Father Sez

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Did I spoil someone’s rice bowl or did I do the right thing?

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

In Malaysia the term rice bowl is often used to describe one’s livelihood or avenue of earning a living. A job is a rice bowl, a investment paying returns might be another. Spoiling someone’s rice bowl is to negatively affect the person’s livelihood.  

I was put into a difficult situation last week.  Everyone already knows that the economic environment is getting harsher, jobs are being shed left, right and centre and that lots of people are looking for jobs now.  I have often been asked to act as a character referee by my friends when they send out their CV’s. I always agree, since they are friends, which by definition means that I should be able to vouch for their character. 

A former colleague called me out of the blue a few days ago and told me that he had submitted his CV to a head hunting firm and listed my name as a reference. That was fine. He went on to add that he had listed a particular year as the year he started worked in the organisation and that he had been involved in certain types of projects. He ended by telling me that I should know how to weave some story around it. Some story I would have to weave, since the basic facts seemed a little too far from the truth.  

I was stunned. My immediate reaction, which I mentioned to my wife who was with me then was that this guy must have a very low opinion of me. I asked her what I should say should the head hunter call, since it appeared to me that I would have to stretch the truth a little too much for my tastes. 

I am all for helping others in anyway I can. In fact, this is one of the affirmations I read daily. But this grated a lot.  I thought deeply about this issue, as I truly wanted to help him, but not by agreeing to what I considered to be something a little too far away from the truth. I would have been more than happy to work around some little embellishment, though. 

My wife gave me a solid piece of advice. She told me that if the headhunter called, then I should evade questions that might expose the untruths, but instead just talk about what I was involved in. And let the headhunter piece things together.  

Well, the head hunter called, and that was exactly what I did. I just told him that I would tell him what I did and then he could ask me about my interactions with the applicant. I don’t know if the head hunter detected or would consider the discrepancies as “technical errors” or would put a question mark on the whole application. That has to be his decision. 

As for me, my conscience is now clear.  I sent the former colleague an email and told him not to use my name in this manner again. I would like to help him but not this way. He has not replied, either to state his side of the story or to apologise. Well, what he should do is for him to decide.  

The CV Store has an article on whether we should lie in our CV and also the results of a poll conducted on the same topic.

I am happy to know that the majority seems to have the same view as I do. 

Would you ever consider a job to be beneath you?

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

Last week I read two great posts on this topic. The first one I read was by Mrs. Micah who asked “what kind of work is beneath you” and she   listed the pros and cons of having a job, any job, as opposed to having no job whilst looking for the right one.

Jim from Blueprint for Financial Prosperity asks whether we should take a low paying job. He also credited Mrs. Micah for igniting his thoughts on this matter and made a very powerful statement at the end of his post.

Quote

Finally, I find it dangerous to pass judgment on any job, above, beneath or beside you, because it’s someone’s job somewhere.                                                                       

Unquote 

I think the subject is most appropriate in these trying times of widespread job losses. Lots of buzz is being created all over the world over “foreigners” working in countries where the locals are losing jobs.  

Mrs. M’s and Jim’s posts strike very close to home in the Malaysian context. I have written about the official unemployment statistics for Malaysia to be 3.1% or about 343,700 people. At the same time, foreign labour in the country is about 1.2 – 1.5 million. They are mainly Indonesians, Nepalese, Bangladeshi, Indian and Thai workers. They do work that the Malaysians seem to shun, work like being plantation workers, restaurant helpers, domestic maids, security guards, construction workers etc. 

This foreign workers number is almost 4 times, the number of the officially unemployed. This seems to be proof that some people do consider some types of work to be beneath them. (Of course, some employers also prefer to employ the foreign workers for various reasons.) 

Our Government often makes the appropriate noises about Malaysians being too choosy about their jobs. I suppose sooner or later some change has to happen in this ratio of foreign workers to the Malaysian unemployed.   

