BEIJING: China's nationwide public servant recruitment system has turned into a seemingly insurmountable challenge for graduates such as Yang Shuo.
Yang, 25, applied for a position in the International Communication Office of Communist Party of China, but with odds of success at 180 to one, he is not confident.
"I dare not say I'm in. I mean, what chance do I have?" he asked.
A job in the International Cooperation Department of the Ministry of Science and Technology was an even longer shot, with more than 4,000 applicants going for a single post.
Aspiring public servants in China must sit an annual exam, which is scheduled for Nov. 29 this year. Applicants are required to confirm their registration online from Monday to Saturday, with a payment of 60 yuan (US$8.8).
A record 1.4 million prospects, up 40 percent from last year, are expected to show an interest, although only about a million are expected to actually sit.
However, even that number far outweighs the number of available positions, which is up by 2,000 from last year's 13,566.
The exam includes an administrative aptitude test that focuses on logic, analytical and language skills, and an essay question to test understanding on social and political affairs. Both are considered necessary qualities to be a public servant.
Each applicant can only apply for one post, but all will sit the same exam. Some posts are more popular than others. The qualification and exam score requirements also differ for each post.
Higher pay and better career prospects often make a job sought after.
Yang would have preferred a post in the General Administration of Sport, but he found all the posts were reserved for undergraduates.
"I am fond of sports, especially soccer. I don't know if I should move on, and go for some job in which I may have no interest," he said.
Yu Zehong, vice director of a Beijing-based educational training corporation that specializes in public servant exam guidance, said graduates are not to blame for following the trend.
"A good career plan is built on practice, which is missing in our education system," Yu said.
"It fails to provide a platform for students to know their own interests or specialties. They can only grasp at any opportunity," Yu said.
Stable pay and the reputation of being a public servant in China is in part behind the popularity of the exam. Parents and schools think working for government is an honor.
But even the successful sometimes fail to appreciate their positions.
Zhang Shipu became a city management inspector in Haidian District after passing the public servant exam last year, but he has been disappointed.
"I majored in English, which is useless in my job now," Zhang said.
"It's trivial work every day, and it's not interesting at all," he said.
Society's expectations of a comfortable or easy life with the government is too high, said an official with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who requested anonymity.
"The principle of promotion by seniority in government units can also limit personal development," the official said.
Still, "give it a try" was the overwhelming advice from parents and teachers as well as on Internet discussion forums.
Yu said people tended to "put eggs in different baskets" and it was not bad for them to have one more choice.
"At least, for many graduates, it's a good warm-up for their job hunting," he said.