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Students can get head start
John Cremer
update on Friday, March 11, 2011
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Mirroring trends in the broader economy, more than 70 organisations - including Fuel and Classified Post - are participating this week in a special on-campus job fair at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). It will give students the chance to explore career opportunities in areas such as online gaming, internet solutions, design and event marketing - less traditional but increasingly attractive sectors for graduates entering the workforce.

"The current generation of students show clearer signs of wanting to get into creative industries, small information technology companies and non-governmental organisations concerned with social sustainability and fair trade," says Herman Chan, director of careers and placement at the university's Centre of Development and Resources for Students (CEDARS).

The trend indicates a structural shift in Hong Kong's economy rather than a major change in student choices, he says. Tracking and responding to such changes is a key task for Chan's 20-strong team. It is, though, just one part of their mission to ensure students are aware of the full range of careers open to them and are equipped for each successive stage of the application and interview process.

Specific training starts with induction talks for all first-year students, explaining the system, workshops to attend and support available. Leaving nothing to chance, this subsequently takes in personality assessments, training in soft skills, advice on putting together a resume and regular job market overviews.

If students are slow to sign up, "we go after them", says Chan, who helps more than 3,000 university leavers make the transition into full-time employment every year. There are tough mock interviews, assessment centres, group discussions and presentation drills, reflecting what employers focus on.

CEDARS has lined up a panel of 15 retired professionals to offer one-to-one advice on the realities and expectations in different industries. "These volunteers are former investment bankers, ex-government [officials] or were with multinationals," Chan says. "Students can pick an adviser based on their background and experience."

More than 160 major corporates and multinationals now give on-campus presentations during the academic year. And, while Chan emphasises that the CEDARS team is officially neutral about potential employers, they will always go the extra mile to facilitate the recruitment process.

This can mean, for example, preparing a shortlist for companies targeting students in disciplines such as computer science or chemistry. It involves screening interested candidates using agreed baseline criteria and putting them through what amounts to the first-round interview. "It is time-consuming and a lot of extra work, but we are prepared to do that to help students and to equalise opportunities," Chan says.

Recently, too, there have been requests - typically from mainland-based companies - to complete the hiring process on campus and compress everything into a few days. Senior executives will fly in ready to conduct formal interviews immediately after a presentation and can make job offers within the week.

"These might be online game companies or research institutes wanting scientists," Chan says. "They work very fast. If you are the right person studying the right subject, you are in."

With competition for good graduates always intense, employers are refining their tactics. Banks, for instance, will arrange networking sessions with executives, while human resources professionals may offer workshops on resume writing and applications.

"We don't want too much raw selling," Chan says. "Students should be able to pick up information about the company and other work-related skills."


Financial attraction

  • Over the past 10 years, some 30 per cent of HKU job-seekers have gone into banking, finance or accounting
  • Despite the financial crisis and new options, this trend is expected to continue
  • The CEDARS team tailors job-search training for different faculties of the university

 

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