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BEIJING (Reuters) - Holding fresh CVs but lowered hopes, hundreds of thousands of Chinese students flocked to recruitment fairs across the country this week as the government warned them not to be fussy amid the global financial crisis.
"I'll take anything so long as it's over 1,000 yuan ($146) a month," said an IT graduate surnamed Wu, clutching application forms at a job fair at the Beijing Vocational College of Electronic Science.
"I wanted to find a job as a web designer, but the situation with IT companies at the moment is very bad. They've all been shedding workers and the competition is fierce," said Wu.
Wu is among 6.1 million students entering the workforce in China next year, 500,000 more than last year, as the economy faces slipping into single-digit annual growth for the first time since 2002.
Having complained of declining graduate salaries over the last few years as the number of degree holders has exploded, job-seeking students are now frustrated as companies cut salaries and staff amid a bleak economic outlook.
"The global financial crisis has really affected the job markets. Companies have scaled back their recruitment plans," said Zhang, a 22-year-old accounting student.
"My parents have given me some pressure to find a steady job," she said, standing next to a company's recruitment stall thronged by students.
China's graduate recruitment drive aims to find nearly 400,000 jobs for graduates through job fairs in 259 cities involving more 30,000 companies across the country.
Formerly aloof universities are scrambling to contact companies to press them to recruit students, as officials warn of tough times ahead for job-seekers.
"Student employment from the end of this year through next year faces a tightening trend," Zhang Xiaojin, Vice-Minister of Labor and Social Security, told reporters on Thursday.
"There is less room in the job market," he said.
Efforts to boost higher education have seen universities mushroom over the past decade, but academics and businesses have criticized authorities for churning out poorly trained graduates into a job market incapable of absorbing them.
"The Chinese education system really has not been successful," said Yang Xiaosong, CEO of an exclusive golf club, as his staff cast a keen eye over hopeful applicants.
"The students only know stuff about their specializations. They lack experience and practical knowledge about the real world," said Yang.
The government's response has been to tell students to get real.
"There still exists a gap between university students' expectations and the reality of the job market, and this has become a barrier to student employment," said Vice-Minister Zhang.
Employers at the Beijing Vocational College job fair, a simple scattering of desks around a windswept courtyard, are quick to agree.
"The quality of the students coming here is not very good," sniffed a recruiter with a hotel management company looking to hire English and Japanese-speaking students.
"They come here and say 'we're just looking', they don't seem that keen to find a job," she said.
The students, however, tell a different story and say they know they have little scope to be selective.
Web design student Wu said he would consider taking a low-level village official post in the country -- one of the government's schemes to put graduates into work.
"The way things are at the moment, graduates don't choose their jobs. The jobs choose them," Wu said.
"Is your company looking for work?" he added, looking up hopefully.
Additional reporting by Yu Le and Beijing newsroom; Editing by Paul Tait