I have never ever had to make this decision in a personal capacity in the past. Some reasonably paying job would land on my lap. Looking back at the various jobs, members of my family have held, the lowest one might be that done by my late father. 

My late father was a bread vendor, selling bread and cookies. He had a “route” assigned to him by the bakery and he would collect the bread, cycle along the route, stop, disembark and sell the bread, and cycle on. This was his daily routine until he went for an appendicitis operation and was advised not to cycle anymore. This story was told to me by my eldest brother. I have never seen my late father mount a cycle, ever. And I don’t think that this job was ever considered to be beneath him, rather I am sure my father took pride in having a job that helped meet people’s needs. 

Now my wife and I are doing something that I might be considered as “beneath me” not too long ago. We have taken a well considered plunge into direct selling. And to be honest this decision was not exactly a result of a “no other option” kind of situation. Yes, declaring myself to be a MLMer when asked what I do now has resulted in some snickers. But then, is a person who is a friend because of your job or position really a friend?  

So Mrs. M and Jim, I consider that the pizza delivery man featured by CNN has set a fine example. And my wife and I are further examples of people wanting to do jobs that OTHERS may consider to be beneath us.   

My two elder girls…….an update

Friday, October 24th, 2008

I last wrote about my two elder girls way back in July. My eldest girl Along had started work with an educational institute for children whilst the second, Azah had started with a Big 4 audit firm. The two offices are located at opposite ends of our Federal Capital, Kuala Lumpur which is about 60 kilometres from where we live. As it was not practical for the both of them to stay together we found rooms for them and thought that we would work out the staying together bit later. 

Along did not find the job to her liking and came back home. Her principal interest is in counselling, especially children, and teaching them did not work out the way she thought it would be. She has now found an assignment as an assistant to a counsellor. She found the lady through a blog and met up with her a couple of weeks before Eid. They both got along well and my wife and I have also met and have gotten to know this lady. Along is really looking forward to being involved in the counselling profession. 

The plus points are that the lady’s office is not too far from Azah’s office and also the University where Along plans to do her Masters in Educational Counselling.  So we have rented a house where the two girls will stay together and rent out the other rooms.

The house is within walking distance from Azah’s office so the transport issue for her has been resolved. It’s a little further from Along’s expected place of work and we have agreed that we will buy a car for her (used, of course).  

Last week the whole family checked out the house (which is unfurnished) and prepared a list of the basic furnishings and household items to buy. The dent in my wallet aside(this has to be discussed with the girls later), there is the fatherly fear of whether my girls would be safe and be “all right”. My wife is taking it a lot better (she is a great believer in independence). 

As I would be in Jakarta all this week, Along and my wife will be taking care of getting the house cleaned and furnished. And Insya’Allah the two girls will move in by the 1st November.  

(Should I or my wife set any house rules or should we just let the girls go with the flow? This will be a thought that will linger a lot in my mind over the next few days).   

Checking out my “Impostor Syndrome” rating

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

A while ago, I read Mrs. M’s post on the Impostor Syndrome.

She defined it as:-

“Feeling like you’ve never made significant accomplishments and that you’re actually a fraud waiting to be found out and humiliated or punished or exposed.” 

I think this is a feeling that perhaps, many of us go through. The feeling that we have never ever really made “true” progress and it was just plain dumb luck that took us to where we are now.  When we read this definition of the Impostor Syndrome, together with Peter’s Principle of being promoted to our level of incompetence, it feels like a real solid knock on our heads. 

Well, this is a feeling that I have been going through for a little while now.  When I first started out in working life, I had a truly wonderful supervisor, Angie. She was supportive, guided me tirelessly, was a great mentor and set me off on a blazing start to my career. She would be the single person I should attribute my “fearless and can-do attitude” to.  

Along the way, I have now run into some not so inspiring situations, hence the present feelings. My usual motivator is my wife, as I have mentioned before.

This time, however, I wanted another confirmation. Unlike Mrs. M, who works in a library and found reassurances from a series of career books called the “Career Coward” books, I did not have these books to fall back on.

