Attracting Entry-level Talent in China

WRITTEN BY: Sveta Karniyenka

Attracting and retaining highly talented young professionals is an important issue for multinational companies (MNCs) in China. Seventeen years ago, 41% of high-skilled Chinese professionals preferred foreign MNCs as their first choice of employment, while only 9% chose domestic firms (Harvard Business Review, 2011). However, there has been a significant shift in preferences. According to recent data from Liepin, a leading high-end career development platform in China, and the China World Youth Summit, young talent in China now overwhelmingly prefer state-owned enterprises, with 32.39% selecting them as their top choice, compared to only 7.8% who favor foreign companies (Baidu, 2022). In this climate, attracting top young talent is a significant challenge for MNCs.

The objective of the current research is to understand what attracts young talent in China the most. This will help MNCs better craft their employer brand strategy and communicate it more effectively, thereby regaining their advantage in the current labor market. We aim to provide valuable insights for companies attracting and retaining young talent in China.


Our analysis is based on the Employer Brand Index (EBI) created by Link Humans. The EBI is a 16-dimensional model of employer brand that covers various factors, such as Balance and Wellbeing, Company Culture, Benefits and Perks, to ensure a holistic evaluation. The EBI utilizes a measurement scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest. The level of data is measured using share of voice (SOV), which refers to the relative number of mentions per attribute.

We collect data pertaining to employer branding from publicly available sources, focusing on input from employees, alumni, and candidates. Using AI alongside human annotation, we categorize the data into 16 attributes. We calculate the score for each attribute, based on the positive to negative sentiment ratio. The overall EBI score is then determined by summing the EBI scores for all 16 attributes, weighted by their respective SOV. We create word clouds to highlight the main keywords specific to each attribute. Then, we conduct a thematic analysis, which involves coding and identifying common themes and patterns for the main keywords within each attribute.

In 2023, we collected 19,337 data points from talent in China, with this research focusing specifically on entry-level talent, accounting for 5,060 data points. The data encompasses 25 MNCs with offices in China, representing seven different industries, including FMCG, technology, pharmaceuticals, and automotive, among others.

This research analyzes the entry-level employees’ data points, as this group best represents young talent. According to our methodology, entry-level talent is defined as those with job titles such as intern, trainee, assistant, apprentice, junior, etc. This analysis focuses on the attributes with the highest SOV to identify the aspects that attract young talent the most.

Benefits of This Approach

Previous research, such as studies conducted by in 2022 and Liepin in 2023, identified through questionnaires given to recent graduates factors that attract young talent in China before they started employment (China Youth Online, 2022; Chinese Internet Data Information Network, 2023). Our research, however, is based on empirical data from entry-level employees after they have started their employment. Our approach collects vast amounts of data from diverse platforms and users, providing a large and varied dataset for reliable analysis. This approach also benefits from real-time data to capture immediate reactions to events or topics. The data is more natural, extensive, and real-time, representing an objective discourse from talent. This allows us to measure the employer brand more accurately and with less bias, providing a clearer understanding of what genuinely attracts young talent.


Through analysis of the data, we identified four attributes that were most talked about by entry-level talent (or with the highest SOV). These key attractive factors for young talent include Learning and Development, Career Progression, Management and Organization, Benefits and Perks.

Below, we focus in more detail on the main keywords in each of these attributes.

Learning and Development

Among young talent in China, Learning and Development are the most talked-about attributes, accounting for over 10% of discussions. From the word cloud above, it is evident that the keywords ‘internship’ and ‘intern’ are the most prevalent, appearing in 72% of the data. To understand the themes behind keywords, we conducted a qualitative analysis of the data.

Entry-level talent in China places significant importance on gaining global experience and working for companies that are part of the Fortune Global 500. They value continuous learning, self-growth, and opportunities to explore various roles and acquire new skills. They also highly regard comprehensive training opportunities and robust internal learning platforms.

Furthermore, mentorship programs have been highly spoken of by young professionals. They appreciate having a corporate mentor who is genuinely invested in their personal growth. Particularly valuable are regular one-on-one meetings, whether weekly or daily, to discuss tasks and address questions. An ideal mentor provides insights and shares experiences, is patient and willing to teach intricate details, involves interns in complex projects, or allows them to lead a project. Young talent particularly appreciates mentors who encourage interns to generate their own ideas.

While the overall sentiment for this attribute is very positive, some negative aspects were noted. These include being assigned menial tasks, such as buying coffee or food, which do not contribute to learning or professional development.

In summary, young talent in China are attracted to employers who provide continuous learning opportunities, comprehensive training, and effective mentorship programs. They believe these elements are crucial for their professional growth and development.

Career Progression

Career progression is the second most talked-about attribute for entry-level talent in China. Among the frequently seen keywords are opportunities for career development, career growth, and advancement. Companies that provide a chance to explore various roles and develop new skills are highly regarded. Young professionals place great value on the ability to move within a company and gain diverse experiences, which they believe is crucial for their long-term career success.

Promotion opportunities are particularly significant for entry-level employees in China. Whether the path to promotion is fast or gradual, the possibility of moving up the corporate ladder is essential. Young talent seeks clear pathways for career advancement, looking for companies that lay out explicit steps for how they can progress within the organization.

For interns, one of the key attractions is the opportunity to transition to a permanent employee. Interns are curious about transition rate for companies, as internships are often viewed as stepping stones to long-term employment. Companies with high transition rates are highly attractive to talent.

