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An art worth learning

Dec 03 - 09, 2001

Why should we hire you? That was a question recently asked by an employer to one of the prospective candidates for a position having a turnaround of approximately 700 applicants (considered low by all means). Although the applicant did not get an offer, yet he was made aware of the fierce competition and the need of equipping himself with the right arsenal to fight the battle at an interview and of getting the job that he wants. In our case, the applicant was lucky enough to get an interview at the first place. Otherwise it's a daunting task to get an interview call these days. Bottomline is that one has to know how to market oneself. The good news is that it's an art that one can learn. The tough part is it requires lot of effort and patience. After all as they say "Master pieces take time".

After analyzing the situation of incoming fresh MBAs in the practical world and the tight job market, its quite mind-boggling how the supply and demand equation will balance. Lot of youngsters who end up doing MBA just because of no other option and because it's a rather easier way out, are then at the mercy of the ruthless and merciless job market when doing the hunting. Moreover, the MBA glut as being created by mushroom growth of low quality MBA programs has further deteriorated the situation to alarming levels. We are getting quantity not quality. One reason is that there is no accredating body to date to standardize the level of business education being disseminated to the students. A simple test can be a question about basic economics, IRR, or forecasting, and a fresh MBA would most likely be not in a situation to answer that.

The first and foremost question should be why a student wants to adopt certain course work. What I mean to say is that there should be a valid justification for you to get into an Engineering, MBA, Computer Science, or Fashion Designing program. If that's not the case, you are harming yourself. It's synonymous to selecting a road for a drive without knowing where that road is heading.

After one has answered the first question, the rest becomes relatively easy. Your job hunting should start from day one at your respective program. It is these long-term efforts which shall pay you handsomely at the time of your graduation. Networking is the most important thing that a student especially of an MBA program can do. It basically means socializing with the prime objective of making contacts, which should pay you in the long run. One easy way to organize your contacts is to purchase a business card directory and place all important cards there or develop a simple database in MS Excel or MS Access. There are two points to this database. One is to keep the database updating, because if the database or business card directory is not getting more inputs, this is an indication for you of doing a lousy job towards networking. Secondly you have to keep in touch with your previous contacts while making the new one. Just holding the cards will not do the job, you should be the master as to when to use them. For networking one should target family friends, trade associations, social events, etc. You have to have a proactive strategy in this regard.

While at your program, try to develop on your written and verbal communication skills. Communication is by far the most important skill that can help you climb the corporate ladder. Andrew Canregie, the steel king in the U.S., knew little about the manufacture of steel, yet due to his communication skills became the most important man in the steel industry. You need to give special attention to a "Communication course" if one is offered through your program. Moreover, be active in class participation, group discussions, and class presentations. Besides this one can always take short courses on the subject if one feels like. Your written communication will help you get an interview, and your verbal communication will help you get a job. During the selection process, the hiring staff does not have ample time to analyze your technical skills. But, they do have access to your communication, which they can analyze and make an intelligent guess about the person they are going to hire. Finally, if you want to know the importance of it, just pick classifieds of a Sunday daily and go through the employment adds. You'll get the message pretty strong and clear. Although it's good to be comfortable in conversing in English yet one should speak in the language in which one feels comfortable. Bottomline is, whatever you speak, speak well. The choice of words tells a lot about your persona to the person on the other side of table.

While applying to different places, you'll find out that usually there is a requirement of clearing a standardized test. This test usually will check your General knowledge, English, and Mathematics. Thus it's important to have a grip on the three. While the later two one can handle easily (the level do not exceed beyond matric), for general knowledge, one should screen the latest edition of good general knowledge book, but more importantly develop a habit of screening newspapers and latest magazines. All this will not only get you through the standardized tests, but also will enrich your personality for discussions and making an impression.

While at your program, you should line up at least one internship. The main purpose of the internship is not limited to filling the space in your resume. It allows you to see and experience the office environment. It also is an excellent chance to figure out what kind of career would you like to have or whether you really want to work in certain industry. The big question is how do you get an internship? Top tier business schools have solid connections and are of great help for their students to find one. Besides this you have to do prospecting and walk-ins. By prospecting what I mean is to write to different institutions asking their help and showing your interest for an internship. Don't expect to get a diem out of it. You should go for an exposure rather than money. You can also do the walk-ins, it might just click and your communication skills shall lead you to a good internship. If you have family contacts, you can utilize them or your networking can be beneficial now. Once you have it, make best use of it. Be proactive and ask lots of questions. Otherwise people would be least bothered to tell you anything.

