the recruiters that this was the moment when overseas students could maximise their advantage by talking about their independence in living, their ability to understand and operate in two cultures, and how they will use this to benefit their employer.

Enhanced English proficiency was taken as a given, to the extent that the overseas returnees were required to demonstrate a far greater degree of dexterity and professional competency than their Chinese educated counterparts, some of whom had exquisite skills in speaking English.   

It was also explained that overseas educated Chinese need to run two parallel recruitment strategies from day one of arriving at University. They need to retain their professional networks and undertake internships in China as well as in their new country, so as not to lose their connection with, and ability to function as, a future professional in China.

Perhaps the most pertinent of all things I learned  at the conference was the concept of reverse culture shock. The pace of change and degree of economic sophistication has grown extensively in the 18 months since I was last in China. The overwhelming Chinese Economic Dragon has to be seen to be understood. A student that has only been home to see family, hasn’t completed a Chinese Internship nor applied for roles in their penultimate year, or misses the Chinese graduate recruitment timetable is in danger of no longer being considered a ‘fresh’ Graduate.

While there is not much we can do to alleviate the shock many students will experience, there are practical things that can be put in place:

  1. Two day workshops to simulate Chinese graduate recruitment to allow students to experience first hand graduate recruitment practices.
  2. Upskilling academic and professional colleagues to ensure they are aware of the economic landscape and opportunities that are available.
  3. The continued, but enhanced, Skyping in of S.E. Asian employers into Career Expos, etc. to facilitate the early recruitment of confirmed returnees, prior to graduation.  
  4. Links to S.E. Asian employers and jobs sites who actively source overseas educated returnees.
  5. UniSA China Alumni Chapters to offer mentoring of confirmed returnees so they can quickly re-orientate themselves back into chinese culture, and professional networks, to support job hunting.
  6. Stronger emphasis on the need to undertake a chinese internship, as well as one in your country of study.
  7. Work with Austcham China to stimulate more placement and internship opportunities for students, both for Chinese and for domestics, who want to experience working in China.  

The conference was extremely beneficial in reinforcing what I either knew or suspected. It reminded me that China is evolving, and given that our students will return to such an environment, it is our duty to remind them to keep all career pathways open, to ensure their internship and graduate job hunting stretches far beyond their current geographical locations.

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand…”
“…Roads were made for Journeys not destinations…”
….No matter where you go, there you are…”

— Confucius, 551 B.C.

Attendees at the Lockin China, Careers Expo, Shanghai
Attendees at the Lockin China, Careers Expo, Shanghai

Catherine Klime at the Career Development Conference
China Career Development Conference, Hosted by LockinChina, Beijing, China, 21.04.2016

Catherine Klimeš
UniSA Careers & Employability Service, University of South Australia, Adelaide (07.05.2016)

Experience: 14 Years Careers and Employability Professional with globalized experience as Head of Careers and Employability, University of Northampton, UK (2005-2012). Responsible for the Student Engagement Careers and Employability Service at the University of South Australia.

April 2016, seconded to manage a 12 month Vice Chancellors strategic review of Placement and Internships. Key areas of focus include working with domestic and global recruiters of student and graduate talent to identify trends in the future demand for university students and graduates. The required attributes, competencies and mindsets that will be needed. Analysing graduate employability destinations and working with academic schools to identify emerging employment sectors, and how the university can best capitalise on these in terms of future curriculum development.