As the years pass the requirements for obtaining a good job become higher throughout the world. In the 1980’s if you had a university degree you had an excellent chance of getting good job that you would probably keep for the rest of your life provided you turned up on time and met the expectations of your employer. A couple of decades later there are many people with a university degree who are unemployed and finding it very difficult to obtain a suitable position. The minimum requirement has become a Master Degree to get a good job. More and more people are doing MEng, MSc and MBA to stand out from the crowd that only have BEng and BSc. How long will it take for the PhD to become the new master’s? This has created a lot of anxiety amongst young people in the UK and in developing nations across the world.
Another problem for the developed countries is global competition and availability of talent to hire from abroad, which is far cheaper. Many companies prefer to hire a PhD with similar intellectual ability and experience from China or India at a fraction of the cost. Why would they hire software engineers from America or UK if they can get someone of similar caliber but much cheaper. So what is the solution to all this anxiety and competition? How can we even the playing field?
I have worked for quite a few institutions starting off in industry at General Electric Company, Ferranti Electronics, INMOS, VSW Scientific Instruments, Salford University Business Services, University of Norhumbria, Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Ulster and now the University of Central Lancashire.
Let me share with you a secret 50% of the opportunities for these positions came through connections and networks. I had demonstrated my excellence, certain skills and characteristics, which were highly desirable for the post before putting in a formal application. So don’t rely exclusively on job adverts when you search for positions. If you are PhD student when you finish you have to be creative in seeking the best jobs possible. Don’t rely 100% on formal job searches; use your networks and contacts.
Even though I loved working in industry I decided that I wanted to work at a university. Getting a university lectureship seemed an impossible task. I only had 3 publications, no lecturing or teaching experience and my academic record was not outstanding. There were very few university academics from Asian backgrounds at that time. The competition was too tough. I had just been made redundant from a company I loved working for due to the economic recession. It was nothing personal, the company like me but had to shut down their R & D department and I was one of the people in charge of the molecular beam scattering section. The company decided they could not afford to do R & D and let all employees in that department go through compulsory redundancy.
Even without a job I had to support a wife and 3 children. Financially and emotionally times were very tough and we felt on the edge of survival on numerous occasions. Despite our difficulties financially my wife was very supportive and believed in my ability to succeed even though I was plagued with self-doubt and worry on how to be a provider, father and a good husband. However, now I would not swap those times for anything. The lessons I learnt were responsible for greater success, financial affluence and a deep connection with my wife and children, which paved the way for even greater success and happiness.
I decided to enter academia and turned up every day at Salford University to work with a colleague. I contributed to research discussions, did experiments, helped with writing proposals, helped build industrial links – all unpaid. This enabled to develop new skills and bring me to the attention of people who would eventually employ me. After about 3 months the Professor and Head of Photovoltaics Group (Prof Tomlinson) paid me some money from a research grant to help me financially and the following month I was introduced to Geoff Mortimer who offered me a job working for Salford University Business Services as Operations Manager in charge of the Surface Engineering Division working with academics to generate income for the university for research. He gave me a huge office, personal secretary and a brand new company car and the freedom to build the Surface Engineering Division and paved the way for me to become an academic. Through contacts I made in this job I was head hunted for a position as Senior Lecturer in manufacturing technology when my formal education was a PhD in Chemistry. However, I had developed skills in getting funding from industry, writing research papers, supervising students, putting together consortia, managing budgets, developing multidisciplinary teams, projects management, report writing and presentation skills. I did this in a very short time.
So what were the lessons I learned from that experience?
Here they are
There are two job markets, formal and informal. Regardless of your status or position you need to optimize your search in both these markets. The informal job market consists of jobs not filled by normal route of job adverts, interviews etc. but through relationships. For example, there is a position to be filled and an employee knows someone who is ideal for the vacancy. Or a company wants someone specific to join the team and they create a position. I think the higher up you go the more important the informal market place for jobs becomes. The statistics are startling about 80% of the positions get filled informally and only 20% get filled via job adverts. However, the majority seeking jobs rely exclusively on the formal job market and ignore the bigger market. This obviously varies from country to country.
