Remember I said I was invited to talk at the Social Science school?
Well I did.
And it turned out far more interesting than I thought it would be.
This was a yearly session organized to benefit the undergraduates of the Social Science faculty or school (as we call it here) and help them get an idea and overview of what it takes to make it out there when they graduate. I was one of two invited alumni to speak. The other person was Johnny Bong, who was a true blue Social Science graduate. He is now a certified financial planner.
I tailored my speech with this title – “How You Can Use What You Know To Do What You Want”.
Some of them are studying Political Science, others were studying Economics. (Funnily enough, a good number of the Chinese students were taking Economics! This is very much in sync with the Chinese thinking of money, business and finance.)
My message to them was simple: you can make use of your degree if you pursue the careers that dovetail with it.
I’m the perfect example of someone who loves words and writing.
I obtained my first degree in Communications and my master’s in Linguistics.
Both degrees have served me well over the years.
From my first job as a copywriter and then onwards to be a website editor and then corporate communications manager, the ability to write and speak well has always been my forte.
The other reason why I was speaking to them was this – I have been on both sides of the fence, so to speak. I was once an employee. Now I am an employer. I have perspectives of both. I know what I want when I am looking to hire people.
To me, nothing is as important as attitude. A good attitude trumps everything else. Nic and I don’t fancy looking at degrees. From our experience, we’d rather have a positive, happy employee who is teachable than someone who is highly qualified but lacks basic EQ.
The baseline is, I was there to share with these students on what it takes to be hired and what it takes to hire someone to work for me.
At lunch, I managed to pick the brains of Dr Chin Yee Whah, the Deputy Dean of Industry & Community Network and Dr Ben Teh, a senior lecturer from the Political Science section. Dr Chin was interesting in himself as he studies and researches Malaysian Chinese businesses.
I was pretty much bowled over by the unusual anecdotes of what he discovered about family-run Chinese businesses in Malaysia. A number of them, he said, are no longer the original families. They’ve either sold their businesses to bigger corporations or sold shares away to other interested parties.
Dr Chin continued to regale me with stories of how Tan Sri Loh Boon Siew started (by refurbishing second-hand British trucks) and why Him Heang tau sar pneah biscuits are better in taste and quality than Ghee Hiang!
Our conversation then turned to the reason I was invited. Dr Ben asked me why I thought I have been rather successful in working for others and now running a business. Without batting an eye, I answered. “Adaptability,” I said.
It’s true. I consider myself highly adaptable no matter which environment I am in.
Anyway, one of the questions Dr Ben threw at me was this: How did I deal with office politics when I was an employee? That was a good question indeed. I said that I would never repeat gossip. It stopped with me especially if it was plain bad stuff.
I told the students that to be highly sought after and needed they needed to remember these key things:
Do one thing really, really well first. (In a word, specialize!)
Do the things that scare you in order to grow.
Read often. Always be learning.
Get curious about your world.
Have an open mind.
Be the kind of person you’d want to befriend.
Learn how to communicate excellently.
The last point is very important because if you cannot communicate well, you cannot lead well. And leadership in the workplace (even leadership in your own business) is key to many of life’s success stories. You have to be able to speak well and articulate your thoughts and ideas if you want people to support you or buy your idea and help you implement the idea.
I’ve been truly fortunate that I can write well and I can speak in public without having a panic attack. It wasn’t like I was born with these skills. I had to learn them.
But all of us underestimate ourselves a lot.
We’re capable of so much more if only we had someone to egg us along and be our cheerleader.
What about you? What’s your story? How did you end up doing what you’re doing right now? I’d love to hear your experience.