Thursday, April 10, 2008

Challenges Awaiting Graduating Secretaries

I was at a Faculty Annual Dinner organised by the Corporate Administration Student Society of UiTM last week. Being an Alumni member, I was asked to deliver a short talk on the challenges awaiting the students once they graduate.

This was what I told them :-

Prof Madya Dr. Jasmine Ahmad and members of the Faculty, the President and Exco Members of the Corporate Administration Student Society, the Director and Exco Members of the Majlis Makan Malam Fakulti, graduating students and everyone present in the august hall this evening.

Assalamualaikum warahmatullah hiwabarakatuh and Good Evening.

I wish to express my utmost thanks to the organising committee for having me here to celebrate this joyous event and most importantly allowing me to rekindle the strong bond that I have with the faculty as well as with the several personalities that I have known for a quite a while.

Prof Madya Dr. Jasmine Ahmad was actually my classmate during my Diploma days here in UiTM, then known as ITM way back in 1981 to 1984. Even back then, she was the one whom most of us relied on for the complete set of notes. She was never stingy and had always volunteered to depart her knowledge and understanding on any matters that was difficult to us but never so to her.

I am glad to note that she has climbed the ladder of her career path in UiTM and I sincerely hope that she will keep on climbing the ladder to be the No. 1 in UiTM one fine day.

Enough of pet talk, I was actually given (or more accurately asked) to deliver a short insight on the challenges waiting for graduating students the minute they step out of the faculty.

While I might not have the legitimate authority to talk on the matter as I am no motivational speaker nor a career counsellor besides being a not senior enough person to talk on the matter, but being a person who has been working for some 24 years, I surely did face various challenges that might just be applicable for all the rest.

To start it off, let me remind you that the challenges that you might be facing are tremendous, starting from the very act of you finding a job. But no two persons would be facing the same challenges on the same degree, in fact some of you might not even have to face some of challenges that I would be listing down shortly. But please bear in mind that the stories I’m about to tell are of basically what I had faced or at least based on my observations.

Let us start off with the first challenge, getting a job.

I went into the job market in 1984, right after completing my Diploma in Public Administration. And my first job was as an Asst. Personnel Officer with the then retail giant of Malaysia and Singapore.

That was my first ever job, but to land with the job was no easy affair as I had to face several challenges.

It all started when I saw an advertisement in the local press for that position.

As I felt I had all the minimum requirement for the position, I proceeded to make a visit the office to lodge in my application. At the office, I asked for the application form for the advertised position but to my surprise, the receptionist just simply refused to even give me the application form.

She asked, “What job are you applying for?”. I said, “Asst. Personnel Officer”. She then said, “Oh, that job is only for Chinese. “Didn’t you read the Advertisement”, she added.

I then said ”Yes, I read the advertisement but it didn’t say that only Chinese may apply”. “Where got”, she then said, “See, candidates with Mandarin will have an added advantage”, she added.

I then said “That’s exactly my point, it doesn’t say only Chinese may apply but simply candidates with Mandarin will have an added advantage. To me, anyone can apply for this post but those with Mandarin will have greater chances of getting the job. And based on that I want to apply for the post! And for your information, I do have knowledge of Mandarin, I studied it for three years!”

“Really ah, let me ask my boss” she then said. After a while she came back with an application form. She the said “ Okay, please fill up this application form. My boss will see you after this”

I then filled up the form and at the column asking for “Name in Chinese (Where Applicable”, I wrote my Chinese name as well.

Impressed that I even have a Chinese name, the receptionist just smiled at me and soon after I was called for an immediate interview with the boss.

And believe it or not, the interview was conducted in part English, part Mandarin. Just to test whether this guy really know Mandarin or otherwise.

I answered each questions asked but it came to a point that I simply could not make up what he was saying. So I politely told him that my Mandarin vocabulary is very limited to what I’ve learnt at school, but I do know basic Mandarin. "If you give me a chance of working here, I’m sure I could brush up my Mandarin and be as good as anyone else in the Company", I told him convincingly.

He bought my rationalisation and come about two weeks later, I was called for another interview with five other shortlisted candidates.

All the other four are Chinese and I’m the sole Malay. And I got the job!

So there goes your first challenge, to get a job, a job that was originally beyond your reach due to certain pre-requisites.

And your second challenge is that the fact that employer don’t look at what everyone has but they look at what the extras that you might have.

And these extras might not even be of academic credentials, like me, if they look at my CGPA, even I won’t be employing my own self as there are those with better results than me. But they look at my Mandarin and they really believe that I could blend in comfortably.

Along with the extras, first impression also counts. Therefore, please make sure that the image you want to project is an image that if you’re the employer, you would be attracted to. Self-confidence, ability to articulate and knowledge are some of the attributes that employers would always look at. And the minute the like you, they’ll find every reasons there are to bring you in and vice-versa, they’ll also find every reasons not to bring you in when they have made up their mind of not liking you. So ladies and gentlemen, that’s your next challenge, a challenge to project an image that would have an everlasting effect.

