This year’s School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exams finished last week. As students await their examination results and plan for their future, I want to share some important lessons that helped me beyond my academic pursuits, particularly during the early days of my professional career.
Academic success is important. However, your career success depends on many factors besides academic credentials. Getting an opportunity to study is definitely a privilege in our country. Achieving success in school requires certain skill sets, and achieving success in the professional setting requires different skill sets. I would like to share some thoughts on the skill sets necessary for the latter.
Ujwal Thapa has written a convincing post on why SLCs should be discontinued from our academic curriculum on his blog, Why Nepal? In his post titled Scrap SLC! It is a waste of our money and time. He states that scrapping SLC will save tons of money, end discrimination of both good and bad students, and not stunt the strength of Nepali diversity. I concur with his views and further want to request parents, teachers and education policy makers to take a moment to ponder why we put so much emphasis on the SLC examinations.
Sure, SLC is important to a certain extent. But let us not scare students into thinking that if for some reason that they do not perform as well as expected, they are doomed. For many students, their talent can lie in arts, music, sports or other non-academic fields, and an examination dubbed “the iron gate” might not be the best predictor of their current or future potential. It was heartbreaking to learn that a few students committed suicide after getting their SLC results last year. More importantly, I believe we should really educate and prepare our young minds on what could help them become successful after SLC, 10+2 and college, and into their professional careers.
From my experience, there are three valuable components to achieving professional success: Networking, having a mentor, and being a part of professional organization(s). I believe our schools and universities should explain why these are valuable lifelines to someone’s professional development and success. We should be preparing our students to be leaders in the workplace, communities, and our country.
In the US, Asian Americans are doing comparatively better than other ethnic groups, but they still face many challenges in trying to reach the highest echelons of American businesses. At the 2011 Ascend National Convention in New York City, it was shared that fewer than half (46 percent) of Asians have a mentor in their professional life. Furthermore, Asians, particularly Asian women, are less likely than people of other ethnicities to share new ideas or challenge a group consensus in a team meeting. These challenges faced by Asian Americans are relevant challenges for Nepali men and women because we live in a globalized world. The three valuable components I mentioned above can also help to overcome cultural challenges.
First, networking is a critical component of professional success. Businesses do not hire grades, they hire people. While your grades do increase the chances of getting noticed and standing out in a pool of candidates, your networking skills play a huge role in creating opportunities like interviews. Before landing your first career related job, your potential employer might put a lot of emphasis on grades to assess your potential. Once you have gained some work experience and move along the company’s ladder or decide to join another company, your networking skills become much more valuable. I want to emphasize how important this skill set is. The single most important advice that I would give to someone in school is to get better at networking.
Networking is a two way street, both parties should benefit from the relationship. Students and young professionals should try to get to know seasoned professionals in their field of study by going to events, conferences, meet-ups, or talks and build a meaningful professional network. There are platforms like Startup Weekend Kathmandu, Entrepreneurs for Nepal and Mobile Social Networking Nepal among others which can be valuable resources for students and young professionals. These platforms also complement the students’ classroom learning.
Second, having a mentor is also a significant part of professional success. Mentors can help you make important decisions related to your career, and guide you along your career path. In Nepal, many students do not have mentors, so schools and universities should provide a platform for students to find and connect with mentors. Business schools especially should have mentor-mentee programs which can be a great resource for students about to enter the job market. Also when you are networking, you have a better chance of finding a mentor.
At various times in an individual’s career, he or she needs advice and input from people other than his or her parents, friends and relatives and a mentor can provide that unbiased perspective.
Third, being part of professional organizations and industry events could open doors for an individual. Being part of those professional groups increases your professional network and keeps you updated on the field. For example, if you are an active member of the Mobile Social Networking Nepal, you would have already heard about Pivot Nepal 2013, a competition for mobile app developers and mobile enthusiasts. Holding a position in such groups or any professional organization related to your field further increases your industry knowledge, provides opportunities to know speakers and other individuals in that group, and presents occasions to learn new skills.
Certainly, there are other paths to professional success, and the above points are from my experience. The points above are not one-size-fits-all. Some could apply the points to your field of study while it could be irrelevant to others. In a nutshell, I strongly believe our education system needs to be more practical, creative and adaptive to students’ talents. Furthermore, I believe our academic institutions and parents should nudge students to network, have a mentor, and join a professional organization. These three suggestions can help students and young professionals tremendously beyond their academic careers.