Guest Comment: It’s extremely annoying as a graduate when banks demand a mapped-out career path. What if you want to switch sectors?
Help, I’m stuck. Ever remember someone trying to make you eat strange food while saying “you never know until you try it?” Sometimes you like it, often you don’t, but at least you’ve gained a new experience. Shouldn’t that philosophy apply to our jobs?
I’d like to share my views as to how very difficult it is to keep an open mind in Hong Kong. Not everyone can stay in the same industry their whole lives, but on the other hand, when you try something new, it doesn’t always work out. As a wise man once said: “You call it a mistake, I call it an experience.”
His is a positive attitude to learn from, but unfortunately it is probably not enough to please your next interviewer. I’m a recent graduate (2:1) with a business degree from one of the leading universities in Hong Kong. I worked for an investment bank after graduation but resigned just a few months later to settle some personal issues back home overseas.
Helpless in Hong Kong
After coming back to Hong Kong a few months later, I still needed flexibility to travel and so I worked in my family business for about two years. Now, having resolved my home-country problems, I want to return to financial services. This poses a big red flag to potential employers. The leading question I always get asked at interviews is: “Why do you want to switch industries?”
It’s a logical query from their point of view, but it’s difficult to give a satisfactory answer. And from their follow-up questions, they seem to think I lack focus. I find it constricting that in Hong Kong you need to have a crystal-clear idea about what you want to do in banking before you’ve even had much (or any) experience in the sector.
I find Western cultures more open to letting people try different opportunities to see what suits their interests. I attended an exchange semester at a US university and remember talking to a fellow student about what he was studying. His response was surprising and made me want to switch places with him immediately. He could take courses as he wanted from various faculties in his first year, and could decide from year two what he wanted to concentrate on. I found it refreshing that the university encouraged students to gain a wide range of knowledge to help guide their future focus.
Another interview question that really leaves me hesitant is when I’m asked about my long-term career plan. Sure, I can say what the recruiter wants to hear, but that wouldn’t really be the truth. Look at this from the perspective of someone who has just recently graduated. How can you expect me to choose a focused career when I have limited practical knowledge?
Yes, there are graduates who are ambitious, have a path in mind and can answer this question genuinely. They have their whole lives mapped out and follow things step by step. But what of those of us who don’t? Can we simply say we’ll have an action plan closer to the deadline?
While it’s impractical to think about a drastic career change (for example from banking to medicine), shouldn’t some skills and knowledge overlap different industries, such as between operations and publishing?
Each field has its own expertise and switching careers shouldn’t be taken lightly, but surely it should be feasible? Being young should give us time to take risks, to experiment with new things to see if that’s what we want to do. In the long term, I’d hate to be sitting at the same desk 10 years later with a lot of nasty paperwork. At some point, you need stability, but how can you value stability if you’ve never experienced what it’s like to ride a wave?
The writer is a Hong Kong-based professional. The views expressed are hers and not those of eFinancialCareers.
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