Career Watch By: Leon Menezes


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In talking about careers, there are two interested parties – you and the prospective employer. Taking that a step further, there are, again, two types of seekers – the fresh entrant and the experienced one. The opportunities and approaches one needs to make are different for each and keep getting more challenging as we gain in experience. In this column, we will approach the topic from the viewpoint of the fresh graduate. What can you do to increase your chances of success?

Unfortunately, there is no one standard way in which recruiters look at prospects. Different organisations employ different approaches. And, consider the stages the process has: screen CV, initial interview or test, second interview or Assessment Centre, and then final interview with a selection panel. At each step, the experience (or lack of it) of the persons involved can be quite wide. Personal biases do creep in, as there is a tendency to “hire in one’s own image”.

While some organisations have it down to strict merit and an almost-scientific process, most others have much room for improvement.

The applicant has to approach the situation from the organisation’s point of view. Too often an application is rejected at the initial point – when it reaches the desk of the recruiter. The reasons for rejection mostly have to do with poorly presented CVs. In this day of ubiquitous PCs and laser printers, there is absolutely no excuse for a document of shabby quality. Formats for writing crisp CVs are available everywhere and the applicant can show that he/she has taken time to present him/herself well.

Think of a few other things: have you bothered to address the application to someone in particular or is this one of those “to-whom-it-may-concern” flyers? Have you signed the covering letter? Are the contents readable or have you crowded the page with too much detail? Have you checked for spelling errors and poor English?

Give yourself the best chance of an interview call by taking care of the details. Don’t get disqualified before you start the race.

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It is surprising how many people do not know what they want. This is true for new entrants into the job market as well as for experienced folk. So the biggest challenge starts with you. Our knowledge of the jobs we aspire to are very limited or, at best, theoretical. It is only when we get into the workforce that we realise there is more to Marketing than “Brand”. The same is true for all other functions.

An important aspect to keep in mind is that there is a big difference between a job and a career. So keep your eyes and your options open. A well-rounded person positions himself for many more opportunities and, as we scale the corporate ladder, we realise that our leadership abilities require us to “get things done” as opposed to just “doing them ourselves”.

For a fresh graduate, the only work experience he or she can boast of is the internships. But, as most of us know, many internships lack real work or challenge. What can you do to improve the quality of your internship? Learn as much as you can about the firm, it’s products and services, and its competitors. Network and make friends. Send in your internship report to the people you interacted with and keep up a relationship. Your best shot at the job market will come from the impression you made that summer.

The difference between knowledge and intelligence is like books on a donkey’s back. The donkey is walking around with all this knowledge but it doesn’t become any more intelligent, does it? Too many hopefuls cram up on the theory without developing analytical skills and then try and impress interviewers with this book knowledge. Don’t forget, you are talking to experienced people who can see through your act.

If you just name the major functions in an organization – Marketing, Sales, Production, HR, Finance – and, of course, senior management, you will see that the underlying requirements involve planning & organizing, decision-making, people management skills, communications skills, and so on. In my opinion, an organization needs Business Managers for most of what we do is about managing business. Many of us do not realize that the 80-20 principle holds equally true for our abilities in the workplace as well.

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What do organizations look for when recruiting? The range of differences is vast – from long-term commitment and loyalty to short-term productivity and an early exit. Some look for influence and connections, while others insist on merit alone. Let us assume the process is fair and transparent. Your challenge now is to be the one they are looking to recruit.

“Hire for attitude, train for skill” is a good indicator of what organizations want. A lot of people focus on theoretical knowledge but ignore other behavioral aspects so critical to success. So, in addition to Planning and Organizing, you need to have highly developed Communications, Influencing and Motivation skills. Your Business Sense must also be acute for after all, we are in the business of business!

Added to this would be how you interact with others – Relationship Skills – as we work with, for and through other people all the time. Your need for Achievement can drive you to success while the lack of it will ensure you remain in a disadvantaged position all your working life. Organizations also want people who are Decisive, who have a “helicopter view” of the world, yet possess a sense of reality. A tall order? Yes, but when you see the mediocrity out there, a little effort on your part will give you a jumpstart over the rest.

Organizations do not hire degrees or institutions – they hire people. There is much more to a successful career than just the degree you graduated with and no one single element from the list above is sufficient. While it is true a good name college adds value to your CV (you can almost always get an interview), it does not guarantee you a job, (just as the degree is no indication you will be an assest to the organization).

You need to constantly evolve and grow to meet the growing challenges of a dynamic workplace if you wish to succeed.

Career Watch–Living the 9-2-5 Life

Congratulations! You’ve made it in the job market – fancy salary and fancy title. So what’s next? You’ve got to flaunt your status so that the rest of the world also knows you’ve arrived. Here are a few simple things you can do to announce yourself.

Firstly, never be seen without name-brand outfits: clothes, shoes, handbags, and ties. The accompaniments must also be highly recognisable brands like a Rolex watch, Mont Blanc pen (yes, even for ladies), and your packet of smokes. It would be so cheap of you to light your cigarette with a plain matchbox so get yourself a fancy gold lighter.

For those who really need to make a statement, how can you be seen without a cigar? The bigger the better so that more people notice (and get offended) by your indulgence. These days, cigar parlours have sprung up in Karachi, selling expensive Cuban cigars. Gentlemen bankers and other corporate types can be seen frequenting in droves, sampling the delights of the Caribbean island. For many others, business trips overseas provide a better opportunity to purchase the stuff.

The number of women in the workforce has not yet reached a critical mass for a set of “corporate” behaviours to have set in. True, variations on the shalwar-kameez have been introduced to provide a more professional look for the office but the other accompaniments that men sport are lacking. So women tend to make do with streaking their hair or, if they can afford it, paying big money to get their hair straightened.

Men also have other avenues to express themselves. Monogrammed shirts with gold cufflinks can give you an air of sophistication to go with the tan you get from playing golf. Other club memberships can enhance your stature, making networking (the lifeblood of a corporate career) that much easier. Lunching in fancy restaurants (preferably on company account) works equally well for women and men, so choose carefully where you want to be seen.

Now that you know the essentials, get with it!

Career Watch–Work-Life Balance

How much is your career worth to you? Depending on where you are in your lifecycle, it could mean everything or nothing.

Let us assume you are in the age group between 30 and 45. You are at the stage where you need to put in endless hours at work to make it up the corporate ladder. You are struggling to find time for family and friends, while the pressures of work require more and more from you. You need to decide where your priorities lie and make some tough decisions.

These days one hears a lot about “Work-Life Balance” another one of those terms that have been imported from the West. The origins stem primarily from two issues: one, there are more and more single-parent and two-income families, so juggling time is an art. The second derives from the dot-com boom that saw the best talent in America deciding they would work on their own terms – lots of money and lots of free time. In Pakistan, with so much unemployment, it would seem to be a crime to talk of such things.

Nevertheless, there is merit in deciding how you wish to plan your life, making the most of that most precious of commodities – time. Time is the only resource the rich and the poor have been given in equal quantities, yet the rich seem to making best use of it, while those who fritter it away wonder why they are at the bottom of the economic scale.

Since we are all in the business of buying and selling time, we need to identify our priorities and work out a plan. If one were to take a few broad areas – say, Career, Health, Family, Spirituality, Leisure and Self – and look at desirable time allocations for each element, we would get a pretty good idea of what is important to us at this particular stage of our career. Next, plot against each element how much time you actually spend in each area and a different picture emerges. We find that we spend very little on the Self and Health, the two things that we need to sustain Career and Family. Without health and your own well-being, how can you stay the course?

Reflect on this for a while. Subsequent articles will suggest some ways to handle the situation.