This is how I found the reassurance I wanted.

I read aboutThe 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers” via a web site while researching something. To quote them:-

“The 5 patterns reveal the subtle yet powerful factors that determine career success.  Based on three years of extensive research, including an in-depth survey of more than 2,000 of the top executives in business, we now know the patterns of thought and action most correlated with extraordinary careers.”

And to check whether we would have an extraordinary career, they provide an online quiz, which I took. 

It appears that I am a person with great potential. So I am writing this post with a feeling of “not too little” reassurance.  

If any of you are feeling even a little of the impostor syndrome now, go on and take the quiz. At least you will learn a little more about yourself.   

How I intend to help my daughters secure jobs they would like – Part 5 – Preparing a Killer Resume

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

My two elder girls are almost ready to join the rat race. I am discussing with them the things they could do to better position themselves to get the job of their choice from the employer of their choice. And not to repeat the major mistake I have made of not managing my career.  

In Part 1, we covered an overview of the process. 

In Part 2, we covered the additional employability skills they would have to familiarize themselves with.

In Part 3, we looked at the realities of life as an employee as compared their past years as students. 

In Part 4, we looked at how to look for and understand the career options available to them.

Now in this Part 5, we talk about the all important resume.

Wikipedia defines a résumé as a document that contains a summary or listing of relevant job experience and education usually for the purpose of obtaining an interview when   seeking employment. Often the résumé or CV is the first item that a potential employer encounters regarding the job seeker, and therefore a large amount of importance is often ascribed to it.

You know what they say about first impressions. As the resume is the first thing a potential employer sees about the applicant, we have to make our resume jump and stand out from the pile of other resumes that the employer would receive.

There are two parts of the resume:

a)    The Content and

b)    The design or style or format, i.e. how the final document looks like.

A) Content

i) The grand daddy rule of the content part should be “Do not lie”.

ii) The second rule is from my favorite career counselor, Free Money Finance and I paraphrase from his very useful “How to write a winning resume””“The way to sell yourself in a resume is to cite specific strengths and abilities that companies need from someone in the job you want and support them with your accomplishments.“

In my daughters’ case, there will be some slight twists. As this is their entry into the working world, the instances they have to quote would be work related or applicable achievements in their extra curricular activities in school and college. Like the instance when my daughter was part of the fund raising committee of the Leo Club in her college and they raised RM200, by drawing tattoos for fellow students and selling herbal eggs.

Another step would be to understand and anticipate the requirements of the job applied for and state our readiness to be able to comply. For example, audit trainees generally have to work quite long hours since the audits usually carry tight deadlines and are bunched up during certain times of the year.

Being comfortable in making presentations to a group of people would be a plus if the job involved marketing or training.

FMF also says that we should do some creative writing so as to make our resume sparkle with accomplishments. This would force recruiters to invite us for an interview. This makes absolute sense.

Yahoo Finance reminds us to keep the resume short and to quality check to eliminate misspellings and other obvious gaffes. I could also do with this advice. I blush with embarrassment whenever I read a post of mine and detect such obvious grammar and spelling errors.

These days lots of resumes are submitted online. Yahoo Finance also talks about the differences between a paper version and its online cousin. The writing of an online resume would be akin to SEO optimization, as it seems that the filters might reject submissions without the required minimum number of keywords corresponding to the skill set of the available position.

“The purpose is not to look like an individual, it’s to look like a match,” says Pat Kendall, a career coach in Tigard, Ore., who optimizes clients’ résumés for online submission.

B) Design 

I am quite hopeless at this. However I ran into 2 very useful guides.  Life Clever’s excellent step by step face lift he did on a typical run of the mill resume. And in about 4 steps he (she??) managed to “Cinderallise” the resume. 

And for even more design options, look at JobMob’s Beautiful Resume Ideas that Work. 

I thank them sincerely for their selfless sharing.

