"I'll never forget that experience," said Li Mingzhen, a senior college student at Fudan University in Shanghai, when recalling her interview with a well-known Chinese search engine company.
Li was weeded out in that competition last autumn. But it was not her failure that surprised her most. "I walked inside the interview room, and I found my college instructor was there, among other candidates," Li said.
The man was three years older than her and held a graduate degree. "How could you possibly compete for a job with your own teacher, when he trumps you in gender, education background and working experiences?" wondered Li.
"I couldn't speak a word during the group discussion in the first 10 minutes."
The 23-year-old Shaanxi native's interview story reflects the struggles of millions of Chinese graduates, who this year face job-hunting competition that is set to be tougher than ever. Under a cruel dynamic, China's economic growth has slowed while the graduate supply continues to rise.
According to the Ministry of Education, 7.27 million university students will enter the job market this year, mostly in June and July. That figure is 280,000 more than in 2013, a year already labeled the most difficult employment season on record.
Latest statistics from the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission (SMEC) show that the total number of graduates in Shanghai in 2014 will be 178,000, the same as in 2013. But only 20 percent of the city's university graduates had signed employment contracts by March 10.
On that date, the number of registered job openings in Shanghai stood at 90,000, less than half the number of graduating students.
"But more job vacancies are expected as small enterprises usually don't register their job openings," says Tian Lei, a supervisor of the SMEC's Student Affairs Department.
From March to May is the golden time for graduates' job hunting, adds Ping Hui, an official with the SMEC.
Ping highlighted three groups of students facing particular difficulty in finding jobs. The first is graduates from vocational institutes, where specialties are not competitive. The second is students majoring in finance, law, history, literature, art and sport, and the third is female graduates and those from families with financial difficulties.
According to a 2011 report released by the All-China Women's Federation, 56.7 percent of female university students interviewed said there were "fewer job opportunities for girls," and a remarkable 91.9 percent said they had suffered gender discrimination from employers.
Luckily for Li, as a female student from Fudan Journalism School, she got two offers in early April: one for a position as an administrative assistant for a Sino-U.S. university and one from a famous TV program producer. Li chose the latter to become a TV director.
"The job-hunting process is cruel, and sometimes frustrating, but the result is sweet and gives me confidence," she said.