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Career Services: The Bridge Between Grads and the Asian Market

HKUST career services

This article is sponsored by the HKUST Business School. Learn more about the HKUST MBA Program

You’ve earned your MBA at a top program. You’ve reached out to employers. You’ve polished your skills. You feel well prepared for a career in Asia.

Yet there is a vital component you may have neglected.

Many students only visit the career development office in the waning days of a program. By then it may be too late. Roderick Lewis, a career services professional states that, “[A]n early relationship with career services from day one at the start of your program is the most important decision you can make in your career.” He points out 80% of career services appointments are made by 20% of students.

“The student is like an athlete and the career office is like a gym,” says Loretta Tam, associate director of MBA/MSc career & professional development at HKUST Business School. “The athlete has to make a conscientious effort to go to the gym regularly and has to be disciplined to achieve his or her goals.” Your fitness goals aren’t being achieved when the weights in your home gym are covered with dust and cobwebs, while the cardio machines collect dirty laundry. If you’re not on a first-name basis with at least one career development professional, you probably aren’t making the most of this vital service.

Hoping to discover how a university’s career and professional development office helps students achieve their goals, as well as to get some insight into Asian market recruitment trends, TopMBA.com spoke with Tam and her fellow assistant director at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Raymond Xiao.

HKUST MBA’s career & professional development office

HKUST is a relatively young university but it has developed an impressive reputation in the less than quarter century since its founding. Today the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology MBA can regularly be found close to the summit of global rankings. QS ranks it among the top three for full-time MBA programs in Asia.

The school is also ideally located for anyone considering a future working in the Asian market. In addition to a reputation for unparalleled economic freedom, Hong Kong is located some 1,200 miles from Beijing and 1,600 miles from Singapore. It is, notably, less than a five-hour flight from half of the population of the planet.

Like many of the students utilizing the career & professional development offices, Loretta Tam and Raymond Xiao followed circuitous employment paths. A CPA and graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Tam worked at Versace’s Italian headquarters before becoming their CFO in Hong Kong and China. She earned a HKUST MBA “because I wanted to strengthen my management knowledge and elevate my strategic visions on how to become a better leader.” While earning the degree, she noticed her peers were often at career crossroads. “I wanted to do more for the school and help more students to achieve their goals,” Tam explains.

Xiao’s background in computer science and engineering could have been the perfect fit at Microsoft. Yet soon after earning an MBA at USC Marshall, he became interested in higher education. He realized that there was a shortage of talent in comparison to the growing number of MBA jobs. “Business schools are booming in Asia,” Xiao points out, “But compared with North America, MBA degrees are not common among Asians so there is a huge potential for growth.” He always wanted to help people. By working at the career & professional development office, “I am directly helping young professionals to unleash their potential and achieve their dreams, making a difference to people’s lives – not to mention it is much more interesting to sit in front of future talents than a piece of hardware.”

Enhancing soft skills while earning the HKUST MBA

Tam and Xiao work as part of a team of 10 to manage career-related initiatives for students enrolled in the school’s MBA and MSc programs. The career & professional development office has two roles. It is responsible for corporate relations (focusing on recruitment plans), and organizing career fairs, networking events, company visits and overseas career treks. And it oversees training and coaching for students while helping them develop industry-specific knowledge along with soft skills.

At an early stage in the HKUST MBA, students participate in career navigation workshops. “This helps get them,” says Tam, “acquainted with different industries, find out the key players in the market, what job functions are available, the types of skills required. In addition to campus recruitment talks and thought leaders talks offered by the university, the career & professional development office offers events to enhance students’ knowledge of the Asian market.”

Trainers help students acquire vital soft skills including etiquette, personal brand building, social media and networking. Career training, Xiao states, helps make students aware of what is happening in their target industries, equipping them with the right skills and knowledge to ace the job interviews and excel in the job. Résumé and cover letter workshops, industry-specific workshops, career exploration sessions, case interview training, finance interview workshops and negotiation training (for requesting a raise!) all contribute to developing students’ suite of soft skills.

Western students seeking MBA jobs in Asia may face greater challenges, though there are certainly opportunities for those with the right profile. For them, overseas career treks to Singapore and Shanghai are especially helpful. Tam says these trips can help students “to understand the market landscape and the types of opportunities available in these two leading cities. These activities are complemented by further overseas study trips offered by the school to expand students’ horizons and education in major business hubs in Asia.”

Conquering the Asian market

For years, corporations and high-achieving individuals have seen opportunities in the Asian market. Although a number of countries in the Asia-Pacific region (APAC) have recently experienced declines in GDP growth, their year-on-year averages still generally exceed those of more mature European and North American markets. Potential enrollees need to understand, though, that navigating the region’s unique cultural norms is often challenging.

The QS TopMBA.com Jobs & Salary Trends Report has found huge growth in the region, with an 18% rise in new opportunities for MBAs in the region over 2014/15. GMAC’s 2015 Corporate Recruiters Survey Report confirms this, reporting that three out of four APAC companies planned to hire recent graduates in 2015.

Even more promising, APAC companies are far more likely to hire international graduate business students – with some 49% planning to do so versus 29% of companies globally. Over one quarter of the APAC companies surveyed also plan to increase MBA base salaries – which also puts them ahead of US employers.

That does not mean there aren’t obstacles, though. The HKUST MBA is a very international program, attracting students from two-dozen different countries. Out of a class of 120, over 90% are international. The different viewpoints and experiences are beneficial in terms of gaining international experience, but for those arriving from outside Asia, it can be daunting.

The language barrier can be an obstacle for students seeking MBA jobs in Asia. Xiao explains that, “For some roles such as sales, marketing and business development which require working closely with local clients, proficiency in Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese) is preferred. So the language requirements can be a barrier for international students. At the same time, we also have Asian students who want to work outside Asia. So we make sure students are exposed to both global and local recruiters to increase their chances of getting a good job.”

“Managing students’ expectation is one challenge,” Tam points out. “With our very diverse and global student body, students may not fully understand the challenges here in Asia. For example, not all jobs start off with a ‘global’ MBA package, but one can progress quickly after a certain stage. Students must be realistic and be aware of the differences between Western and Asian employment markets. With the growth in Asia and especially in China, however, there has been a  huge increase of jobs. In recent years, we have recruited more candidates to cater to the needs of the market. We have also put more emphasis in exploring opportunities in language-friendly country like Singapore.”

With so much at stake in the rapidly evolving Asian market, students can’t afford to ignore their career & professional development office.

This article is sponsored by the HKUST Business School.

Written by John Bankston

Content writer John began his career as an investigative reporter and is a prolific educational writer alongside his work for us, authoring over 100 nonfiction books for children and young adults since 2000.

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