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Career ladder gets slippery

Published on Thursday, 17 Feb 2011
Illustration: Bay Leung

This week's news reports about a Chinese University graduate student who failed 200 job interviews have aggravated fears among many young people that education no longer helps them move up the career ladder.

In Hong Kong, many in their 20s think they are in an awkward situation: often highly educated, they are forced to go through spells of transitional unemployment as they move from one job to another in search of meaningful work.

Armed with a bachelor's degree in business management and a master's degree in China in Comparative Perspective, Ah Fun (not her real name) looked forward to landing a decent job. But the stock market crashed in 2008 - the year she graduated - and suddenly the old "go to university, get a job" mantra sounded hollow. She was jobless for almost a year, giving piano lessons to make ends meet.

"I don't know if there's a career path," says Ah Fun, who now works in marketing.

Fierce competition and economic uncertainties mean there are no guarantees of promotion or a pay rise, she adds.

Thomas Chan, managing director of property company Wang On Group and author of the Chinese-language book Upward Mobility: The Success Formula of a CEO, says young adults must be temperamentally prepared for their circumstances.

For a start, jobs and career don't necessarily dovetail with one's interests and lifestyle. Using the example of celebrity Stephen Chow Sing-chi - who became an actor because he wanted to emulate martial arts star Bruce Lee, but later made his name as a comedian - Chan says finding meaningful work is about adapting your talents to fit the big picture.

"I would be happy if I sang opera full-time, but if I did so it would be a selfish act that satisfied nobody but me because I don't have the voice of Pavarotti," says Chan, who, as an opera fan, turned down the opportunity to study vocals. Instead, he stayed with his job in an auditing firm and moved on from there.

"Pursuing your dream is about doing what you can do best and contribute [to society]," he says.

In addition to technical calibre and professional skills, Chan says young people should be per

severant, adaptable and humble. Generation Y - those born in the 1980s and late 1990s - should not leave a job prematurely to dodge a difficulty at work, and it is also important to start saving, no matter how small the initial amount, he adds.

It is equally important to keep yourself going in times of difficulties. Take Ah Ming (not his real name), who graduated with a business degree in 2008 and found contractual work in a bank. He toiled from one temporary job to another, gathering work experience and expanding his social network.

After two years of hard work, his salary has nearly doubled. "I have friends who don't have a university education, but they are doing okay financially because they have accumulated skills and experience from their jobs," Ah Ming says. "It's not right to think we should be in a prestigious position just because we have attended university. If you really have the heart to succeed, all roads lead to Rome."

Prepare yourself for the challenges in life

The Greatness Guide
by Robin Sharma

Do something new each day – from
practising a new sport to tasting a
new dish – to broaden your
horizons and fuel your zest for life.

The Secret
by Rhonda Byrne

Positive thinking is like a magnet
that draws success – from riches to
health and happiness.

by Suzy Welch

When you make a decision, don’t
just think about its immediate
impact. Also take into account
what will happen 10 minutes, 10
months or 10 years later.

A New You
by Nicola Cook

Reinvention starts from small
changes. The book shows you how
not to be a fool doing “the same
thing over and over again yet
expect to get different results”.

As suggested by Thomas Chan,
managing director of property
firm Wang On Group

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