We’re doing an article on critical gaps presented by the new graduate/young professional in the Malaysian workforce, in the April 2011 issue of HR Matters Magazine. It’s no wonder really if I tell you that the typical candidate currently entering the workforce is sorely lacking in basic work etiquette, language and communication skills as well as critical thinking ability. But what I’d like to focus on here is what you can do about it.
If you’re a young urban professional looking to move ahead in your career, I believe that so much of what you can do, experience and achieve, lies well within your reach. Yes, people talk of luck, good fortune and having the right connections. While these are important, it’s more about the investment in the self. You only get out what you put in – something I’m sure you’ve heard before. So, here are 6 tips for making sure that you’re on the right path.
1. English language is a MUST
If you’re a new recruit or about to enter the workforce, there’s no denying the importance of being able to communicate effectively and with polish, in the English language. If English is not your mother tongue, you have a harder time ahead of you. So, brush up. Language is a living thing – the only way you will get better is with practice. Watch movies, read, converse, take courses. Assess your ability – get yourself tested on the 1119 (GCE O level English language test). It’s a good way to see where you’re at against a minimum benchmark.
2. Work for free
If you’re about to enter the workforce, consider an internship for a period of time. You may be working for no payment, but the payment is in kind. Your employment will provide you with a rich variety of experiences in corporate culture, communication and all kinds of values, some of which you may embrace over time. The experience you get, is one you build on, layer upon layer, each layer adding value to you as a person. But be selective about the choice of organisation. Research the company in advance, find out which industry you are keen to be in and build contacts slowly.
3. Think about where you want to go – Build a story for yourself
I don’t know about others but back in the day, job hopping was something people did. You join an organisation, you stay there a while, you get bored. You look for new gigs, you apply for new positions, you move. And the cycle continues. The smart professional however, builds a career path for himself, and doesnt wait for one to be built for him. He plans what industry he wants to be in, what roles he is interested in, what skills he wants to develop. And he works to make that happen with the organisations he seeks out and the roles he applies for.
On your resume, this progression in your career path (or lack of it) will stand out – it will show you building strength on strength at every step and makes for a powerful statement of who you are.
4. The power of connecting
Today, we have Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Back then, it was rolodexes, filofaxes and call cards. The technology and mediums change but the power of connection is the same. Realise early on the power of connecting with people. It’s not about blindly giving our business cards at every turn, as I have seen. It’s about connecting with people at every level, approaching them with a sense of wonder and learning — really opening yourself up to new experiences.
Sometimes, you won’t see the point of the connection immediately but in time, every connection serves a purpose.
Realise also that it’s not always about how you can tap into that connection – it’s also about how they can tap onto you. At whatever stage of our career we are at, we have our gifts and setbacks. A senior manager has decades of experience behind him but may not be able to truly connect with the young employees at his organisation. A young employee is so at ease with the various technologies and media that organisations could employ to enhance their marketing efforts yet he may not possess enough industry experience. One is not better than the other. Pooled together, they bring a mix of cultures, experiences and insight that can truly help their organisation grow and enhance their service offering. However, to do that, both need to realise that each brings something to the mix.
5. Be in the moment
You cannot appreciate the experiences you face nor gain good insight from it, if you are not in the moment.
What is an example of not being in the moment? Getting into a meeting with your colleagues but texting on your blackberry. Checking email while in a discussion. So many of these experiences involve technology. Technology that seeks to make our lives richer, simpler and faster. But does it really — when you cannot even sit down to tea with a friend without answering every text that beeps or every call that comes in? Technology is meant to help you, not rule you.
6. Why patience is a necessity
Patience is called for, now as much as it was in the past. So many of our experiences as I mentioned, build layer upon layer. The insight we gain as we get older is not based on any one single experience. It draws upon a rich variety of stimuli and experiences locked away in both our conscious and subconscious selves. Much of this we might not be able to explain or even be aware of.
In the world today, we have developed so many products, services and a way of working and connecting that would have been inconcievable decades ago. With each of these products and services, the world goes around much quicker. From parchment delivered by hand over days, to paper and then faxes to email and instant messaging — this always-on
instant world we live in doesnt mean that everything we see, do and achieve needs to be viewed in the same context. Not everything is right here and now.
Much of our career, will take patience to develop. Much of it will take trial and error and lots of mistakes along the way. We must be willing to accept this – the mistakes, the stumbling and the getting up again – as part of the process of growing and improving. We must be patient to wait for the reward for our efforts, for it will come. Not always in the way we expect but we will get out what we put in.