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Advice for Graduates Looking for a Future

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Reading Dear Lucy's uncertain answer to a distressed mother asking "How do I help my job seeking daughter?" in the 9 November Financial Times, I could not help but think: entrepreneurship is the future. You might all already have figured this out!

Just open any newspapers this week, or should I say grab your iPad or smartphone, any blog or tweet and here they are! The World Entrepreneurship Forum was two weeks ago, the Global Entrepreneurship Week is currently transforming London into a temporary Silicon Valley, buzzing with events and innovative spirits.

We get it! Entrepreneurship is the next great thing and we all want to be part of it, but let's not jump from one master - financial services - to another too quickly.

Let's be realistic. Some of us are natural born entrepreneurs. Some already have a head start as young graduates, having created three or four businesses and gained experience looking for funds, including through specialised resources. But some will simply not be good enough.
The law of averages will always rule, and for every successful entrepreneur 10 to 15 will fail. Some of you, some of us, will not even come close to entrepreneurship nirvana.

Let's also be honest with ourselves. Some of you, some of us, are just not interested in entrepreneurship and want to choose a different life, and they are also facing tremendous issues and uncertainty. "How do I help my job seeking daughter?", a distressed mother asked. Help her find temporary jobs? Push her to take another degree or even learn Chinese.

So how do you beat the odds as a young graduate to get the chances you need and a shot at personal success?

''You differentiate, and you start at a very early stage'', advises Paul Wilson, Regional Managing Director at Michael Page International, one of the few recruitment firms working the full spectrum of recruiting needs from graduate to top executive. ''Nowadays a 2.1 paired with a summer internship and some travelling is not enough anymore. Unfortunately, the rat race starts much earlier. It is becoming critical to be prepared and think strategically about your studies''.

''Today's employers are facing tremendous economic pressure. The concept of return on investment prevails in all areas, talent management included. If you want to take on and train a graduate, you need to ensure that you are investing for the long term'' he adds. ''Essentially, employers are looking for the full package, the seeds of the leader of tomorrow, the curious, culturally savvy, hands-on and innovative young graduate''.

So what it is going to take to be one of the happy few entering the corporate El Dorado? Acing your exams of course, but also think about becoming a respected member of a oastmaster group? Or an expert in anthropology or a committed volunteer at your local shelter?
What makes a corporate leader these days?

Emotional intelligence, vision, an ability to influence, cultural sensitivity? All of the above.
Or more generally, what makes a leader these days? Ability to rally colleagues, to build trust, to work under constraints, to take risks and make decisions? Again, all of the above.
Let's reflect on these, shall we?

For your soon-to-be graduate, or more appropriately, your high school pupils, try to systematically match the extracurricular activities or even the academic curriculum with the aforementioned skills or attributes, and you will clearly get a head start or maximise your chances.

How do you help your job seeking daughter? Go back in time and guide her, influence her taste, expose her to cultural difference, enroll her in music classes, literary salons, open her brain and build her knowledge. Think about the concept of the Renaissance man. When the time comes, help her make the right choice over and over again.

For the more, hm...mature readers, I can't help but reminisce on how our student life was so different, a blissful period of carefree activities and social building, almost an out-of-time bubble before the cold call of a working life.

In Hong Kong, one of the currently booming ventures is applying Harvard Business Executive program methods to infants. It aims to develop their leadership skills, charisma and other innovative skills. In the United States for the last ten years, young people have constantly been pushed to excel to secure the best possible future.

Creating leaders as soon as possible is an interesting concept, an a noble one, but I can't help wondering, is this somewhat the end of innocence?

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