How does recruitment happen in the informal job market? The way I did it was to build to relationships with people in the organisation I wanted to work for and then demonstrate very clearly how I could add tremendous value to those groups and the organisation in a specific way. Once this was done the job was created and application and interview process become simple and I had greater knowledge, skills and experience than the other applicants.
Use your connections. You need to know people who know people who have the job opportunities. Build your human relationships and networks. This may be much more important than a CV. Most education and career advice is based on building CV and application letter. These optimize your application to the smaller formal market. You need to do both to ensure your success.
Employers are looking for skills and character not just qualifications. When employers state in advertisements, BSc required and MSc desirable they really mean they are looking for a set of skills, character traits and attitudes. For example, employers are looking for honesty, initiative, good work ethic, good time keeping, ability to meet deadlines, writing skills, communication skills, perseverance, maturity and respect for authority. A good educational attainment is a screening tool in the formal market place. However, in the informal market this process happens through relationships, networks and value you can add.
People like to work with people they know and trust.
The steps I am going to outline is not exactly what I did but what I would do if I were to do it again. My actions were mainly trying to use my common sense and much trial and error. I made numerous mistakes. For example, I turned down an offer to work for IBM in the USA, which was the leading research centre in the world at that time straight after my PhD. A few years later turned down a 3-year research fellowship at Oxford University, Department of Chemistry in favour of a permanent position at an SME from which I was made redundant after two years. Mistakes did not debilitate me but inspired me to take massive action and acted as spur for greater success.
Here are the steps
Choose field and what you really need to learn. Decide on the field you want to enter and what specific skill you will need. If the field is less regulated and creative then there is greater likelihood of success. It could be programming, writing, sales, photography, media, arts and entrepreneurship.
Try to learn everything you can and document learning. You may wish to start a blog and share with other people. They can provide some feedback and comments that you may find useful. You can reinforce your learning.
Pick and thoroughly study the top 5 best selling books in the field. Pick some classic ones as well and pick the ones by active and successful practitioners in your chosen field. Don’t just pick academic books. Books written by practitioners will be more valuable in terms of street-wise applicable content rather than elaborate theory.
Write one blog post every week in detail about what you have learned from the book you are reading. Why is this important?
You are getting a good practical education and you have condensed years of someone learning into a week.
You demonstrate to potential employers/clients that you understand the field and its requirement and you have the skills to be successful.
You have demonstrated your desire to learn and continue developing yourself.
You demonstrate your ability in analytical research, creativity critical thinking, focused marketing and clear writing.
This will set you apart from the rest since you have a presence and developed a brand name and shown to be a leader in the field.
Develop good networking skills. This is an essential skill in the larger informal market. However, you need to be good at your job. Networking can’t replace actual skill but can take your skills further in terms of career progression.
Find at least 2-3 people or business owners per month who may be able to help you, have the authority to offer you a job or have contacts to help you onto the career ladder. Open communication channels with them and find as many ways as possible to help and serve them. You can do this on-line or off-line. After 2-3 months you will be networking with 6-9 fans. These are very good fans because even if they can’t help you directly, they may know other people who have positions and looking for people and can act as good references for you.
You have now started to build a circle of successful powerhouse people whom you support and who support you. Keep building this network up.
This will be your key to success in the informal job market. If you keep developing your skills and your network you will never have to worry about getting a job.
Start working for free, build your skills and offer small, light services related to your field for free to people in your network. This will give you experience, credibility and good source of references. You may ask for employment or referrals if they like your work.
Develop examples and case studies you can use to influence decision makers. Examples of excellent work are very powerful tools to help you get a good job. Ask if you can use the material – make sure you don’t breach confidentiality.
Develop excellent relationships with your mentors. Find the best people from whom you to get mentoring.
Learn to sell very well. This is one of the most valuable skills you can ever have and can be learned and developed. If you can’t sell your success will be limited. You will never reach the very top. Everyone who has reached the top has done so with great sales ability. You have to sell your vision if not products or services.
Sell your talents, skills, services and vision to people in your network. Have conversations with 10 people in your network over breakfast, lunch, dinner or coffee and show them your portfolio and find ways to meet their needs.
You are now ready – just go and do it NOW. You are building a brighter, more prosperous and a happier future.