In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that has turned the world economy upside-down, many graduating students are worried about their prospects in the job market this year and next. Some say this is worse than the financial crisis in 2008; and some believe Hong Kong’s economy today is worse than that in 2003, when the city was hit hard by SARS. Some even compare the current situation to the Great Depression in the 1930s.
But our fellow graduates of the class of 2003, who faced similar tough job market, not only survived the hiring drought after SARS, but also thrived in their career paths, proving that there is always an opportunity that lies in every crisis.
Peter TAM, our 2003 Accounting graduate, remembers vividly the disappointment he had of not being accepted by “Big 4” like some of his classmates upon graduation. “Seeing others getting employed, you couldn’t help but lose faith in yourself or blamed yourself for not doing well during the interview and so on,” he recalls.
Working briefly in a local firm for HK$7,000 a month before moving to a second-tier international accounting company for a year or so, he finally got the opportunity to move on to a Big 4 accounting firm for about two years. He then continued to work for another audit firm for two years before becoming assistant Financial Controller (FC) at a Singapore-based listed corporation and later being promoted to FC.
“Ultimately, I got tired of all the traveling and long hours that come with an accountant, but I was fortunate enough to have established many connections, which led to other positions that I enjoyed in the later part of my corporate career,” recalls Peter. “Getting to know people at different stages of your life will play a big role in where you go next.”
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Despite having a promising career at a young age, Peter jumped out of his comfort zone to co-found an online business in 2015 in order to have more free time with his family.
As an employer himself, Peter would especially look for candidates who demonstrate the potential of adding value to the company, as well as self-motivation to catch up with the world and continue learning new knowledge. “You never know what life is going to bring to you next, and you just have to keep yourself ready.”
Peter’s classmate Max WONG was considered a bit more fortunate as he managed to get accepted by one of the Big 4 accounting firms before he graduated. “But even then, big firms would only offer a monthly salary of HK$9,800 to a fresh hire,” says Max, who quit the job after just one year for an NGO.
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For many who were dreaming of a flying career in whatever occupation, 2003 was definitely not the best time to graduate. But Max soon saw the silver lining in the humble beginning—despite having to live on meager income for years. “As I navigated along my career path, I moved onto other jobs, and eventually, the salary took care of itself,” recalls Max, who is now in senior management of a statutory body.
Instead of being let down by the tough job market, taking from his experience, Max encourages job seekers to turn the prolonged summer vacation into a learning opportunity for their future professional growth. “I always kept my spirit high, and I made sure that I kept up with the latest trends in the market, and took every opportunity to equip myself with more skills and knowledge, and remain competitive,” comments Max. “For example, while many mainstream retail businesses are suffering now, there are also countless opportunities arising in fields such as distant commerce and online learning. Graduates of today can certainly take advantage of these opportunities,” he adds.
The University has recently launched “HKUST United”, a new initiative that brings together our global alumni who have gone through SARS, the dot-com bubble burst and numerous financial crises to offer career advice, start-up support and job/internship opportunities to our students and fresh graduates. For more details, please visit https://alum.hkust.edu.hk/hkust-united.