Buying Internship Opportunities, "Trick" Instead of "Quick Win"

Fierce competition and the pursuit of famous companies make students and fresh graduates believe that they can take a shortcut by paying an agency for an internship at a company with a household name to polish their resumes. Even if they know, they might walk into a scam.

During graduation season and holidays, advertisements selling internships are everywhere. Covid-19 has made working from home a norm. The internship agencies evolved accordingly and started to offer remote internships. The phrase "internship agencies" is all over China's social media or e-commerce sites. These so-called agencies all claim to have the internal resources to refer students for internships at well-known investment banks, securities companies, and tech companies. The price for one position ranges from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

How Does it Work? 

According to the agencies, there are two kinds of internships available: formal ones and informal ones. 

·       Formal Internships

A formal internship comes from actual demand from the organization. Agencies will connect the buyers to HR departments, and the buyers will actually work in the company for three to six months.

·       Informal Internships

An employee from the company will arrange the work and guide the intern through it. The intern will not formally join the company, and the company will not issue an "internship certificate", a piece of paper that Chinese universities require their students to submit. The duration of this kind of internship is usually less than two months.

 Who Is Paying for Internships? 

·       Junior Students

Universities usually require students to complete at least one internship. Students have to get the company to stamp on their internship certificates and bring them back to school. Some students would pay for an internship because they need the certificate to cope with the school. Students who do not have three months would rather spend some money to find a place that offers a more flexible schedule. Some of them just need to polish their resumes to reach better positions after they graduate.

Data from the Ministry of Education shows that the total size of the 2021 class is 9.09 million, an increase of 350,000 year-on-year. Many students hope to win a better place in this fight. 

·       Chinese Students Studying Abroad but Plan to Come Back

The Report on Employment and Entrepreneurship of Chinese Returnees in 2020 shows that the number of returnees applying for domestic jobs in 2020 increases 33.9% from 2019. Tremendous pressure from the competition and unfamiliar working environment make paying for internships an option for some overseas graduates. The student will find a satisfying job easier with internship experience in a famous domestic company and knows their work process.

The Truth About This Business

Fresh graduates prefer working in larger companies to get paid more and more potential for promotion. Since there are only a few targets, spending money to get it might seem reasonable. However, many students find that the internships they paid for are pointless. Some even fail to get an internship at all.

Tencent, Meituan, PwC, Citic Securities, KPMG, and other companies once issued statements confirming that they have never worked with any third party nor charged candidates for internships. So what exactly are those agencies?

·       Interview Coaching Consultancies

Some agencies claim that they have connections to send students to well-known enterprises. The fact is, all they do is to help the students to optimize their resumes, apply and provide advice on interviews. They apply for internships using the students' resumes via official channels of those companies or schools. Students would believe that it is the agencies' credit if any offer is received and even recommend the agencies to others. And if failed, it will be attributed to the student's ability or the company's high standard. Sometimes the agencies will refund part of the fees to avoid any disputes.

Some agencies are training and tutoring centres that use their "connections" to advertise. They use the information and resumes they collected to get opportunities for hosting campus recruitment projects or online activities on behalf of the companies. In return, they win the trust of students. It seems like a win-win, but agencies might filter the candidates who are not willing to pay.

·       Agencies With the Wrong Type of Connections

Some agencies pay employees from big companies to provide internships, usually remote ones that last for less than a month. They create jobs off the record. In the end, the students may find that they have been doing nothing but free work for the "mentor", and the internship certificates they receive are fake.

·       Scammers

Some of the internships that agencies provide do not even exist. Wall Street Tequila, a Chinese agency registered in Hong Kong, was once reported to hire a team that pretends to be employees of major companies to assign work for interns -- their clients. Zhihu influencer DaxinV has also exposed the fact that Unicareer rents offices to arrange fake projects for students.

Worse Consequences Than Money Lost

Many students think it is customary to use networks, or guanxi in Chinese, to get resources and access. After all, someone will buy, why not me? This mentality gives scammers the opportunity. Some students are willing to take the chance even though they understand the risk of being cheated. In their opinion, the worst thing is some money lost. They do not know that the recruitment process and background checks at large enterprises are rigorous. It is their future career that they are risking. 

Can The Agencies be Banned? 

According to a survey on Employment Pressure of Chinese College Graduates in 2020, 51% of students think it is tough to find a job, and 87.5% think internship experience is helpful in their job search. HRs agree on the importance of internship experience, but they value the actual work candidates did rather than the company names on the resumes.

Students buying internship opportunities is a stress response to the pressure of competition. And there is a whole industry that would love to take advantage of their anxiety and information gaps. Closing the loophole requires coordination among schools, organizations, and the government. In the long run, companies need to create more jobs, and schools need to train their students more practically so they may feel less anxious and confused when they graduate.