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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.

Career-plan pain

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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  • DR
    21 September 2012

    The interviewer is trying to work out whether his firm should invest time and money in an unskilled potential employee. Ideally that employee is someone who will appreciate the investment and intends to stay with the organisation for life. Unlikely as this might be, the interviewer will be able to justify his decision making process (to his boss and peers), and the companies long term investment of knowledge and treasure. Treat any interview as a business meeting. Do your preparation and diligence, try to understand the interviewers motivations, prepare for the types of questions you might be asked, do some practice. The guy on the other side of the table wants to know that you are worth the investment ahead of 1000 other people and will be asking him/herself if you have prepared, behave and communicate in a way that will be ultimately beneficial to the company he/she represents. If ultimately you want the option to change careers mid-stream then that is fine but such things are best kept to oneself.

  • es
    18 September 2012

    To Avonlady from Generation Me,

    Notice how I did not state "Dear" since I frankly have no respect for your tone in your post. Posting about "Daddy" issues is a simple let down to the concept of a financial times website. Just because you don't have any friends doesn't mean you should take it out on someone's hard work (however impressionist it is). Sure the blogger's history is a bit vague and his/her ideals are different from yours but that fundamentally does not mean that she should change her attitude because YOU think that. Who are you to question his/her ideals? Can you do a better job then PA? If so, please, write a blog about your amazing life.

    As for the blog, I am a student as well facing the same situation. I agree that employers ask a lot of questions about why you want to work etc but its their job to filter people who will add to the company from those who simply want to work there. In the fast-paced lives that we live now, we should have a rough idea of who or what we want to become in the future, even if we cannot predict the future. This gives us a means to strive for something and is a glowing source of motivation. I'd recommend sitting down and thinking about where you want to be (ideally) in the future to start.

  • av
    18 September 2012

    Dear PA,

    I have never had the urge to post a comment on this site, but then again I have never encountered a post so lacking in perspective to the point it should be considered delusional.

    Yes, it can difficult to know what you want to do with your career as a graduate, but you should have done your homework and learnt about the different career paths available and what they entail. You can't do something, quit few months after, then expect all is forgotten and forgiven. It is unrealistic to expect a potential employer (let alone a bank) to cater to a kid who lacks focus and commitment to a job.

    Instead of asking what an employer can do for you, you should first ask: "What can I offer them?", which is very little as a graduate with no experience. Graduates need to be hard working and keen on learning and pleasing their bosses. You should be thankful that anyone is willing to hire you and give an opportunity to kick-start your career.

    What kind of business would be interested in hiring a kid with no experience/expertise who wants the flexibility to leave when he feels like to work on his family venture and come back no questions asked? Your example of your US classmate is only valid at university, where students have the flexibility to choose their curriculum. As a student, you are the consumer, and should be able to get what you pay for. As an employee, you are the servant.

    I am part of Generation Me. We are notorious for being self-centred and egotistical and even I think you overshot the boundaries so far that any boundary of common sense and responsibility have disappeared.

    You should either change your attitude or go work in the family business full time where hopefully daddy dearest won't fire your ass for being a shitty employee. Frankly speaking, you will have a hard time finding work as a graduate who left few months into the job in this economy. I'm surprised that you got an IB offer with a 2.1 from a HK university so good for you. You either got lucky or daddy dearest made a few well placed phone calls on your behalf. But that doesn't matter now as you pissed that away.

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