A career plan from day one, says Callister Koh of HSBC Malaysia, will raise the chances of realising your dreams.

“When you start, you must have a plan; the more specific the better,” says Callister Koh, Head of Human Resources (HR) at HSBC Malaysia. “Identify the position you want to get to, and have some understanding of all the roles towards that goal. This helps your interviewer place you at the right spot. The chances of achieving your goal are much higher.”

At their first interviews, many graduates will say, “Anything will do.” Big mistake. This is not helpful to the HR person assigned to recruiting you. “Embark on something you like and think you can do well at,” says Koh. “By this age, you should know what you want.”

That is exactly what Koh did. Koh studied law at Warwick University in the UK. When potential employers came around to campus to recruit, he was offered three jobs. “I was lucky. Those days only a few MNCs came to recruit this way. I chose an international bank because their graduate programme seemed the most flexible.”

Koh reported to work at the bank’s offices in London’s Bank Street and was assigned to HR because he said he’d like to work with people. His line manager was a Malaysian named Pamela Jackson who instantly became a powerful mentor, coach, and as it turned out, a game-changer. “The truth was I had intended to spend only three months there,” says Koh, “before I took off to sit for my Bar exams. I had no plan to stay on at the bank. It was simply a way to kill off three months.”

By the fourth month, Koh found he had enjoyed every moment of working at HR – he had been perfectly matched. “I stayed, forgot about the Bar and never looked back. I decided to make HR my career. At the time, it was a hard decision but I was surrounded by people who told me I was a perfect fit for HR.”

"You may be good at your work but you are superstar if you can manage a team."

The concept of the right fit for a job has stayed with Koh for life. These days he works hard at matching people to the right job, assignments and even training. Koh leads the HR agenda for a highly diverse bank. HSBC Malaysia’s employees age range from 23 to 63 years, meaning any office within the bank may have as many as four generations at once working together.

The new generation of talent, says Koh, definitely brings different skill sets into the organisation. “They are very tech savvy. They are more willing to speak up. They definitely ask more questions and can articulate their views. They are likely to reach to out to seniors. In the old days, the young ones dare not even make eye contact with the CEO.”

It’s well known that today’s 20-something is really not keen to do repetitive tasks. “So this means we can throw them into unknown areas, new territories. They will network and find resources to make something work. They’re good at troubleshooting and problem-solving. These things excite them, it’s not stress to them. Unfortunately, they get bored and restless easily. So, we have to strike a balance. Both young and senior must adapt,” says Koh. Next year, Gen Z will enter the job market.

“And there will be many roles for them,” says Koh. As banking already evolved into the Internet and mobile devices, Gen Z will work on these platforms that are intended for their generation. In the 1980s, when ATMs came into mainstream banking, it was Gen X that installed and managed them.

Gen Z is likely to work on product innovation, like the evolution of the credit card. Even recruitment will need a Gen Z person because the best recruitment tools are digital. “And, with the whole region working on building business in the China corridor,” says Koh, “any Gen Z person fluent in Mandarin will have role.”

Still, it begs the question: What makes them willing to come to work? “HR’s role is to keep people interested. We can’t create so many separate programmes for employees. Instead, we create projects in which they can work together.” Like community projects. At work, people may have diametrically opposing standpoints but when they are engaged with a community project, they work so well. “This is magical,” says Koh, “because they see one another in a different light, change their mindset and what they think of one another.”

In 2016, HSBC Malaysia aims to recruit more graduates. Like their predecessors, they will be asked for job preferences. This enables the graduate to be matched to a department and get a commitment from its head, who becomes a “sponsor”. After a two-year rotation of the bank, the grad is assigned to the sponsor’s department where there will be a job. What this means is that the sponsor has already planned a role for this graduate who has been groomed and aligned to a department.

Once posted at their sponsor’s department, they are given challenging assignments that allow them to get into the limelight. Then, more business projects to get on the radar for fast tracking for promotion. “After this, it’s entirely up to the individual,” says Koh. “Humility, the right attitude and listening to seniors. Young people who connect and network at all levels rise quickly. You may be good at your work but you are superstar if you can manage a team.”

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