Surviving the 21st century, a professional’s survival guide (Part -3)

Read Part 1                    Read Part 2

“If you enjoy what you do, you won’t have to work for single day in your life”

Picking up where we left off in the last installment, we get into the nitty-gritties of a “happily ever after career”. So once you have decided your discipline of interest, it is imperative that you stick to it come what may. Unfortunately this is easier said than done, so often times – caught in the avalanche of “well meant and practical advice” from one’s well wishers, and that of “the frequent gold rushes” that grip the certain industry sectors from time to time – you are bound to be plagued by doubts – especially when you see your contemporaries pursuing domains of expertise that seems to be financially more lucrative and guaranteed to take them on a fast track to “success”. Whenever you are confronted with such advice or self doubt, remind yourself that a choice of career is a decision that is going to stay with you forever; and therefore its returns quotient should be never just be judged on a singular short term financial parameter – but on a number of other intangible parameters, like job satisfaction, your passion for the domain, and most importantly if it is something you would be able to bring yourself to do for the next 40 odd years of your life. An acid test for such a situation is “the billionaire test”. If you were a billionaire and did not have to work for a living for as long as you lived, which is the profession you would have chosen to pursue, would you rather be a “shark slayer” a “video game reviewer” or “a chef”. “Remember there is more success to be had by being the best in a mediocre field – rather than be mediocre in the best field.”

 

 

Now that you have zeroed in on your area of interest it is important to create a roadmap for achieving that goal, the crucial element of which will – of course – be the education and training you need to pursue. The term quality of education offered by an entity is often misunderstood, it is of course true that infrastructural accompaniments contribute to the quality of education, but if one were to pick a single most important factor that is critical in determining the quality of education it would be the overall academic environment that is on offer, i.e. whether  the academic institution in question encourages a culture that is steeped in a relentless pursuit of excellence and knowledge – or is it purely an entity that is solely dedicated to following a checklist of a prescribed syllabi.

 

 

To understand the implications of the above statement let us ask ourselves – why is it that – when all colleges virtually teach the same principles of engineering, some are more sought after than others? The obvious answer from a casual observer’s perspective would be “better job opportunities after completing college” but then why do industries prefer recruiting from some universities / colleges rather than others – even though they teach the same subjects and books? Again the obvious answer is; it is because they expect a higher “return on their investment” on recruits from those specific entities. In other words the industry perceives candidates from these educational entities to be genuinely passionate and involved in their chosen discipline, therefore – more attuned to prevalent industry needs, trends and norms, and consequently – more likely to come up with new ideas and concepts that will prove profitable for their organization.

 

 

Thus it follows an ideal educational institution should strive to create an overall environment that encourages or in fact demands – genuine passion, a continuous exchange of ideas, a research oriented, knowledge seeking mindset among its students, while pursuing active ties and collaboration with respective industry segments.

So for those of you who are in still in the “good job” and “good money” frame of mind – this is how the equation goes, the less importance you give to the monetary criterion while making a decision pertaining to your career, the better chances of you making more of it.

 

 

Unfortunately though the above may seem an obviously logical process – a lot of educational systems (not just institutes) get it wrong. That is why choosing the right system of education is sometimes as important as choosing the right institute and the right career.

 

 

To illustrate the above point better, let me site a somewhat extreme example, if you were an automotive design engineer would you look for a career in New Zealand? In all fairness if you were not too particular about the type of “job” you did – it may make sense, but otherwise it is commonsensical logic – that it would be futile for an automotive design engineer to seek a career in a country which has does not boast of a single car brand. Yet, in a mad zeal for a good “job”, numerous students make such illogical decisions pertaining to their career with alarming frequency- and unfortunately end up making compromises with their original career aspirations.

 

 

Concluding Part-4  coming soon

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Surviving the 21st century, a professional’s survival guide (Part -2)

(Read Part-1) 

During my eventful career as a business consultant and a career consultant, I have lived through a few more recessions and global economic shakedowns than I would care for. The one fact that was reinforced with unfailing regularity during these tough times was that – the ones who survived – and in fact sometimes flourished – were those who took a real passion in their professions, in other words, loved what they did – and was not just in it for the money. Though this might sound something out of a corporate motivational lecture, it is a fundamental truth of life that generates excellent practical real-world monetary dividends.

To elaborate on the above – when money is the sole motivator for choosing a career the end result is usually mediocrity, the mass of “casualties” that are the inevitable fallout of any major global shake-downs or economic meltdown are these “professionals “ in the wrong field, i.e. who jumped in on the bandwagon in search of a quick buck, basing their choice of careers solely on market trends.

Such a class of professionals usually provides grist to the mill of mediocrity, they have their uses when the economy – or any specific industry – is on the upswing, this is when organizations tend to be flexible with KPIs like productivity and profitability because the top-line looks so good and the future looks rosy. However they are the first casualties when things take turn for the worse. They were the casualties of the “dot com bust”, “the economic meltdowns” or other gazillion other debacles that the world of business and commerce has seen.   In other words they stop being RELEVANT.

Any career or education consultant will vouch for the fact that two questions they are asked most often are – “what is the job opportunity in this field” or worse “which field has better job opportunities”. These are possibly the single biggest career-destroying questions one can ask. To start with, one needs understand the clear distinction between the concepts of a job vs. that of a career, to put it succinctly a job is a temporary state of affairs – you may be in a job for 3 months or 30 years, but a career is something that defines your overall personal brand as a professional. To illustrate the point better consider the two following statements as the opening phrase of your CV and choose which you would like to be the statement that defines you.

“An electronics engineer with 5+ years of experience……”  

“An assistant manager with ‘xyz’ organization since 2002…..”

If you chose the second option, we wish you all the best and you can stop reading here.