I have sat at both sides of the interviewing table in my career. I know how easy it is to toss out a lousy, insipid resume. I also know that just by reading a resume, you can come to a conclusion that this candidate is the one who would be solving all our problems.  

The resume is the door opener. We have to make sure our resume not only gets the door open, but also get us invited for the interview. 

Actually the resource links that I have used in writing this post were given to my girl just before I left to India to attend what turned out to be my mother’s funeral. My daughter has done justice to these resources and come up with a resume, which I think, I would have opened a door for. 

Her resume is being used now to actively seek interviews. I’ll post on this process in the next installment of this series.

Picture Credit: Google Images

How I intend to help my daughters secure jobs they would like – Part 4 – Understanding the career options available

Monday, April 21st, 2008

It has been quite sometime since I posted about this exercise I am doing with my girls.  

Just to recap, my two elder girls are almost ready to join the rat race. I am trying to discuss with and suggest to them the things they can do to better position themselves to get the job of their choice from the employer of their choice. And not to repeat the major mistake I have made of not managing my career.  

In Part 1, we covered an overview of the process. 

In Part 2, we covered the additional employability skills they would have to familiarize themselves with.

In Part 3, we looked at the realities of life as an employee as compared their past years as students. 

The plans for Part 4, 5 and 6 were for:-

a)    My girls to understand the career options available to them,

b)    The preparing of a good resume and identifying the companies and  

c)     The seeking of the interviews and doing well at them.

Well, that is still the plan. And though I keep referring to “girls”, the eldest has yet to complete her final exams which are due in mid May 08. I am sure she’ll understand the principles, as I go through this with her younger sister.

For our second girl, Azah who did Accounting and Finance, the resources used to learn about her career options (in addition to what her University Counselors had talked to her) were basically :

a) Clever Dude’s very useful post on why people work and some of the attributes of career selection and

b) The informative articles in About.com on the definitions of the Finance Function and the Financial Services Industry, the advantages of a career in Financial Services and the differences of the producer and support function in Financial Services.

I also chipped in with the almost exponential growth in Islamic Finance where Malaysia is  acknowledged as being at least one of the world leaders. The International Centre for Education in Islamic Finance (INCEIF) which offers courses in Islamic Finance is based in Malaysia and is widely accepted as a pioneering teaching institution in this field.

Lately, too, Squawkfox has started a series on finding our career calling and discovering the five paths to our perfect job. I have also given the links to my daughters and I am sure they’ll find it useful. (Having worked in ten companies and with seven different career paths, this lady is eminently qualified to be a career counselor.)

Perhaps it’s a little too much to expect my daughter to be able to clearly define her career choices immediately. She is still a little unsure of her career choices. For a start, we have agreed upon that she should concentrate on companies that offer good opportunities for training and personal and career development.

Note:

My daughter has already prepared her resume and submitted it to some institutions which fit the above general description. She has also applied to a few other companies that had adverts for vacancies in the financial support functions. So far, she has attended one interview. We shall write about this later.

My business start up – the area where costs must not be the primary consideration

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

I have written before about my farm. The farm is expected to have its trial runs next month and begin operations in September / October 08. As such, I have been keeping a sharp lookout for tips, suggestions or advice on aspects of running a business.  

I read Jason Calacanis’s post on a list of 17 tips on how to save money running a start up. Though I did not find anything that would be of special interest for me, this post appears to have raised a storm on how the post addressed the issue of workers.  

Ben Yoskovitz of The Instigator Blog went deeper into the issue of whether to hire workaholics for a start up, and lists his choice of character traits he would want his workers to have.  It is clear that we would all want workers who are :- 

-         Honest,

-         Can and want  to work hard,

-         Passionate about the business,

-         Team players,

-         Willing to go the extra mile for the business. 

I’ll certainly need to find such people to work with me on the farm. I am sure, with some adroit searching, I should be able to find someone with most of the above requirements. 

