A 24-year old executive search consultant, Ms. Connie Ross M. Suarez, addressed the graduating class of the College of International Relations of the Lyceum of the Philippines University last December 8 during the 4th staging of the College’s Annual Oratorical Competition. The overarching objective of the competition is to promote the importance and urgency of gaining proficiency in the English language among the country’s youth. Ms. Suarez, herself a 2nd place winner overall during the maiden launch of the competition in 2008 and has since then been thoroughly exposed professionally in the recruitment industry, has much to share with her future co-alumnae as to what to expect in the real world of jobs and careers. The following nine pointers from Ms. Suarez carry universal appeal.
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Hi everyone, I'm Ross and as I have been introduced, I work as an executive search consultant, otherwise somewhat vaguely referred to as “headhunter”, with KSearch Asia Consulting, Inc. So, who among you has watched FWB? Thanks to that movie, it makes it easier for people to understand that we're no blood-sucking savages who, after capturing our human prey, thrill at shrinking their heads. Mila Kunis's character and I play the same role.
Clients come to us with a human resource problem, as when, say a bank needs to hire a Vice President for a certain department, the bank’s HR would ask us to assist in the process. We would then quickly scour our talent bank, tap our external connections and scan the market (i.e., the compatible incumbents in other banks) for viable candidates. We meet up with the potential candidates, probe into the nuances and complexities of their present role, then determine the strong correlation between their competencies with those required in the job mandate. If the process yields what we would deem as a positive match, then we would craft an endorsement explaining to the client bank the strong fit, if such be the case. Otherwise, we would repeat the sometimes gruelling cycle until we find at least the near-perfect fit (note: “perfect fits” are only made in heaven).
Simply put, a client “outsources” the recruiting role to us, headhunters. Mind you, this tribe (of headhunters) continues to thrive!
I have worked on recruitment engagements for some of the best known and most demanding global banks operating in the Philippines. I tell you, they make no compromises and are adamant about wanting only the best people to join their institutions. There lay the challenge – i.e., finding the qualified candidates, including from the new crop of university graduates. Having worked with them for a long stretch, I have gained by now a reasonable perspective and insights on what and which potential candidates would make the grade.
The good news is that our leading schools have at least continued to produce quality graduates in the banking, finance, accountancy and management engineering programs. Companies in turn have improved their training capabilities, enabling to fast track the careers of management trainees. It is no longer uncommon, especially in the banking sector, to meet 27-year old vice presidents or 24-year old senior managers or heads of business units.
So, guys, what do you think these high-performing, highly selective multinational companies look for in those who want to be considered by them? What do they expect from the new graduates once they are on board? While a search for the so-called perfect-fit is an elusive concept at best, we headhunters must still wrack our brain, push the envelope, and even split hairs, just to find the ideal candidate.
How do you stack up?
1. Track Record In School -- A Good Starting Point.
Though not a dogma, we usually think that past behaviour predicts future behaviour and if you did well in school, there’s a high probability that you would also excel in your chosen career. It’s indicative of your self-discipline, dedication and achievements, all of which give prospective employers a good dosage of confidence. Of course, such trending pattern and extrapolation do not always hold true. But it’s a good start in assessing applicants and must have worked out pretty well for the most part over the long run.
We typically would ask if the candidates had been a part of a debate team, varsity, choral group, student government, theatre. Extra-curricular activities in school are good indicators of initiative, good work ethic, ambition, and multi-tasking abilities, among others. One multinational banking client we spoke to last month who wanted to hire a VP for Finance didn’t want to settle for just Latin honours. He insisted on those who, in fact, played serious competitive sports. Anything you have done competitively -- be in theatre, choral group or school politics, would speak volumes. It doesn’t just demonstrate your time management skills but your ability to recover from critique, adversities and failures. The adage is that one gains the more constructive experience from mistakes committed.
2. Ability to Work in a Team
The real-world business setting requires for much synergy at work, combining minds, competencies and time spent for one cohesive, collective and comprehensive output. So, working in teams is inescapable, sometimes globally -- if one is lucky enough to be with a global company. They would probe if you can be collaborative and if you have the right personality to help the team achieve the objectives.
We ourselves watch out for parasitic tendencies and the so-called “crab mentality”. One well-respected senior bank executive has related to us that he has seen numerous employees with superb talent, but there would be some who would not hesitate to step on his peers or colleagues to claim credit or to outshine everyone else. He stressed that his bank is allergic to this kind and he cautioned us to be vigilant in screening for such “red signals”. We would thus look for those who show traits of being a positive force to the people around him and who would gladly share knowledge and best practices.