You should build up your resume step by step. Your resume should initially be not more than a page and could go to second after an experience of 2 years. Your resume should contain your information efficiently and effectively. It should have different sections on education, experience, personal, etc. Be creative and do innovative things to stand out in the crowd. For instance you can have a section in your resume with a title of "Values offered." I bet nobody else would have it. From paper type to fonts and to the vocabulary, everything needs to be taken care of while you are developing your resume. Furthermore, get appropriate references for your resume. Your references should know that their name is going to be on your resume. Preferably provide them with a copy of your resume. The resume should be with a cover page, which in my view should not contain more than 5 lines. Introduce yourself and leave enough curiosity in the reader so that he/she is compelled to read through your resume. Remember the purpose of a resume is to get an interview. If you are getting multiple interviews but not the job, that means there's nothing wrong with your resume, and you need to focus outside the resume. Moreover if you apply 10 places and don't get any kind of response, there's something seriously wrong with your resume and you might need to change your approach. Keep your resume updating and always keep some copies within your easy access. Opportunity can knock at your door any time. It's always good to have a look at the resumes of successful people and benefit from their experiences. Do go through a book or two about resume writing. Its not a bad option to go over the business writing course material that you had taken earlier in your course work. Another option is to get a consulting about how to write winning resumes and cover letters.

Once you've majored in your field of choice, have done a reasonable internship, have decided the industry in which you would like to spend an important portion of your life, have developed an eye-catching resume, and have a maximum possible optimism, you are fully equipped for hunting the job of your dreams. The methodology of hunting will entail 7 different activities, which are as follows:

Resuming networking contacts
Encashing the Alumni contacts
Utilizing the University Placement Services (If any)
Employing Head Hunters
Doing Walkins
Responding to Classifieds (Never miss the Sunday paper)
Marketing Electronically (Market to the world)

Well this is the time to bank on those networking contacts that you have been developing for a long period of time. Meet them, talk to them, write to them, and don't ever forget to send copies of your resume for further placement. Ask them for solid references. You should also get in touch with alumni who have already landed jobs, and ask for their favor. Your university or institute might have their contacts. Utilize them efficiently. All good universities have placement centers, which attract employees to tap on the good brains. You should always search all possible help that you can get through your placement office. You might be able to get your hands on the latest directory of addresses and contact persons in the corporate world. It's a right time to compose your visiting card, which can be helpful in many ways.

Headhunters are usually for the placement of experienced professionals. Yet outstanding fresh comers can also contact the headhunters to get placed. Usually the employer pays to the headhunter. If you are asked to pay, please do a check on the headhunter before you engage any money. In my experience you need to have some budget for travelling, mailing, and calling. But besides this engage no money with the conartists who boast of getting the best job for you.

By prospecting I simply mean mailing out in bulk to good corporate recruiters. Mail contacts typically include a resume and an application letter. This usually doesn't work, but you might be told that you have been put in the company's database for future references. Also some good companies might tell you about when to apply and this way you might know about the company's management training programs. While contacting different companies, don't limit yourself to multinationals. There are goods Pakistani companies out there who can give you head start. Walkins are another way of trying your luck. This technique seldom pays. Yet you make new contacts and get to know of a new company every time you visit one. Personal visits are extremely effective if a personal contact can set up a visit.

Classified section of Sunday paper is very important for fresh comers. It always has jobs for the beginners, be it bankers, marketers, engineers, or IT folks. These advertisements usually ask for a cover letter (application letter), resume, and a passport size photograph. Do send an acceptable photograph in professional attire. For responding to P.O. Box addresses use the U.M.S. facility at the post offices, as courier services would not be able to serve those addresses. My personal experience with the classifieds has been excellent. You probably should get one good response for every 6 to 8 applications that you send out.

Last but not the least is putting your self in front of the whole world i.e. placing your resume on the web. This is highly beneficial for the IT people who should remember that their target market has no borders, and they are wanted all over the world.

If you think you have done all the above and still are not getting the interviews, you might want to get career counseling. The concept of career planning and counseling is rather new and in the infancy stage in our country, yet its importance cannot be undermined. There are two options available to you if you want to get counseled. One is to get counseling through your placement center or the faculty advisor at your university or institute. The other is to hire the services of a private counselor. I recommend the later. But make sure that the counselor should not be asking for huge amount. The best way to judge him/her is to look at his/her career and make sure that the person has ample experience in finding jobs and doing counseling. Unfortunately it will be hard for you to find a proper counselor, but now professionals in this new field are coming forward. You need to do some research in order to find a good counselor. The earlier option of getting the faculty advisor can also pay if the faculty has contacts in the industry.

