Seeking More than Money: Next Generation Rises in the Internet Era

One year into an ideal job in a multinational corporation, my friend Lin made the seemingly risky decision to move to a startup. The multinational offered a decent salary, bonuses and a mature training system. What more could a new graduate expect? Lin left without hesitation, and another friend named Liu quit his job soon after to start a business with only one-year of experience.

More recently, I learned a former colleague, a beautiful woman born in 1991, had become a digital influencer with 2 million followers on the popular short-video platform Tik Tok. It seemed all of my friends were leaving “ideal jobs” to take the plunge into emerging industries.

Their decisions may reflect what employers can expect from China’s next wave of graduates.

The generation born between 1995 and 1999 grew up with the Internet and rapid economic transformation. Today, those 78.5 million men and women defined by their unprecedented access to information are between the ages of 18 and 23, according to China’s sixth national census.

“Life is too short to be wasted on things you don’t like,” Liu said. Immersed in data and information, most have a inclusive and diversified attitude towards life and work. Interest is an important motivation when choosing a job. According to a report by Internet news aggregator, 48 percent of the demographic uses websites and apps as their main channels for obtaining information that suits their interests.

Job fair
Job fair

This year, the generation’s oldest cohorts will graduate from university and enter the labor market. China will have as many as 8.2 million graduates this year, according to data from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.

A Spring 2018 China Talent Flow Report by the, China’s leading recruitment platform, identified four new trends in the flow of talent concerning cities, sectors and occupations:

  • Cities: Emerging first-tier cities still draw job-seekers from third-tier cities and below, with 23.4 percent favoring them for jobs. Although first-tier cities still attract talent from neighboring areas, they are becoming a source of talent outflow to other parts of the country.
  • Industry: Other business sectors are welcoming talent from Internet and e-commerce as the Internet transforms traditional industries.
  • Occupations: New graduates have more choices than their predecessors. With the advocacy of government policy and personal interest, entrepreneurship is becoming popular.
  • Salary: Though sliding in terms of importance, salary still tops the list with 73.2 percent considering it an important factor. Other criteria, such as obtaining registered residence, or hukou, in a big city have slipped considerably.

State media reported the majority of university graduates in China have starting salaries of 4,317 yuan per month (US $674). Graduates in high-tech industries fare slightly better, with software developers and aviation workers earning an average of $976 and $959 per month.


But if salary is slipping, what new key factors affect graduates’ decisions in the job search?

Information can be accessed anywhere during the Internet era, and everyone is eager to use his or her fragmented time to continue learning. Working at a startup offers a way to push oneself by taking on challenging roles and discovering solutions. It requires someone to be a problem-solver and a doer.

There is also a strong sense of self-awareness and search for self-fulfillment behind the trend. Most new graduates have a clear plan and an optimistic view of their future. Compared to their parents and the last generation, they have specific interests and dare to pursue them.

China is gradually shedding its image as a nation engaged in intellectual piracy. Instead of imitating the business models of other countries, Chinese businesses are developing unique solutions that better fit the domestic market.


By the end of 2017, the number of Chinese unicorns increased to 164, with a total market value of almost US $628 billion. Bike-sharing giant Mobike expanded to foreign markets, and Toutiao’s short-video app TikTok became the world’s most downloaded app in 2018. China ranked 19th in the 2018 Global Innovation Index (GII), rising 24 places in seven years.

Tik Tok

The China-US unicorn research report released by Deloitte last year said there were 252 unicorns worldwide. The majority – 81 percent – were in the US and China, which had 106 and 98 unicorns respectively.

While most US unicorns operate in the business service sector, China’s unicorns dominate the e-commerce, information and logistics industries.

On June 11, US President Donald Trump implemented a new visa policy aimed at driving a wedge between Chinese STEM graduates and American intellectual property holders. Critics slammed the move unwise, noting that Chinese policy is already aimed at attracting such young and talented graduates back to the nation’s emerging high-tech industries.

The China Securities Regulatory Commission said it will prioritize IPOs by unicorns in the emerging industries of biotechnology, cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI) and high-end manufacturing. The Shenzhen Stock Exchange and Shanghai Stock Exchange said they would offer green channels to such unicorns.


China is home to some of the world’s biggest tech companies, but most – including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, Baidu Inc, Inc and Tencent Holdings Ltd – are listed offshore. With the new policy for Chinese Depositary Receipts (CDRs) in A-share markets, Xiaomi may become the first foreign company to issue CDRs in the Chinese mainland.

Nothing can stop the innovative power of China’s next generation. Young, enthusiastic and determined, new graduates are ready to devote themselves to their interests in spite of hardship and uncertainty. They may be the next pioneers both in China and abroad.