Standing out in a crowd becomes increasingly more difficult and the job market is huge. Pakistan’s youth unemployment statistics are inconsistent and depends on the source. Dr. Hafeez Pasha, a distinguished Pakistani economist stated, at the 31st PSDE conference in Islamabad, that 50% of local university graduates are unemployed. The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics says that people aged 23.91% of people aged 15-19 are unemployed as well as 22.54% of people aged 20-24. This disconcerting fact awaits university graduates every year.
Campus Connections 2018 held its second session at University of Karachi’s Business School. In attendance were: Omer Manya, Head of IT at Aga Khan University Hospital, Anis Shiekh, CEO BaseH, Midhat Fatima, Director TEXT and Zia Khan, CEO Panacloud.
As students questioned the panelists, it became clear that the theme of the session would be ‘getting a job in today’s market’. The questions ranged from how to build one’s resume to the importance of the GPA. Students also expressed their dissatisfaction with hiring practices and their well founded disdain for nepotism and prejudice within institutions. One student even shared her disdain at being interviewed for an Internship at well-reputed bank and being questioned about her family background instead of her education and talent.
The panelists were of the general mindset that learning skills which make you stand out in a crowd was the only way to rise above. They assured the students that nepotism and prejudice could only block their way so much; if they made themselves valuable, companies would recognize them. Anis Shiekh said it best, “There is a need for dedication on a specific resource. If a company needs to employ a certain skill, and it finds that skill in you, you will be hired.”
Specialization vs Generalization
The mention of special skill sets shifted the discussion to specialized degrees and certifications the panelists looked for when hiring people. One after the other, the panelists echoed the same sentiment, specialized degrees are preferable, however, a fresh graduate with a general degree can work towards specialization and can rise to great heights through focus on a specific field.
Omer Manya gave his two cents on the issue, citing his experience. “I have been conducting interviews for the last 25 years and I can tell you that when I hire fresh graduates, most have generic qualifications, but when I hire for senior positions, they always have a special talent they bring to the table.” Midhat Fatima, the Director of TEXT, said that she had approximately 80 people in her workforce. “80% of them are generalists, and they’re led by the 20% who are all specialists.”
With all this talk of specialization, some students asked how exactly they would go about distinguishing themselves. Zia Khan had a few ideas. He gave his own example. He described his MBA as a mistake, and being “over” as a degree. He then described how he had done a Masters in Engineering and diversified himself; what he called, fixing his mistake. “I’m known for dishing out brutal truths. So let me tell you that the odds are stacked against you. All of you have made a mistake by pursuing a generic business degree. Now it’s time to make amends. Study for international certifications, go for specialized internships, don’t worry about the pay yet. If you hone your abilities, only then will you get ahead in life. Otherwise, generalization means being confined to a meagre salary.”
Building A Resume
The way the students kept phrasing their questions, the words CV, resume, and GPA kept turning up. And from the beginning, the panelists emphasized their importance. Each job, they explained, needs a custom CV. Reading long objectives and qualifications arranged in the same format quickly becomes tedious. When the same CV keeps turning up, it becomes force of habit to give it a cursory glance. Yet one that distinguishes itself is easy to spot. Anis Shiekh elaborated, “Confidence is key in gaining employment, and your CV should scream confidence. It takes time to build a great CV.” Zia Khan joined in, “It took me around 3 months to build my CV, so for all of you, it should take 5-6 months!”
As for the importance of one’s GPA, the panelists differed in their approach slightly. Some dismissed its importance, while others said that it is sufficient to get through the door and nothing else. Midhat Fatima commented that it was indicative of consistency and hard work, but not of intelligence, and innovation. Omer Manya agreed, “If your GPA is at the bottom end, that’s obviously a red flag, but if it’s good enough to pass the cut off point for a company, you need to demonstrate to them that you’re a well rounded person, that’s all.” Zia Khan added, “Make sure to highlight what you are good at. If your GPA is not the best thing about you, don’t bring it up. Tilt the conversation towards your strengths.”
Hope on the Horizon
Anis Shiekh carried out an impromptu exercise with the students. He asked for a volunteer and rewarded the first student to raise her hand. “This shows confidence. And that is the first step in getting noticed and ultimately rewarded.” Through the Campus Connections session at KU, Anis was also able to help a student launch her idea into a business, identify possible co-founders some interns from the audience, mentors and gave seed capital. The demonstration of setting up an actual company, helped students to see how simple taking a leap of faith can be.
Despite the rough times and the harsh truths, things don’t get more encouraging than this.