Lets assume that your efforts have borne fruit and one fine day you get a letter from a corporate recruiter inviting you for an interview. Then what? Do you have what it takes to come out as a winner in this game? Well here are some tips.

Get to know the company: One of the best ways to know about a company is to talk to the people who work there. Another option is to go through an annual report of the same concern. You can always search articles on the same organization on the net as well as in the newspapers and magazines. Also have an ear on the latest news as given out on the television programs. Get yourself clear about the nature of company's business, the products and services the company offers, its corporate culture and more importantly all the positives or the latest marketing campaign of the company.

Its time to test your verbal/non verbal communication: Everything from the way you walk, to a nice smile, to the way you sit, and to the way you talk speak about yourself. As I have mentioned earlier whether you pick Urdu or English, you should speak it properly. Show that you are confident. Confident enough that you can get this job and do well in doing it.

Remember the employer wants to hire you: A company holds the interview because it wants to hire excellent people. If you convince yourself that you are the best and the hiring manager wants to hire you, you'll have a positive attitude during the interview, and your attitude might influence the manager to feel good about you.

Pretend the interview is your first day at work: Most people behave during the interview as if it were an interrogation. The employer asks questions and the candidate gives the answer. Your attitude should be that of an employee whose there to talk about a new project, rather than the more obsequious attitude of a candidate who's hoping to get an offer.

When asked to tell about yourself only talk out the positives: You don't want to talk against yourself. For instance, if you have bad scores in matriculation, but good in intermediate, you can tell something like, Got the basic education upto matric from a certain place and got 850 marks in F.Sc. with scholarship. Skip all the bad news. After all the employer wants to hire the success stories, not a person with blunders or difficulties.

Got an offer? Interview the company: Till the employer makes an offer, he/she has the full control over the hiring process. After the offer is made, the employer partially delivers the control to the candidate. It's your time now to explore changing the offer to suit your goals and fully interview the company.

Negotiate. Negotiate. Negotiate.: There's a saying, "You don't get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate." When finally made an offer in financial terms, negotiate to the last level. Don't ask unbelievable things like a 1600 cc vehicle, which is usually entitled to senior executives. But is there any harm on negotiating an allowance for daily paper with home delivery and a weekly business magazine. What about pick and drop facility. What about commitments on the pay raise or what about the reimbursement of travelling and lodging expenses towards your interview if they were not initially committed. I think you know what I mean. Just like building body muscles, you also have to develop muscles for negotiation and then use them appropriately.

Lets hope now that your interview went really smashing and you came out with high hopes of either getting the second interview or a written offer. What should you do now? At this point i.e. after the interview, write a "Thank You" letter for the person interviewing you and express your hopes to hear positively from the interviewer in the near future. This letter should be concise to the point and should leave a positive image of yours. This one letter might prove to be the decisive element towards your selection at a specific place.

If considerable time (30 to 40 days) lapse by, and you do not hear from the company, you can again write a very short letter requesting the status of your application. In case you are selected you'll receive a written offer with all sorts of details. Make sure you read them all and don't sign any thing blindly. For instance, a company might ask you to fill a 5 year bond. This kind of commitment might be good for 1 to 2 years time, but 5 years is a bit more. What I mean to say is that read between the lines and if you are satisfied, send a written acceptance of an offer within due time and get ready for the first day at job.

I sincerely hope that after taking the steps mentioned above you will probably end up on a job of your dreams. There will be times when you'll get frustrated but never give up. Remember that when opportunity meets preparation, its what we call luck. Be prepared so that you can snatch the opportunity when it comes your way. Another experience from life is that "Opportunity knocks but once", so if you are not getting a job with your desired organization, just don't wait for sometime in the future. You should get what is currently available to you and then shape your destiny with the passage of time.

Lastly I want to say that think differently. Do innovative things to market yourself, rather than going the traditional way. You got to do something different to stand out in the crowd. Stretch your imagination and use the potential that you have but you don't use. Its time that you apply the techniques mentioned above to market yourself. Its time to wake up and take full control of your destiny. In the words of Somerset Maugham, "It's a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it."

Haider Ali Tanveer

The writer is currently working as a Credit Analyst at Saudi Pak Industrial & Agricultural Investment Company (Pvt.) Limited Islamabad.