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Successful Shadow a CEO applicants enjoy the view from the top

Published on Saturday, 24 Jan 2015
More than 100 students from Hong Kong universities and institutions - plus several from overseas - were interviewed at the Classified Post Career Forum in October for a chance to make it onto the Shadow a CEO Programme. Photos: Terry Wong

Select group of aspiring executives make the most of their three-day pass to the corporate summit

Shadow a CEO Programme sees aspiring executives benefit from their pass to the corporate summit.

Most of the students and graduates at last October's Classified Post Career Forum were there simply to take advantage of a great opportunity to meet and talk with prospective employers drawn from 1 long Kong's wide range of economic sectors.

However, a significant number of those who arrived at Mong Kok's Langham Place Hotel were prepared and eager for the next stage in a selection process that would determine which students would get the chance to "Shadow a CEO". In this unique programme, bosses from four of Hong Kong's top businesses allowed groups of two or three students to spend three working days alongside them as they ran their meetings, made their decisions, and delegated their responsibilities.

The four firms taking part were Pernod Ricard Asia Travel Retail, the regional operation of the multinational drinks group; local broadband service provider 1 long Kong Broadband Network (HKBN); property, food and beverage, and entertainment business, the Lan Kwai Fong Group; and financial services firm Manulite Financial Asia.

The first step towards mis three-day pass to the corporate summit was for each candidate to submit a CV and a written explanation of why they should be chosen.

From these submissions, more than 100 applicants were selected to be interviewed at the Career Forum by consultants from recruitment specialists Kelly Services.

Since none of the candidates had yet clocked up many career miles, the consultants concentrated on evaluating the strength of their soft skills - passion and preparation being key considerations - in order to whittle them down to 25 hopefuls. From these, each of the four participating companies then selected up to three "shadows", with 11 students finally chosen for the programme.

So far, three out of the four businesses have hosted their students, with Manulite Financial Asia welcoming its trio next month.

According to the feedback received by Pernod Ricard, HKBN and the Lan Kwai Fong Group, the students taking part have been delighted and inspired by the whole experience.

"They said they really enjoyed the chance to [team up], side by side, with the CEO, like they were senior executives of the organisation," reports Con Constandis, managing director of Pernod Ricard Asia Travel Retail. "They also really enjoyed feeling part of the Pernod Ricard team."

Along with the meetings and the briefings, being part of that team involved spending a day with Constandis and his colleagues to repair and Lend to an organic farm on Lantau as part of the company's corporate social responsibility programme.

The students shadowing Lan Kwai Fong Group chief executive Jonathan Zeman got a very rewarding opportunity on one of their three days 10 exercise their imaginations. Joining in branding workshops to help shape the business's new image, they brain-stormed and discussed ideas along-side Zeman and his marketing and creative personnel.

"They were very analytical in their thinking," Zeman says. "They could look at the customer demographics and at the offerings we have, and see how it all goes together."

Meanwhile, HKBN CEO William Yeung notes that one of the two students tailing him fitted in so well that, in a meeting with one of the company's business partners, he was assumed to be a member of the sales team. "And on the last day, he asked for the opportunity to become an intern," he adds.

While it was definitely an eye-opening experience for the students themselves, the bosses also found they had to question some of their own assumptions.

Whether it was because the selection process had singled out some exceptional candidates, or because they were getting to spend more time than usual with the latest generation of students, all three executives said they were very pleasantly surprised by how mature, confident and engaged the young 'shadows' were.


Kelly targets soft skills in interviews

The hurdles were high and the competition fierce for those looking to win a place on the most recent Shadow a CEO Programme. Classified Post conducted the first part of the selection process, after which each candidate sent in a CV and a 200-word essay on why he or she should be selected.

More than 30 candidates who made it through the written stage were then interviewed by Darren Tay, principal consultant at Kelly Services Hong Kong, and six of his colleagues at the Career Forum in November. "Our selection criteria focused much more on the soft skills," Tay says. "The candidates didn't yet have much work experience, so it was hard to match them against a job. Motivation, personality and presentation were the three main areas we focused on.

"Before the process took place, the clients had indicated what they were looking for. For example, Manulife were looking for good academic achievers, whereas HKBN were looking for innovators - they particularly liked candidates who were more creative. The Lan Kwai Fong Group emphasised presentation, language and diversity."

The shortlisted candidates then went to the companies to finalise the selection process.

Tay was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the candidates. Fresh graduates often don't interview very well, he explains, as they lack experience and confidence, but the batch he met was very strong.

"They came in very confident, they were very diverse, most were very well presented, and a large number of them were very well prepared - I think the preparation was what impressed me most. They could tell me why they wanted this opportunity and how it would help them, and they could tell me about the CEOs.

"Also, I found their thinking to be quite mature when I asked them about their ambitions and what they wanted to do."

So what was it that made the successful candidates stand out? "Passion," Tay answers without hesitation. "How much they really wanted it was the clinching factor. In a selection process, it is not always the most qualified that gets the job - companies hire the people they like the most."

Tay believes that working their way through the selection process will probably be of most immediate use to the candidates. "This experience will help them when they go for their first job. The successful candidates probably had to speak to five or six different people to get through."

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