To summarize, entry-level talent in China are drawn to employers who offer the possibility to explore diverse roles, provide clear promotion pathways, and afford opportunities to transition from internships to permanent positions.

Management and Organization

Research indicates that the leadership style in China has historically been very directive and delegating; however, young employees now prefer a participative and coaching leadership style and have a strong need for involvement (Shuang Ren et al., 2018). Similar findings have been found in our data.

From the word cloud, it is evident that “support” is among the most frequently mentioned keywords for this attribute. Young talent in China desires a kind, supportive, and helpful manager who genuinely cares about employees, is eager to spend time with subordinates, and listens to their ideas. They value leaders who provide step-by-step guidance and frequent feedback. Young professionals now crave supportive managers who are receptive to their ideas. Companies that adopt these management practices are better positioned to engage and retain young talent who prioritize a healthy, respectful workplace environment.

Additionally, entry-level talent in China pays close attention to the interview process. The attitude and approach of the interviewer can significantly influence their perception of the company. A positive, respectful interview experience is crucial in attracting and securing young talent, as it reflects the company’s overall culture and management style.

Despite the positive aspects, entry-level talent noted some negative experiences. They highlighted complaints about “PUA from managers,” which in Chinese slang refers to psychological manipulation and emotional abuse. PUA means managers use tactics to undermine employees’ self-esteem and exploit them. Young professionals seek a healthy, respectful relationship with their managers and are also dissatisfied with being assigned menial tasks that managers do not want to handle themselves.

In conclusion, young professionals in China are looking for supportive and flexible management. They value managers who listen to their ideas, provide clear guidance, and foster a respectful work environment. Addressing these needs and ensuring a positive interview process are essential for companies attracting and retaining top entry-level talent in China.

Benefits and Perks

The Benefits and Perks attribute in the EBI primarily focuses on extrinsic rewards. Our analysis of the main keywords identified several key benefits and perks that attract entry-level employees in China.

One of the most talked-about perks is the provision of food and beverages. Young talent speaks positively about employers providing unlimited coffee and tea, fruit, chocolates, ice cream, and other snacks, as well as occasional afternoon tea.

Flexible working hours and health and wellness programs are also highly attractive to young talent in China. The ability to work from home a few days per week and have flexible working hours provides greater freedom and leads to a better work-life balance, marking a departure from the traditional norm of clocking in and out. Additionally, health and wellness benefits such as gym and massage services, fitness cards, and yoga classes in the office are highly praised.

Entry-level talent enjoys participating in activities organized by their employers, such as parties, clubs, and escape room outings. They also value family days, health days, and corporate volunteering days. Additionally, gift packages and recognition are important to young employees. Anniversary joining gifts, gift cards, and gift packages during Chinese New Year and other holidays resonate well with young professionals.

Comprehensive insurance is also essential for young professionals. They frequently mention the importance of robust insurance coverage, including five social insurances one housing fund, and commercial medical insurance.

At FMCG companies, entry-level talent frequently highlights the attractiveness of product discounts and freebies. The ability to buy internal products at discounted prices or even receive them for free is a major draw. Programs that allow employees to redeem products with points and try out new products before they are launched are particularly appealing. Some companies go a step further by extending these benefits to family members, which is also highly appreciated.

In summary, to attract young talent in China, employers need to offer a comprehensive package of benefits and perks. From food and beverage to flexible working hours, health and wellness programs, and comprehensive insurance plans, these benefits were all highly spoken by entry-level employees.

Other findings

A staggering 76% of all 2023 data for entry-level talent in China is coming from social media, showing that young talent in China prefers initiating topics about employers on social media rather than posting reviews on structured employer-review websites. Compared to our global averages for entry-level employees, only 4.81% of global data comes from social media. This is a good indication that for MNCs to reach a young Chinese audience, it is necessary to utilize Chinese social media platforms.


By utilizing the EBI, our research identified four attributes that young talent in China talk about the most: Learning and Development, Career Progression, Management and Organization, Benefits and Perks. Through conducting qualitative analysis of the main keywords associated with each attribute, we identified common themes and patterns for the main keywords. These results suggested that MNCs can enhance their employer brands by focusing on these dimensions and addressing the specific themes that were identified:

  • In Learning and Development, young talent spoke frequently about continuous learning opportunities, comprehensive training, and effective mentorship programs;
  • In Career Progression, they frequently mentioned the possibility of exploring diverse roles, having clear promotion pathways, and opportunities to transition from internships to permanent positions;
  • In Management and Organization, supportive management that is receptive to employees ideas is very important;
  • In Benefits and Perks, young talent highly spoke of diverse benefits and perks from food and beverages to flexible working and company-organized activities.

The above themes could work as actionable recommendations for companies looking to enhance their employer brand presence in the region.

Additionally, this research illustrated that it is important to utilize Chinese social media to showcase and promote a company’s employer brand to young people in China, as 76% of data comes from social media, which is much higher than the global average of less than 5%.


  • Harvard Business Review, link accessed on 12 June 2024: link.
  • Baidu, link accessed on 12 June 2024: link.
  • China Youth Online, link accessed on 13 June 2024: link.
  • Chinese Internet Data Information Network, link accessed on 13 June 2024: link.
  • Shuang Ren, Yuhua Xie, Ying Zhu, Malcolm Warner (2018). New generation employees’ preferences towards leadership style in China. Asia Pacific Business Review, 24, 437-458.


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