When Eileen Chen resigned from a respectful banking service three years ago, the then 25-year-old set her sights on a position at one of the best internet businesses in China, in view of the industry’s growth potential and ample salary.
To increase her chances of being selected, Chen paid more than Rmb10,000 ($ 1,500) for a three-month online course offered to learn everything from customizing her resume to getting technical recruiters’ attention. pull to the negotiation of a good salary. Also offered: simulations of the written tests used by the internet giants, and ridiculous interviews.
As competition for technical jobs increases, candidates turn to a semi-underground network of insiders who offer to pass on the secrets of the intense recruitment process for jobs ranging from software engineers to product or marketing managers. These “job-hunting coaches” – often apostate managers or even current employees who earn extra income – use their services on Chinese social media sites, even if some employers express their skepticism about whether they are really adding the value they claim.
Chen was a satisfied customer. Most of the instructors at the program she used were full-time employees or even interviewers at well-known Internet companies, she said, and the training helped her graduate as a product manager at a well-known internet company in Beijing within a month of .
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“Their tips are very helpful. Some even listen to our recorded interviews and help find out where the problems are, ”she told Nikkei Asia, asking that her new employer not be named. “If I had not taken this class and studied on my own, my chances of success would have been much lower.”
According to the latest income report from the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics, employees in internet businesses in the private sector were again at the top of the rankings with an average annual income of Rmb101,281 in 2020, 18.7 percent more than the previous year. It was higher than the average worker’s income in the finance industry – in fact, Internet businesses only started paying more than finance a decade ago. The employees of the internet business now earn twice as much as workers in the real estate sector, the survey showed.
Among the most popular employers are e-commerce giant Alibaba Group and its smaller rival Pinduoduo, the technology conglomerate Tencent Holdings and ByteDance, the parent company of the global short video sensation TikTok. Employees report that they have to go through up to nine rounds of interviews to get a job, and the selection process at top companies becomes more difficult and complicated as the pace of hiring slows down.
The popularity of coaches looking for work provides a lucrative second career for those with experience and an entrepreneurial range.
Zoey, a former product manager at Baidu who did not want to give her full name, resigned her job last year and became a full-time coach. She shares her experience with small groups of people through livestream classes and offers one-on-one tutorials.
“The Internet industry in China is developing very well, and many more people want to enter the industry now,” she said. But most people, especially recent graduates, do not know how to prepare for interviews, and universities do not have relevant training, she said.
Zoey and her partners – also former employees of internet companies – sell a wide range of programs that cost between Rmb2,000 and Rmb20,000, according to the online store she set up on Taobao, China’s largest e-commerce platform. One marketing poster claims that more than 500 people – 70 percent of its students – have successfully found work at top internet businesses.
The coaches can be selective about who they are fighting for, which reflects the internet businesses’ own preferences. Some say it is only suitable for applicants who have graduated from the “top 100” universities in China or the top 200 schools on the QS World University Rankings.
Last year, Cindy Chu, a 29-year-old software engineer, left her job at a retail business in Hong Kong because she thought she was not learning enough.
Like many, she would rather join one of the best internet businesses in China. But Chu soon realized that a master’s degree at a top university in Hong Kong and five years of experience were not good enough to get her the job she wanted. For example, to be a software developer at Tencent, she had to take a technical exam, ranging from the basics of program design to the ability to write code on the spot.
‘It’s like a university exam. You will not use 90 percent of what is tested at work, but you must have the knowledge to pass the interview, ”she said.
Chu spent Rmb8,000 on an online course designed to prepare applicants for such tests. After months of study, she succeeds and gets the Tencent job after six rounds of interviews.
‘It’s getting harder to get jobs at internet businesses. They keep the bar high, ”says Su Jiankuan, product design manager at Zhiqun, an online vocational training company specializing in the Internet industry.
While Chinese internet businesses have surpassed their period of fastest growth, ‘there are still many people who want to enter the industry,’ he said.
Recruiters at the big companies are not sure that the programs necessarily increase everyone’s chances of being selected.
“Personally, I do not like the ‘presentation-driven’ training programs,” said a recruiter at a leading Internet company posting tips for job seekers on the Bilibili video site under the username Tai Fenyan. Presentation-driven programs focus on getting candidates through an interview and getting a job offer, rather than learning the skills that are actually needed for the job, she said. “They deal with the symptoms, not the underlying problems.”
Tai said it would be more helpful if respondents spent a few months to a year on skills programs or gaining relevant experience by running an actual project. “What the best internet businesses need are those who can quickly spot and solve the problems,” she said, something that can not be coached within days or weeks – although she acknowledges that respondents may be more confident in an interview than they receive good advice from senior people in the industry.
It remains to be seen how serious the change of tone in Beijing can be in the competition for jobs at the big technology companies. Not only is the central government stepping on new regulations, but President Xi Jinping has also begun to emphasize “general prosperity” over the rich-getting mentality that prevails in technology in some areas.
While jobs at Internet and IT enterprises still remain the best choice for new university students in China, there are signs that more jobs are being sought at state-owned enterprises and in government. According to a survey conducted this year by recruitment company Zhaopin, only 19 percent of 2021 graduates said they prefer to work for private companies, up from 25.1 percent last year.
At the moment, however, internet giants can still pick strong candidates from a pool and the competition remains intense. “Graduates of Peking University and Tsinghua University are very common these days,” Tai said, “so our criteria have become higher.”
A version of this article was first published by Nikkei Asia on September 21, 2021. © 2021 Nikkei Inc. All rights reserved