Students and early-career professionals have so many possibilities before them, and finding the right path is paramount.
My first suggestions for them are to never to be afraid of making a mistake and to keep exploring various job possibilities before truly identifying your calling and deciding on the long-term direction of your career. Taking the time to figure out what you want for your future profession at an early career stage will benefit you for the rest of your life.
A friend of mine majored in pharmacology back in university, but he quit his first job at a top hospital before embarking on his journey as a consultant. He was made a partner at a world-leading consulting firm in his mid-thirties!
Another suggestion is to do self-reflection on a regular basis. No matter how intense your daily job might be, always reserve time for yourself when you can summarize key lessons and identify gaps in your current competency matrix against what’s required to achieve an advanced level in your chosen profession.
Even if your daily job at a junior level might be tedious, as long as you’re able to identify its value in furthering your career by filling a gap in your skills, experience, or resources, you’ll be equipped with greater knowledge and motivation. I find it extremely helpful to do career planning and think through which skills I’ll likely need in the future when I encounter a professional bottleneck or hurdle.
Another tip is to connect with a mentor. Your mentor doesn’t have to be someone within your department, but it should be a person you respect and trust. Shared experience from a seasoned professional is a treasure. Brainstorming a list of questions and discussion topics before calls or meetings can help you to avoid detours and orient mentor-mentee conversations in a productive direction.
RECRUITMENT PROCESS IN CHINA
Once you decide what type of job has the potential to be a stepping-stone to a long-term career path, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and start applying to open positions.
The normal recruitment process in China usually includes shortlisting résumés, followed by several rounds of interviews by various departments for different roles. For certain positions, extra tasks such as a prepared presentation, a logic or IQ test, and sample business writing and analysis will also be involved during the evaluating stage.
Before commencing the recruitment process, it’s important to list three to five core competencies required by the position. Each competency may also be weighted. Then in the following evaluation, all questions and criteria should be set up around the core competencies. Always bear in mind that we aren’t looking for the “best” candidate, but rather the right one who’s the best fit.
Another tip is to remember that potentiality is as important as capability. Potentiality plus future experience will turn into capability someday. This is particularly applicable when hiring early-career professionals.
INTERVIEWING AND ONBOARDING PROCESSES
Most interviews start with several general questions, followed by specific questions more relatedto the position to which you’re applying. Think about anecdotes that illustrate relevant experiences for better framing answers to general questions, such as “tell me about yourself,” “what’s your proudest accomplishment?” and “what’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?” Interviewers use these types of questions not only for understanding candidates’ background, but more importantly, they want to examine job applicants’ way of thinking and their presentation ability.
For me, I usually apply a model of “Task, Action, Result, Thoughts” (TART). It helps me to extract and prioritize key information and insights, then articulate them and organize them in a structured way. This model also allows me to effectively formulate my answer and respond within a limited time frame. From an interviewer’s perspective, I strongly recommend putting more efforts on communicating your thoughts on the role, organization, and profession, which will make you stand out from other candidates by showcasing your in-depth thinking ability.
In terms of those specific questions relating to a certain profession or role, the key is being honest. For areas you’re familiar with, stick to the facts, without exaggerating or overstating your case (which is easily identified by an interviewer). For areas that are new to you, it’s time to demonstrate your learning ability. No one is omniscient. What matters is that you’re willing and able to continuously develop yourself.
Regarding the onboarding process, it usually starts with an orientation week. For sure, this week can be very overwhelming for all new employees. Calm down, absorb as much as you can, ask questions, and be open to future on-the-job learning.
GETTING INVOLVED WITH PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS
Continuous learning is the most prominent competitive advantage for every professional. Different from university education, learning in the workplace is more self-paced and requires a higher level of inner motivation. Given that focusing on professional development with a new full-time work routine can be the biggest challenge for young professionals, getting involved with professional organizations will be a great help.
Joining local chapters and taking continuing professional education (CPE) courses offered by industry organizations, creating a network that fosters a learning culture, and being mutually encouraged by peers can all help to smooth the transformation from students to professionals.
Joining a professional organization such as IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) also enables students and young professionals to develop leadership ability. They will gain business acumen, build strategic-thinking and problem-solving skills, and cultivate empathy by getting involved in activities such as organizing networking and charity events, leading group work assignments and team-building activities, and solving business cases. These are all significant career-building opportunities for the leaders of tomorrow.