In forming a first impression, you would have to be true to yourself also. Please don’t project false impression as if you do, you would have difficulties in gaining acceptance as your employer would actually brand you as someone who had successfully fooled the organisation into believing something that was not you at all!

The next challenge would be blending in. Each organisation has distinct organisational culture. The retail giant uses Mandarin sparingly, even in meetings. The government departments on the other hand uses Malay, complete with the adoption of Malay culture in the organisation. Everyone are address Encik this, Encik that, Puan this, Puan that, etc etc. And organisations who adopted American culture would address everyone on first name basis, no such thing as Encik this, Encik that, Puan this, Puan that etc. etc.

Though sound really insignificant, but it is indeed a challenge for us to acclimatise especially if one belongs to a totally distinct corporate culture.

I was in the public service for about 6 years, and though young, I was holding a General Manager’s position with a handful of direct reports. Naturally, I have always been addressed as Encik Jasni wherever I go, but when I joined this American linked IT company, my Encik title vanished. No one calls me Encik Jasni anymore, just Jasni. Trust me, it is not easy to adapt initially as you might feel that your “dignity” has been stripped! But once you have fully adopted the culture, whatever feeling you had before would slowly vanish as well.

In other words, you have to be versatile, able to adopt fast and therefore be practical instead of being very idealistic, a trade that is normally true to some students.

I remember when I was a student here, there were groups of students who insists that we can’t do this, we can’t do that, all based on their idealistic beliefs. And worst of all, they want to impose their idealistic beliefs on others who don’t share the same beliefs as them.

This approach in life is, trust me, out of place in the real world as in the real world, everything goes and in managing this you would have to juggle them properly and appropriately.

Board behaviour, for instance, this is for those would be in the secretarial line, is diversed. From a culture of full compliance, complying everything in the Companies Act, Memorandum and Articles of Association, cover to cover, to a culture that totally disregards the rights of other directors and shareholders which gives you another great challenge of executing your role as a Company Secretary.

And in executing your role as a Company Secretary, you must first attain the trust, confidence and respect from the group of people closest to you, the Board of Directors.

The trust, confidence and respect would not come easy. To attain those, you would need to secure some level of maturity hence the reason on why you need to get the so-called experience of between one to three years before being able to practice as a Company Secretary.

So the challenge is whether you can sustain the minimum experience period as if you were to opt to get a job somewhere else that has got nothing to do with Company Secretarial matters, you would then will never be a Company Secretary.

And to secure the mandatory experience requirement, you would have to make yourself available at management companies for instance, doing much of the technicalities of company secretarialship, very much clerical in nature, mundane but necessary. How many of you are willing to take that course, isn’t it easier to use the degree that we have just got as a platform to gain entry to the work market but with no prospect of you ever becoming a Company Secretary.

Being a Company Secretary is a challenge by itself. Not many of us (the public I mean) have a clear understanding over its function. Some takes a Company Secretary simply as a minute taker or someone who endorses his or her signature on certified true copy documents. Hence, the respect that normally accorded to lawyers, accountants, auditors are normally missing from the Company Secretaries.

With some Company Secretaries charging a mere fee of RM50 a month, the respect on that profession is simply going down the drain! There are many secretarial firms with cash flow cycle problems making them behaving like any other Class F Contractor, always chasing for accounts receivables.

Of course, there are exceptions. And the exceptions would on the Company Secretaries engaged by the bigger companies, especially the Public Listed Companies and other GLCs. These are the group of Company Secretaries who earn the most, the norm being at least some RM12,000 a month complete with a company car. But to get there is an uphill task, one must be able to stand the test of time and endurance.

But before you reach that stage, you would have to build up your career and one easiest way would be through Networking. Always keep all the name cards of your friends and new acquaintances. Trust me, you solve half of your job related problems by just making a call to your friends.

Be a socialite, as the circle would also be your pool of clients. To get someone to switch secretaries is not easy but through relationship, everything is possible. The same pool can also be your partner in business as well as you won't be able to sustain a profitable business if you depend on secretarial services solely.

You need tax agents, auditors, accountants or even lawyers in order to provide a comprehensive service normally sought by the public at large.

Continue to improvise the way you do things as your success would much depend on how well you manage your business (like cost cutting) rather than how may clients you accumulate.

Having too may clients is a headache by itself, for one, they are diverse, secondly, whether you have the resources to provide the best service to them.

A lot of these clients expect you to give personalised service, everyone needs attention, and attention is what you have to give to each one of them.

Imagine having to attend meetings after meetings everyday, you will be exhausted like what I am now!

Jasni AJ

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