The number of people successfully applying to take the national civil servant examination is expected to fall for a second straight year, although competition for a government job remains fierce.
The number of qualified applicants who registered to take the exam next year was 1.23 million as of late Monday, the last day to apply, the State Administration of Civil Service said.
The total number, including last-minute applications, will not be known until Wednesday.
However, the administration predicted that the number of applicants who will pass the screening will be around 1.33 million.
The exam attracted more than 1.41 million qualified applicants last year, and 1.44 million in 2009.
The administration attributed the decreasing numbers to stricter assessments adopted this year and more career paths opening to university graduates.
More than 130 central departments and their grassroots institutions plan to recruit over 18,000 workers next year, an increase of 2,000 on this year.
The most sought-after position was a research post at the State Ethnic Affairs Commission, which received 4,124 applications. Positions in some western and remote regions saw very few applications or none at all.
Li Bo, a student in Xiamen University, in East China's Fujian province, will graduate next year. He said he did not apply for the exam, even though a job in civil service is seen as stable.
"I like changes and challenges in my life, and I think a civil servant's work would be tedious and is not suitable for me, although my parents want me to have a try on the test," he said. "I want to be a sports journalist after graduation."
Liu Xutao, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said many people believed that a job in the government was stable, and would carry a number of benefits.
"The government controls many resources, and the country's social security system is yet to cover all people and is not perfect, but for civil servants, their pension will be covered by the State budget," he said.
Last year, only two-thirds of the applicants actually sat the test, said Li Yongxin, president of offcn.com, a training provider for those who want to take the exam.
This year, almost all vacancies for central departments and their provincial branches require at least two years of work experience. Last year about 85 percent did.
Liu hailed the new rules in attracting talent to the civil service.
"The requirement of two years of work experience for a job at central or provincial institutions would turn many college graduates to grassroots positions before they could really adjust themselves to higher level posts," he said.
Ding Hao, a 29-year-old government worker in Datong, North China's Shanxi province, passed the test last year after working in a remote village for three years.
"My experience working as a village head helped me gain the ability to handle emergencies and the skills to better communicate with people," Ding said. "Those are important for civil service work."
This year 137 positions will be reserved for college graduates who have work experience as village heads.
The exam, which tests applicants' writing skills and other abilities, will be held on Nov 27 in major cities across the country.