If you chose the first option congratulations! You are already on the path of a successful career and your “relevance quotient” just went up a notch.

Now that we have established what you want your “brand identity” to be, the subsequent steps obviously are planning towards the goal and execution.

Planning: Ideally this stage should start from high school however, it is never too late. One of the most effective methods for narrowing down ones areas of interest, is to run, what I call the “boredom” test, i.e. if you did not feel like –or were bored of – studying during a particular study session; which is the subject or the book you would reach for to make the best of a bad situation? Look back and you will have your answer about your ideal choice of career.

Continued in Part 3….

Surviving the 21st century, a professional’s survival guide (Part -1)

“The more things change… the more they remain the same”

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

The essence of success or even survival as a specie or as an individual has been –and will be – staying relevant in the bigger scheme of things – the human race being no exception, our tools and methods of ensuring survival may have become more sophisticated over the years but their primary objective remain the same. Of course our stated objectives are oft coated with a veneer of civility like say “making a difference” or “creating value” for the society, but stripped of all its niceties all these terms are euphemism for the basic survivalist instinct of staying relevant. It is for this reason capitalism has – and probably will – remain the essentially organic all encompassing philosophy that transcends all geo-political and socio economic barriers.

In all possibility even Bertrand Russell had no idea how right he was when he said “knowledge is power”. If there is a single golden rule for staying relevant in today’s world it is to stay with if not ahead of the knowledge curve – a task that is becoming increasingly challenging given the exponential rate of change the world has seen almost on all fronts. By obvious extrapolation it follows that the quality of education one obtains is becoming an issue of ever increasing importance.

In a world of changing success paradigms, the definition of a “quality education” has also metamorphosed into something with more “survivalist” connotations. Academics, researchers and professionals can no longer be insulated in their glass houses from the hitherto murky world of real world business diktats; neither can degrees continue to be a piece of paper that gives them a starting advantage over their contemporaries. Fresh graduates no longer have the luxury of a “honeymoon” period. In this day and age the business world demands market ready professionals who can hit the ground running and start delivering from day one. Among the lucky who survive the challenge of course is to stay relevant.

Positions, jobs or even departments are constantly being rendered redundant and to paraphrase Charles Dickens “these may be the best of times, but not certainly the worst of times”. The obvious solution is to stay mobile. Mobility has become the buzzword crucial to the survival as a professional in today’s world, mobility that is not just guaranteed by ones nationality – but by ones competencies and perceived contributions to the global business model as a professional.

Depending on one’s perspective (east or west) one of the biggest flip sides to the story of globalization – albeit unintended – has been the free flow of high end trained labor across markets, whereas this has brought many of the former economic powerhouses to their knees – as their pampered denizens fight for their “overpriced and underworked” way of life – it is no secret that it has opened up a whole new vista of opportunities for a select sector of trained manpower within the “third world countries” – with somewhat mercenary ethics.

But as with everything there is a dark lining to this silver cloud, as complacency sets in, the “nouveau rich” breed of third world professionals run the risk of falling into the same trap of easy money as their western counterparts and -keeping with the laws of business – run the risk of being made redundant once they outlive their utility cycle. For as with technology – skills and knowledge come with a lifespan as well.

So stay relevant by staying ahead of the knowledge curve. How? Read the follow up article…

Read Part -2

Destination USA – The Brilliant Success Story of an average Student

This is a story of a confused yet a bright engineer who took 5 years to complete his engineering studies and yet succeeded in securing admission to the masters program in one of the better ranked universities in the USA.

Kartik came to us as a confused soul who had his heart set on making a fresh start in the USA, he had already taken his GRE as well as TOEFL examinations but had messed up in both of them. We encouraged him to retake the tests, but in spite of his best efforts, he was just not able to focus on the same.

We were candid in advising him about his options, which was to apply to universities with his existing scores, but not to put a lot of hope in securing scholarships/funding. We believed in Kartik and more importantly Kartik believed in us.

We ensured that there was absolutely nothing left to chance when it came to the documentation for application, chief among them the SOP which went through umpteen revisions before it met was deemed “as good as it could get” crisp and compelling.

Then there was the additional problem of his sponsor as well, his father ran a small business and the paperwork was far from sound. We managed to get around the problem by documenting some of his other close relatives as sponsors, it was universally accepted by all involved that Kartik’s only chance of making it as a professional was a change of geography, he had far too many setbacks in India.

We finished his documentation process within the time constraints and guess what; he was offered admission by 5 different universities. He was more than happy by what he had achieved. He told our counselors that this was beyond his wildest expectations; especially with his range of scores and academic record. He thanked us profusely for whatever we did for him, but there was one more hurdle to cross: his Visa. With complicated and somewhat less than sound finances, his prospects for a VISA was a constant source of worry and lack of confidence in Kartik, but as before we believed in him – as he did in us – the team at FACT put in its all in preparing Kartik for his Visa Interview.

Kartik got his F1 Visa approved at the very first attempt, and he was off to the land of opportunities to secure a career of his dreams.

In summation, Kartik was probably one of the weakest profiles we had come across, a year drop during his bachelors, lesser than average academic scores, GRE & TOEFL Scores in the lower range, yet his career has received a fresh lease of life, he was on his way to USA securing Masters in Computer Science and his career flying high and prospects looking up.

The last we heard from Karthik – he had secured near-perfect GPA, and had also bagged an internship at one of the reputed firms in USA. Meanwhile he is also pursuing his passion as a guitarist (he had his own rock band in India)

Kartik’s success story is a typical case study that exemplifies the stories of a thousands of FACT students who walk through our doors every year, filled with self doubt and looking for a chance to realize their potential in the land of opportunities.

Check out our web page to read summaries of more such success stories.