Musings On Young Talent

Jacie Tan catches up with her former superiors at her Zaid Ibrahim & Co internship to pick their brains on their dealings with young potential hires.
Jacie Tan Cheng Hwee
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One of the best things about interning are the people you get to meet and learn from. Paul Subramaniam and Yong Hon Cheong are two such people I gained a lot from as they supervised my internship at ZICO. A year later, I decide to ask them their thoughts on the young people they see interning in and joining their organisation.

 

When I was interning with you, I was always struck by how the two of you were always so motivated in the office. What’s your secret?

Yong: You need a passion for what you’re doing – this may sound clichéd, but I still think it holds true. Paul and I invest a lot of our time in our internship programme, but we do it because it’s something we enjoy.
Paul: In some ways we get more out of it than the participants do. It’s fun and it keeps us young. With every batch that comes in, we see gradual changes in people that makes us think about changing the way we see the world as well.

What do you think about the disparities between Gen-Ys and the earlier generations in the workforce?

Yong The Gen-Ys are all about immediate information, instant communication and progressive thinking. Age and qualifications don’t matter – if they can do the job, they should be given the opportunity to do so. To the older generation, you’re meant to bide your time before you get up there on the ladder.
Paul: It’s because we come from very different experiences; the working environment Gen-Ys are going into today is so different from when the Gen-Xs started their first jobs. There’s a communication gap; but it isn’t necessarily the fault of either party. This will be resolved over time, when the Gen-Ys get into positions of management themselves.

Short of waiting out the tide, do you think there’s anything that can be done to facilitate that change?

Yong: Communication and education. For example, platforms like gradmalaysia.com help both employers and young talent to learn about each other’s expectations, and import ideas they gain from feedback to make themselves more competitive.

So you both interview candidates for internships and job positions here. What do you look for during the interview process?

Paul: Before this stage, what you know of each other is simply on a piece of paper. The interview is for finding out whether the candidate is a good fit for the organisation, and vice versa. It’s a two-way street. If you pretend to be someone you’re not and get the job, there will be a complete mismatch in expectations there. Don’t try to give the interviewer the answer you think they’ll want. It’s like marriage – if you fake it in the beginning, it’s a horrible life ahead.
Yong: When the interview starts out and we ask you to tell us about yourself, use that opportunity to convince us that we want to get to know you better. Engagement within the first five minutes is important, because that’s when we’ll start to switch off if you don’t catch our interest.

What do you think an intern should do to make the most out of their internship?

Yong: The ones who get further with us are the ones who work as a team as opposed to just looking out for themselves. The ones who impress the most are the natural leaders who make sure everyone in their team participates; that’s true leadership.
Paul: Some people work brilliantly on their own, which is great, but our firm doesn’t work that way. This is an important illustration of why you should use interviews and internships to gauge your working style and whether it fits with the organisation. 
Yong: More generally, make the effort to exceed people’s expectations. It doesn’t take much; it can be as simple as highlighting the relevant paragraph in the research article you were told to print out.
Paul: Get to know the organisation and how people relate to each other. The more connections you make, the better off you are. Internships don’t necessarily end at the end of the internships. Keeping in touch works, because then you’re not a stranger.

 

Here’s my own advice to you interns out there: you’ve already committed your time for some weeks or even months. More than just filling up that space on your CV, try to use this opportunity to learn more about yourself in relation to the working world around you.