This paper reports on a study of the transition from university to work by students/employees in the complex and rapidly changing socio‐economic context of contemporary Shanghai. It aims at understanding how highly educated young people perceive the nature and mode of operation of the newly emerging labour market for knowledge‐based jobs, and how they manage and construct their employability in relation to the economic, educational and sociocultural values. Uncertainty and opportunity emerge as key perceptions of the new context and we identify strategies used to negotiate the way between these two. This is seen as part of a wider project of the reflexive construction of ‘self’ that includes the salvaging of ontological security based on key traditional values. The analysis leads to further discussion of the nature and role of human capital in relation to the employment ‘battle’ and with respect to education, training and qualification.