3. Flexibility and Hunger for learning.
Our clients are keen on spotting potential high flyers. These are those who, after doing their assignments well, would seek for greater challenges. They wouldn’t mind being given a job outside of their roles so long as they expand their knowledge about the business. You see, wanting to learn is one thing; but this kind of hunger which evokes the courage to accept new challenges is different. One should be brave enough to test the uncharted waters. There have been stories about less brilliant young people who, with every new experience gained, would be proactive to ask for completely divergent tasks, never mind the time of day or night. These are the eagles which out-fly and out-roam the more intelligent deskbound managers who keep themselves safe and stuck within the safety of their office walls.
4. Leadership Potential
The yet uninitiated are not expected to lead a team at the outset, in any case. But management will be watchful for early signs of who will make future leaders. The mark of leadership can manifest in one’s sense of ownership and accountability in a project or assignment. The ideal is that our “man (or woman)” will do everything to get the job done. If the project fails, he will not shirk corresponding responsibility and will not embark on a blame-game. A high sense of initiative quickly separates him from the rest, taking proactive moves, identifying professional risks or problem areas, offering alternative solutions, with the least hint of supervision, if any, or need to be pushed from above. Please remember, top management ranks leadership quality one among the highest they are always in search for.
5. Having more than enough common sense.
There’s nothing wrong with asking. In fact, management does not only expect it, they insist one asks, especially the new recruits. But it is always appreciated, or better yet – expected, that new recruits take every initiative to do his/her own research to gain context, and then ask the questions. Especially, avoid questions whose explanations appear blatantly in the orientation documents given to each new recruit anyway. Some clients would be so bold as to say: “We don’t raise babies in the business; we don’t want to be holding their hands forever.” Doesn’t it make sense then that showing that you can work with minimal supervision is one of the best indications of your future potential?
6. Out-of-the-Box Thinking
You must have heard of this often cited business jargon. Out-of-the- box thinking provides a different perspective to a view or scenario, a different approach to a problem or a situation. It can be introducing innovations or process efficiencies or simplification. Out-of-the-box thinking skill is a rare ability, admittedly; it sets one apart from the others, a lot others. It is otherwise being creative, innovative, unconventional, or unorthodox, so to speak; but not to be an illusory contrarian as to be weird. Anyway, consider, in your graduating class, how many out of a hundred would you say have such a knack?
I grant that now that you are graduating that you might harbour a sense of invincibility. And that you are probably taking a risk thinking that you’re already too good. I would urge you: stop, look and listen -- you are not good enough, at least not yet. In fact, there will never be a time in our life that we will ever be too good – never. There is so much we don’t know. Technology, as Bill Gates wrote, changes at the speed of thought. So, my friends, I cannot overemphasize the importance of humility. My own Managing Director is quick to remind us that the time you think you are already too good is the start of your decline, not a minute more.
When we encounter situations where our ideas do not coincide with that of our boss’s, most of the time we feel defiant. Well, bear in mind that your boss occupies his or her position for a reason. You are encouraged to make polite suggestions but do keep an open mind to what your boss will be saying. It’s no secret that the “know-it-all person” is the most unpopular in an organization. People who think too much of themselves destroy the culture and they’re so hard to work with. Humility makes someone more endearing and respected. If you made a blunder, take it in, eat the humble pie, and think of how you can change and start over. Don’t pass the buck or go clean.
Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’m not pertaining to physical assets but the manner by which you carry yourself. Let’s face it, we are judged by both the substance and the manner by which we represent our company. Those who radiate an aura of finesse, culture, savoir faire, and sincerity on behalf of the company, get the project.
9. Communication Skills
Last but definitely not the least is Communication Skills. What could be more important, whether in the world of business, diplomacy or government? And it’s more than grammatical correctness and perfect intonation. People who can confidently articulate their thoughts clearly get the attention of the executives.
Warren Buffet, the most recognizable investment guru, once said that you raise your marketability by at least 50% if you master public speaking. And you don’t need a big audience for this. If you want to rise from the ranks, you should be able to develop the skill in communicating with your bosses, senior executives and the board. Hone your ability to think on your feet, to send message across and respond to their statements and sentiments effectively and if possible, humorously. If you can communicate this way, you’d be involved in the critical decision of your firm and definitely in dealing with your firm’s clients.
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Perhaps, a final word, my friends: The real world out there -- outside the comforts of our school campus -- can be incredibly mind-boggling and so compellingly competitive; yet it offers wonderful opportunities and fantastic paths toward unlimited success in life – all, I might add, that our parents have wished and worked very hard for, for us.
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About the author: Ms. Connie Ross M. Suarez is an Executive Search Consultant of KSearch Asia Consulting, Inc. She joined KSearch in May 2008 immediately after graduating from the College of International Relations of the Lyceum of the Philippines University. Specializing in the Banking Sector, she belongs to KSearch’s Banking, Finance and BPO Practice Group. KSearch Asia Consulting, Inc., an active member of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, is a 12-year old executive search firm which supports mostly the executive and managerial requirements of multinational companies and large Philippine conglomerates. KSearch is an Associate Partmer of Horton International, a global executive search firm with headquarters in the U.K. and with offices in more than 40 countries.