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Getting Ahead In Your Career

Getting Ahead In Your Career

Further education and soft skill management will help boost your chances of promotion, say experts.

A notable change in the GCC job market pre-to-post economic downturn was from being candidate to employer-driven. While good candidates could often previously name their own price, the job market suddenly became saturated with available talent, with selection often stretching to four or more interviews and companies taking weeks or months to reach a decision. For many employees, it was all they could do to stay in their jobs, let alone broach the subject of a promotion or salary increase.

While there are suggestions that companies are more actively recruiting and offering incentives to existing staff again, the need for both job candidates and employees to stand out from the crowd is now more relevant than ever.

“What’s really become important is soft skill development – managing conflict, leading teams and managing yourself,” says Denise Johnsen, senior recruitment and admissions manager, London Business School. “An Executive MBA really helps people to gain the confidence to grow their positions and move up the career ladder.”

Which Qualification?

Yet, a master’s degree is only part of the story. ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales), is extremely active in training initiatives within the region- particularly in support of Gulf nationalisation. “Education doesn’t stop at university level,” says Amanda Line, Middle East regional director, ICAEW. “The tougher and more competitive the market gets, the more important a professional qualification is. If I say I have a business degree it doesn’t necessarily tell you much. But if I say I’m a chartered accountant, for example, it tells you who I am and what my level of knowledge is.”

At the same time, keep your education relevant to your career needs, says Dr Melodena Stephens Balakrishnan, associate professor, Faculty of Business and Management, University of Wollongong in Dubai: “Before taking a course figure out what you need to stay ahead. This is important because you should take a course/programme to help you manage your career rather than looking at it merely as method to get a certificate.”

Equally, what sort of alumni opportunities are there? Many academic establishments now actively promote the size and quality of their alumni in a corporate environment where business networking is becoming all the more crucial.

Line feels that a professional qualification also reflects one’s own level of corporate social responsibility: “An ethical framework is of increasing importance. It’s about being able to present and conduct yourself in a professional way. It’s about having ethics and manners in meetings – giving people your complete attention and not checking your BlackBerry every few minutes.”

In the Middle East there is another dimension. Not only does the region have a fast-growing population, but unlike much of the rest of the world, an increasingly youthful one – particularly in the under 25 age group. “Will the economies of the Middle East be able to provide for these people,” asks Line? “The answer is probably not, so those that will get ahead will be the ones with a professional qualification.”

In The Workplace

For Tricia Evans, freelance business coach and writer, standing out from the crowd means taking an active involvement at work. “Demonstrate added value, go that extra mile and have a volunteering attitude,” she says. “We are all responsible for the energy we bring into the room and the positive impact we have on others. Embrace and enjoy change – but as applicable to the culture within the company. Pick up on what’s appropriate within the surrounding scenario.”

Stafford Associates, based in the UAE, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, offers master’s and doctorate programmes from a number of UK establishments, including the University of Leicester. As Philippe Riewer, academic development director adds, “While master’s degree holders have a clear advantage and more self-confidence in presenting themselves as better candidates for managerial positions, boosting ones career will always depend on the individual personality, the education level, experience and performance. It is basically not one thing but the whole package.

Keep a distinct line between work and play, says Evans: “Understanding the business and how your role fits will make you 100 per cent more effective and help you stay ahead. But this also means taking charge of your personal life and controlling aspects such as taking time off, being late or using social media. There is a particular issue amongst generation Y with the inappropriate use of social media in the workplace – being too distracted and spreading yourself too thin. If you’re there to do a job you’re there to deliver. It’s about what I call ruthless priorities and leverage points – the things you need to prioritise to create a good work-life balance.

“Getting ahead also means working smarter rather than just being busy. As your work experience evolves, innovation on how you do things should also develop. Ask yourself how you can do your job better. Employers really do pay attention to such things. Many firms are really thinking now, how can we do things more effectively – what are we trying to achieve as a business?”

Finally, as Professor Christopher Abraham, head, Dubai Campus, Senior VP Institutional Development, S P Jain School of Global Management, asserts, “In order to always stay ahead of the career curve, professionals should conscientiously engage in lifelong learning. This means they need to be continuously aware of the latest trends in their respective domains and regularly upgrade through reading, attending specialised workshops and training programmes – or by enrolling in higher education programmes. Today’s successful managers have a combination of hard and soft skills which make them effective and ‘smart’.”

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