On the other hand, what would the “potential worker” be looking for? Would working in a small goat farm excite anyone enough to be willing to go the extra mile?  

Farm jobs are generally low paying ones. They also have limited scope for upward mobility and none of the usual perks found in working in a city office. In addition, they involve long hours and hard physical work. The usually lowly educated farm workers are easily enticed into other jobs by small increases in pay. 

Mistakes or carelessness may result in death of livestock. And reliable farm staff are not easily available, so when a worker walks off, it is quite painful. 

Considering all these, this is my plan to get workers who fit the “ideal worker” profile.

 a) I have to look for them in places where low pay by Malaysian standards is not too bad a deal. 

Indonesia, Myanmar and Indian workers are quite common in a lot of Malaysian farms, factories and even households as maids. Many of them come from rural background where they’ll have some idea of farm work. 

I have no intention of just getting my workers from the employment agencies. I’ll have to invest time and effort to make sure I get workers whose backgrounds “father authority” figures I get to know.  By “father authority”, I refer to his local leader whose opinion he would respect and obey.  

I plan to visit Indonesia for this specific purpose of finding suitable workers. Before the visit, I’ll get the process of short listing done by asking assistance from our Indonesian partners for the tower project as well as some other Indonesian elders whom we know.  

 b) I have to look out for them just as I would look out for my children.

These workers would have dreams that are not too different from mine. They would want to provide for their families as well as they can. They would want a good retirement fund. They would want to provide better education opportunities for their children than they themselves had.  I have to work out a way where the free funds they would be able to save from their wages would be better than whatever they have legally tried so far.  I would have to provide them with decent accommodation and food. I would have to guide them on some savings strategies such that they see a fund growing. 

c) I have to train and motivate them well 

This will be a little tricky, as I myself do not know much about goat rearing. However, I am confident that the training methods applied in Ghana with my Ghanaian colleagues will work in good stead.  The system I followed then was :-

-         being open with them,

-         discussing with them on what would be the best way to do something,

-         documenting the process in simple diagrams,

-         continuously reviewing this process with them to ensure their comprehension,

-         allowing them free room to improve on this base process and

-         documenting the new improved process and so on. 

Motivation on the other hand is not something where a standard template can be applied. On this I’ll have to tread carefully. I believe that if there is mutual trust and if I can show him that there is a great bright light ahead, I should be on the right track. 

d) Still, I cannot expect to keep increasing their wages as time passes. 

Some years ago, I was working in a hotel chain. The Hotel Staff Union of Malaysia has a good employment contract, with yearly increases in wages. This got to a state, where the bellhops, after working for umpteen years, were earning salaries on par with graduate workers with a few years of experience. Eventually this proved unsustainable and the hotel chain closed down. 

I am planning to open mirror operations, where I put up the finances and they run the farms on a profit sharing basis. Say, after 5 years. By then, both of us should be able to gauge our respective sincerities and trust in each other well. 

This way:-

a) My most experienced and trusted workers have a chance to run their own businesses,

b) I should be able to provide a way out to the problem of high cost people in low cost jobs and,

c) allow me to embark on the expansion path. 

Looks to me like a good win-win situation.  

In the final analysis, I believe that the employer should take care of the employee well and the employee then takes care of the rest.  

The human aspect of my start up is where cost considerations will not be my primary focus. 

 

Should parents ask their friends to employ their children?

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

This will be a question that my wife and I will be asking ourselves quite soon. 

Our two elder girls should be graduating next May, and will be looking to join the rat race. 

We have friends who run businesses or are senior level executives in some of the bigger companies in town.  

Should we let our children go through the process of writing a proper resume, apply for jobs, practice selling themselves at the interview and find their first job by themselves?  

Or as parents, should we lend a “helping hand”? 

My wife and I have decided that our helping hand will be limited to helping the children pick up (in necessary, through additional formal education) non academic skills that may assist them in their careers. 

After that, Along and Aja have to do their best to sort themselves out. 

