The COVID-19 pandemic and continuing social unrest sparked by pro-democracy protests have converged to deal a dramatic blow to Hong Kong’s economy, rendering the city’s future uncertain. Experts say Hong Kong is on the edge of a precipice and recovery is expected to be elusive.
The numbers certainly tell a grim story. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 6.2% in the April-to-June period, the highest in more than 15 years. The underemployment rate came in at 3.7%, the highest in almost 17 years. Amongst all age groups, those between 20 and 24 are most affected. The unemployment rate for this group hit 14.3%.
The government has introduced a scheme to create thousands of temporary jobs. Universities are aiding their students in their search for work. Companies in some sectors are still growing and hiring.
However, even all of this is not keeping spirits up. Numerous fresh graduates describe being close to succumbing to despondence as their first steps into the workforce are marred by this unprecedented crisis. This is understandable since the economic repercussions of COVID-19 have yet to be fully felt. The situation is likely to get worse before the first rays of light at the end of the tunnel become visible.
But, this is no reason not to make the best of the current situation to learn how to thrive amidst adversity. Surviving in this climate requires a paradigm shift. Young graduates should see this period as an opportunity to develop an agile and global mindset that would help them future-proof their careers.
OPENNESS AND FLEXIBILITY
Firstly, be especially open to diverse job opportunities. Don’t be picky in terms of the industry or the nature of the work. Careers today are hardly ever linear and the first job one lands straight out of school is not necessarily going to be the beginning of a lifelong career. This is a time for new experiences and learning opportunities which can be found in any job. For instance, a temporary job as a customer service agent in a call centre would help you hone transferable interpersonal skills that could serve you in many future job roles.
Fresh graduates also need to be flexible about terms of employment. During this period, more companies are looking into building a dynamic workforce comprising both full-time staff and contract specialists. It is a way for them to break out of the destructive cycle of hiring, retrenching during a crisis, then hiring again when the economy recovers.
Considering this, take on a short-term contract or project work with relish. Use this as an opportunity to pick up skills and experience for future roles in other companies. Also, bear in mind that if you perform well, such work could very well lead to a permanent role within the same company.
When it comes to compensation, be realistic. At this point, wages are likely to be lower than before. But when you excel in what you do and succeed in adding value to your employer’s vision and mission, money will come.
GUTS AND GUMPTION – TAKE AN UNCONVENTIONAL APPROACH
During this time, even with the right mindset and attitude, finding work is likely to take longer than ever before. Aside from patience, you need the guts and gumption to take extraordinary steps to stand out. As you send out resumes, ensure that they are customised for each job role you apply for. Use professional networking sites to your advantage by reaching out directly to decision-makers in the companies you want to work for. Do the necessary research to find out more about their pain points. Then, tell them why you would like to work for them, describe the value you can bring to the company and provide concrete solutions to their business challenges. Solution-oriented candidates are very much in demand in a crisis.
In a 2017 TED talk, entrepreneur and talent expert, Jason Shen, described the unconventional approach he took to get a job as a Product Manager at American e-commerce website, Etsy.
“The company had recently gone public, so as part of my job application, I read the IPO filings from cover to cover and built a website from scratch which included my analysis of the business and four ideas for new features. It turned out the team was actively working on two of those ideas and had seriously considered a third. I got the job,” he said.
I fervently believe that all jobseekers should endeavour to do this for a position they really want.
Don’t be discouraged if response times are slow. Continue trying elsewhere. The important thing is to never give in to stagnation. This is no time to mope.
Instead, spend time picking up new skills. Look at growing markets and do a personal skills audit based on employers’ needs. Learn the skills you will need to bring value to employers today. You should highlight your skills development efforts in any interaction with prospective employers. A willingness to learn new skills to adapt to business needs is a plus in what continues to be a volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous (VUCA) world.
A GLOBAL MINDSET
The economic crisis is certainly debilitating, but let us not forget that whilst pandemic mitigation measures have erected certain barriers, they have pulverised others. Work-from-home (WFH) arrangements have made many employers realise that remote employees can be just as productive as those on the premises. They are now more open to hiring across borders.
Therefore, workers should take a global approach as well by actively taking advantage of remote work opportunities in any part of the world.
Doing well in this era is contingent upon actively reframing dire circumstances to focus on hope and opportunities. This period in our history could lend fresh impetus to the growth of a resilient and robust generation. Let us not squander it by allowing ourselves to get sucked into a maelstrom of negativity.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Hongkong Business. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Jared Ng is Co-owner and Regional Consulting Director of PeopleSearch Hong Kong, a leading executive search, career transition and outplacement services firm with an established presence in five other Asian cities - Taipei, Singapore, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo.
Jared started off in the Banking industry, but a series of chance encounters helped him discover his true calling in the executive search business more than 20 years ago. He is passionate about helping businesses acquire talent capable of having a transformative impact on organisational goals. He is equally committed to helping professionals cultivate fulfilling careers aligned with their aspirations.