Wang Kui, a fourth-year law student at the South China University of Technology, compares her pursuit of a much-coveted civil service job to speed dating.
"The ones you have a feeling for, you have little chance with, and those you feel you might match well are not necessarily those you are fond of," she said.
Her view encapsulates the despair felt by many college students as they size up their chances of landing a government job. Despite positions in the civil service remaining as highly sought after as ever, with thousands often vying for a single opening, a growing number of vacancies are proving hard to fill.
The application process began on October 15 for the national civil servant qualification exams, with the number applying hitting a record high of 1.52 million, with a year-on-year increase of 20,000, according to official statistics. This despite the fact that planned recruitment by central government agencies and their regional branches is down by 1,000 vacancies to about 19,000, the first cut in three years.
At the same time, 100 openings received no applications, according to Offcn, an institution specialising in civil servant exams coaching.
Mao Xuan, a senior manager at Offcn, said that those 100 jobs were either posts needing special skills or licences which few people possessed or were vacancies in off-beat government agencies or in remote areas. Mao said positions at the police department or railway authority in Harbin in Heilongjiang were often shunned because they could be demanding.
"However, jobs in the civil service remain highly sought after because of their high level of job security, benefits and perceived higher social status," she said. "It's particularly the case that college graduates turn to the civil service for a stable job when the job market is grim."
The intense competition for civil servant jobs on the mainland was recently highlighted when an opening at a policy research office in the State Ethnic Affairs Commission attracted more than 7,000 applicants.
Li Da, a postgraduate student in social work at Beijing Normal University, said that on the day he registered for exams for a vacancy at a department of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, more than 200 other applications were made for the job just that same day.
Li said he did not hold high hopes of securing the position, but would take it as practice for a civil servant recruitment exercise to be held by regional government departments in April.
"You never know before you try," said Li, who will graduate next year. "It's not about how big my chances are, it's an issue of not letting any chance go by, as we college students face an extremely grim job market."
Wang, the law student, remains bitter about giving in to family pressure and signing up for a job offered by the Weifang branch of the China Meteorological Administration in Shandong , her home province.
"I really looked down on myself over that decision because I turned down an offer from my university to exempt me from entry exams for postgraduate study," she said. "But that is what my father wanted me to do, because public service guarantees better pay and job security."