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Job snobs

Released at: 15:00, 15/01/2017

Job snobs

Photos: Viet Tuan

Many university graduates seem to feel that a high paying executive job upon graduation is an entitlement and not something to be earned.

by Le Diem

A question from a student at a recent work opportunity conference about how to earn a monthly salary of $2,000 upon graduation triggered strong debate among the public, given that per capita GDP in Vietnam was $2,200 in 2016, according to the World Bank. The high expectations in salary and position among new graduates from university and college are more often than not illusory, especially at a time when unemployment is increasing and a high percentage of people holding degrees are either out of work or in a job considered below their station.

According to the latest figures from the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs, unemployment stood at 1,117,700 in the third quarter of 2016, up 2.7 and 4.2 per cent against the second and first quarter, respectively. Of these, people aged 15-24 accounted for the most, at 57 per cent, or 642,000 people. The jobless rate among people living in urban areas was four-fold that of people living elsewhere. 

More seriously, the number of unemployed university graduates was high, at 202,300, or 18 per cent, which is 5.7 and 5.9 per cent higher than in the second and first quarters, respectively. Another 122,400 with college qualifications and 73,800 with vocational training qualifications are also jobless.

Under the circumstances, many of the younger generation, born in the 1990s, have totally unrealistic expectations when applying for a job and this may in part lie behind the high number of unemployed graduates, according to recruiters. 

Ambition exceeds ability

A few years ago, the response of students at Hanoi’s Foreign Trade University (FTU) to a recruitment ad on the school’s website for new graduates made the jaws of recruiters and the public drop. The starting salary of VND3.3 million ($145) was deemed too low and not equal to their standing, according to students at “Vietnam’s Harvard”. The FTU is rightly known as one of the country’s leading universities, with many graduates going on to secure good jobs. At the time, some even said they would not work for less than $1,000 a month. 

Attitudes certainly haven’t changed. Students, especially those from top university or who have graduated in “hot” majors such as IT, foreign trade, marketing, and hospitality, still seek high salaries and big job titles as soon as their studies come to an end, according to recruiters. “They think they are better than students from other universities and want to affirm their social position as soon as possible,” said Ms. Quynh Nhu, HR Manager at a private trading company.

This, though, is perfectly reasonable, according to Mr. Huy Hung, one of the FTU students. Entrance to FTU is difficult and fees are higher than at other universities, so FTU students must work harder. In an environment with many good students, he has to compete to get a good degree. Many also work part-time, for the experience and also some extra cash. “So when we graduate, there is nothing wrong with asking for a high salary,” he said. “We need to be compensated for the cost of studying for three years and for our current living costs and savings. I don’t need to study at a top school to earn $145 a month. Anyone can do that.”

Of a similar mind, Ms. Pham Thanh, a student at the Academy of Cryptography Techniques, who posed the question mentioned above, said that salary is always one of the most important factors in finding a job. So she wanted to know about the requirements of recruiters regarding applicants’ knowledge, professional skills, and capabilities in preparation for life after graduation. 

According to a 2016 survey conducted by JobStreet.com and JobsDB on 50,000 new graduates in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong, Vietnamese graduates have the lowest happiness index, at 4.9/10, while the happiest were Filipinos (6.5/10), followed by Indonesians (6/10) and Thais (5.9/10). 

Another survey by JobStreet on 1,200 new Vietnamese graduates last year revealed that 75 per cent considered salary to be the most important factor when finding employment, while job requirements and the working environment were second and third, as answered by 71 per cent and 50 per cent of respondents, respectively. The job description - the key factor in applicants knowing whether they can actually do the job - was last, at 40 per cent. 

The real world

The expectations of young Vietnamese, needless to say, vary a great deal from those of the previous generations. 

For those born in the 1970s and 1980s, the first concern of a graduate was finding a stable job. “If you could find a good, stable job right after graduation, you were lucky,” said Ms. Thuy Hang, a 35-year-old high school teacher. 

Prior to the 2000s, a stable job at a State-owned enterprise was much coveted. Even though the salary was usually substantially lower than at a private enterprise, people always hoped to secure one of the limited vacancies. 

Both Ms. Hang’s parents were teachers their whole lives and wanted their two daughters to follow in their footsteps. “Working for a State-owned enterprise, you would never have worry about either being fired or the company shutting down,” she said. “My sister chose not to do that, so I was their only hope. I wanted to make them feel secure, so I tried to find a job at a public school.” 

Many people have to struggle to get a good government job. Sometimes they do nothing or find a job outside of their profession and wait for what they want. After graduating from the Hanoi National University of Education, Ms. Hang was unemployed for a year before finding her job, which pays VND800,000 ($35) a month. “I could get a job at a private school with a better salary, but I was willing to wait for a job at a public school, which is more stable,” she said. 

Others who are more ambitious and adventurous aim for private enterprises, for career development more so than salary.  

One was Ms. Hang’s older sister, Ms. Thuy Hanh, now a 37-year-old marketing manager at an interior design company. Also a graduate of the FTU, in 2001, she immediately landed a job at FPT Telecom, one of the leading companies in telecommunications. She was paid VND2 million ($88) per month; a high salary compared to the average of VND1-1.5 million ($44-66) at the time.  

Graduation didn’t come easily, though. She had to study hard at university and do some part-time work like waitressing or tutoring English to kids for $15-20 a month. To get the job at FPT Telecom she worked on a few projects at the company for two years. “A job at a big company like FPT Telecom is obviously a good chance to work in a professional working environment, where I can learn a lot from talented people and have opportunities for promotion,” she said. “So I tried hard to compete with other students when the work was offered at my university.” 

After changing jobs twice more for better opportunities, 15 years after graduation she now earns $1,500 a month. “It’s taken me a long time and a lot of effort for me to earn this salary, which is still less than many young people ask for at their first job,” she said, believing graduates today to be overly wishful. Many students at good schools are overconfident about their study background and look at the great success found by some individuals at their alma mater and use that as the standard.

Sharing a similar view as Ms. Hanh, Mr. Nguyen Ba Ngoc, Chairman of NBN Media, said that the younger generation have had access to better study conditions and new technology to make them more creative than the previous generations and so their requirements are also higher. Sometimes, though, their requirements far exceed their capabilities. “Some want to be in a top positions and earn a high salary despite having no real experience or ability,” he said. “For example, they don’t know how to manage a group of three people but want the title of manager. When they are asked to start at an appropriate, lower level, they are unhappy and many refuse. They are even willing to quit the job, including those that are still financially supported by their parents.”

Answering Ms. Thanh’s $2,000 question, Mr. Le Minh Hung, Director of Internet Space at Viettel Telecom, another leading telecommunications company, advised her to calm down. A very high income is a dream come true, not something you immediately receive upon graduation when you lack experience. Knowledge gained at school is usually theoretical and may not be useful 100 per cent of the time in reality. 

Another JobStreet survey on over 400 Vietnamese recruiters found that accepting the offered salary was one of three key factors when deciding to employ a new graduate. Ms. Ngoc Hai, JobStreet’s Marketing Director, advised new students to not pay too much attention to the salary and look more at the opportunities to develop their career. 

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