My wife and I, believe that in asking a “friend” to employ our children, we may in some way, compromise our relationships. Our friends, just like any other employer, would have to screen all applicants and chose whom they think are best suited. 

My wife and I just have to focus on guiding and preparing our children as best as we can, so that they fall within the “best suited” or at least “better suited” category

Starting our career on the right foot

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

This is an issue that has nagged me on how I should advise my daughters. 

Jim Citrin wrote an article on this in Yahoo Finance.

(My thanks to Free Money Finance, (www.freemoneyfinance.com), one of my must read personal financial management blogs, who pointed us to this article.) 

Mr. Citrin says that the key to a blazing start would be :- 

a)  Choose the right first job by  

i)                  Going blue chip, i.e. choosing a major corporation to work for. This will help establish your brand, as you will be associated more with the company you work for rather than the job that you do. 

ii)                Follow your passions,   

iii)             Pick your boss carefully, 

iv)              Focus not on compensation. The payoff will come later. 

b)  Get off on a great start by  

i)                  Maintain a positive attitude, 

ii)                Work hard 

iii)             Deliver on your commitments 

iv)              Do completed staff work, i.e. go beyond the rote to understand why something is asked for and how it will be used when completed. 

v)                Focus on the success of others. Look for ways to be helpful. Be proactive and be willing to do extra or unpopular work. Keep focused on the goals of your boss, your team and your company. 

(My wife and I have always been driving the idea to my children of starting their own businesses. So whilst any career option should be merely a stepping stone in this direction, we agree that our kids should start off with a career and they should start it right.) 

To fuel a great career start, I am completely in agreement with the suggestions listed in (b).  

However on (a), it may not be immediately possible to latch on to a “blue chip”, or to know enough to be able to make a wise choice of the boss.  

Rather than to keep rejecting job offers that may come, I would advise my children to take an opportunity that pays reasonably, and is aligned to their passions / interests. 

Then they should :- 

-         focus on adding value to the employer. (The five items of list (b) are a great guide for this.) 

-         Polish and improve their own skills. Learn as much as they can. Pick up new skills, get additional certification, join an association, and build up their network. 

I think this would be great starting blocks for their career. 

Preparing our 2 senior girls for employment.

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

Along and Aja should graduate next year, and then join the employment grind, very aptly named the rat race. 

My wife and I, have long decided that school and university grades are no longer a season ticket for a “good job” and a steady income. These grades are simply not enough. 

The Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (NWREL), has a mission to improve learning by building capacity in schools, families, and communities through applied research and development.  In one of their publications, they quote extensive research done on employer dissatisfaction with the “employability skills” (defined as skills other than technical skills that make the employee an asset to the employer), of the current entry level workforce.  

They further list the desired skills under three categories as follows  

Basic Skills Higher Order Thinking Skills Affective Skills and Traits
     
Oral Communications (speaking and listening) Problem Solving Dependability / Responsibility
     
Reading, especially understanding and following instructions Decision Making Positive Attitude towards work
     
Writing Learning Skills, strategies Conscientiousness, punctuality, efficiency
     
Basic Arithmetic Creative, innovative thinking Self confidence, positive self image
     
    Grooming
     
    Ability to work without supervision
     
    Honesty, integrity
     
    Self discipline, self management
     
    Adaptability, flexibility
     
    Enthusiasm, motivation

More tellingly, the research quotes that the employers agree to provide technical and job specific training, but are emphatic in their conviction that the schools should take most of the responsibility for equipping young people with general employability skills.

If the schools don’t and the employers won’t, then who will?

Sigh! The parents, of course.

Some of the above listed skills, my children already have. Over the years, our family values have instilled these in them. The others, like “formal decision making skills”, etc, will have to be taught.

No one taught my wife or me, “decision making skills”. We just picked them along the way and still make some wrong decisions.  Over the next year, my wife and I would have to come up with a strategy to equip our children well.

We would appreciate your sharing your experiences on this. 

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