Here is another informative piece from Salim Darmadi, one of our columnists, who is currently serving the country as a Senior Analyst at the Indonesian Financial Services Authority (OJK). In the following article, he emphasizes at least 4 four critical points to be considered when developing our portfolio. His tips may boost our value and competitiveness in the job market.
“Guys, you know, you are the proof that Indonesia is welcoming its demographic dividend, where the productive-age population exceeds the non-productive-age ones…” I said in an informal conversation with a number of young, newly admitted employees in my working unit. As a middle-level manager, I was assigned by my boss to mentor and coach them.
Then I advised them, “…therefore you will face intense competition wherever you work. So, guys, you need to seriously strive to boost your competitive advantages in the job market. Build a good portfolio. Of course, you should have begun creating your portfolio when you were at college, and that should continue when you’re stepping into the professional world.”
They are about ten years younger than me, yet the working environment they are facing is already quite different from what I experienced a decade ago. To be sure, I also had to compete with my colleagues to win opportunities such as postgraduate scholarships and career promotions, but the competitive environment faced by my staff members is even tighter. They have to compete with hundreds of young employees in their cohort for a limited number of opportunities.
That is why I always believe that an immense portfolio should be built even since the freshman years of college. By creating such a portfolio at the earliest possible time, we could expect stronger qualifications and hence a stronger competitive advantage when entering the increasingly competitive post-college job market.
Wherever we undertake our studies—either home or overseas, undergraduate or postgraduate—we need to always remember in mind to continuously enhance our portfolio, which will open doors for us to win golden opportunities in our future journey. In my opinion, there are at least four aspects to the portfolio we need to create during and after college.
1. Mastery of skills and knowledge
People may argue about the value of the so-called Grade Point Average (GPA), but I still believe that a good GPA is important. Indeed, GPA may not be sufficient enough to measure a student’s academic performance, but you cannot deny that it is often made as a standard to be referred to by many parties when you seek jobs, apply for admissions to universities, or find scholarships. As I experienced when I pursued a Master’s degree at the University of Queensland (UQ), you may not be able to always obtain a good mark in every single course you attend, but you need to put best efforts to make sure that your overall GPA is good enough to support your future endeavour.
Of course, I agree that a strong understanding of the field you are learning should not only be obtained from classes. Outside your lecture and tutorial classes, there are many opportunities you can benefit from. When I pursued my undergraduate degree, I did so by attending seminars and joining a discussion club established by my lecturer and classmates. My friends, whose major is accounting, chose to join interest clubs on campus, including those offering skills improvement in the areas of auditing, capital markets, and Islamic finance. Others decided to seek an apprenticeship or full-time job (in the areas related to their discipline) during holiday seasons.
Such an initiative to enhance professional skills is to be continued when a professional starts his or her career journey. A young professional may obtain opportunities to improve his or her skills through human resources development programmes in his or her workplace. But in some cases, such an initiative should come from one’s own action. I knew some young staff members in my office who were, independently, striving to get a professional certification. They were successful to secure a partial scholarship and worked hard before sitting the certification exam.
2. Foreign language proficiency
In our increasingly globalised modern world, no one denies the importance of proficiency in international languages, particularly English. I think it has become a necessity for undergraduate students at Indonesian universities to expose themselves to foreign-language materials, thereby strengthening their proficiency. My wife, who is a lecturer at a public university, once told me that her students complained why she required them to read many journal papers written in English; and she tried hard to make them understand the importance of such exposure.
Several friends asked me a question regarding their efforts to improve their English, “What English course should I take?” I usually straightly answered, “Take a TOEFL or IELTS preparation course”. In my opinion, they can still choose other courses such as Business English, English Conversation, or English for Adults; but they need to first secure a good score of an English proficiency test to help them achieve their career or academic aspirations.
3. Organisational experience or community engagement
Classes may teach you hard skills much needed to be successful in your future career, but your academic life should not be about hard skills only. College is the best time to reap and strengthen soft skills, including leadership, teamwork, communication, event planning and coordination, mentoring, and conflict resolution. These skills can only be obtained in ‘real life’ when you engage with people in an organisation, committee, community project, or volunteering activity.
I remember when I sat for an interview at the final stage of an Australian government scholarship selection process. One of the two interviewers asked, “Were you an active student when you were in college?” I was grateful that I could provide a convincing answer, stating that my extracurricular activities had taught me important lessons that I could not find in the classrooms. Hence, I strongly recommend any undergraduate student to be actively involved in organisations, committees, community projects, or volunteering activities, which one he or she is interested in.
I was a proud active student during years of my undergraduate studies. I was the chairman of the Accounting Students Association. In addition, I joined various student organisations on campus and was invited as a contributor for the campus magazine. When I attended UQ, I joined the committee of the UQ Indonesian Students Association and also volunteered at a primary school in Brisbane. All these experiences provided me with added value, which helped me a lot later in my life. I obtained a valuable opportunity to climb the career ladder: getting a promotion and being assigned to lead a team since then.
4. Additional portfolio for your advantage
In addition to the abovementioned three aspects (academic achievement, English proficiency, and organisational experience), it is also important to have an additional portfolio which could become your competitive advantage. Such additional portfolio could be in the forms of awards, non-academic achievements, recognition, or publications. Again, college is the best time to begin creating your portfolio, which would continue once you are stepping into a professional career. Do not just sit around waiting for opportunities. Be proactive and catch any available opportunity, during and after college.
Last March, I met awardees of the Indonesia Endowment Fund for Education (LPDP) scholarship of my cohort. I found that many of them were proud recipients of many amazing achievements. Some had participated in student exchange programmes overseas. Some won prizes in English debating tournaments. Others had been awarded as the best employees at their respective institutions. It seems that a good portfolio was one of many factors that brought them to their success in securing the competitive LPDP scholarship.
It is yourself who knows best what your potentials are and what field you excel in. Such potential becomes your ‘capital’ to continuously build your portfolio. I myself found that one of my passions is in the areas of writing and academic research, which motivated to do research and write good papers. I am grateful that I now have in total nine papers published in various international journals. This portfolio brought me to other golden opportunities: being invited to be a reviewer for international journals and winning an outstanding paper award.