It’s Autumn, and time for a flock of new graduates to take up positions at companies in financial centres around the world. Many will have already completed internships or work placements in finance or business, but even they may find that the realities and responsibilities of full-time business are rather different and more complex than they had envisioned.
This doesn’t mean that they’ll find it harder. The global business environment that they have entered into is in a constant state of flux, and to some extent is new to us all. The opening of new global markets has made it easier to conduct transnational business. Superfluous regulations are gradually being overhauled and traditional cultural barriers broken down. Add to this ongoing geopolitical change and the development of new structured products and investment vehicles and this means you have, by all accounts, a brave new world of business.
What it does mean is that advice from those ahead of new starters in the business world, those who have already cut their teeth in earlier incarnations of the world of business, can actually be all the more useful and insightful. The business world may have gone through substantial changes and continue to be doing so, but there are some fundamental aspects which will steadfastly remain the same, and some essential skills which remain crucial to ensuring success and longevity.
Careers in business and finance have and continue to be popular targets for driven, ambitious new graduates. Although still fiercely competitive, asset management companies increased 2014 graduate recruitment, while investment banking continues to be so popular that only two to five per cent of applicants are typically offered a position with their chosen company. Those lucky enough to have secured places this year are likely to be the cream of the new generation of graduates, with skills and life experiences that many in their position twenty years ago could only have dreamed of. Technology-savvy, well-travelled and culturally astute, these new starters have all the hallmarks of the Millennial generation, characteristics which will provide them with business opportunities that either did not exist or could not be harnessed in the past.
Technology powers business today, and adapting to rapid changes in technology is second nature to Milennials. Having grown up with the Internet and being the main drivers of social media, it is fair to say that their online, and online networking, skills are likely to surpass those of their senior colleagues. This technological know-how may mean they find that the deep-end their senior colleagues jumped into at the start of their business careers is slightly shallower for them.
These new starters also tend to be socially and culturally aware, a product in part of being surrounded at all angles from a young age by 24 hour sources of news and information. This insight and understanding of the world can be a real advantage in their business dealings with others, helping them to ensure that they say the right thing, to the right people, at the right times, and lessening the chances of cultural misunderstandings and gaffes. As well as overcoming cultural barriers, for many of the new cohort transnational barriers are not something they have experience of in their lives. For them, the freedom to move with relative ease around international markets is taken as a given.
And there are countless opportunities in new, international markets. Many of these opportunities are just waiting to be exploited by young and eager business people for whom the sky is the limit and whose ambitions are boundless. Many new starters will be entrepreneurial, and perhaps less risk adverse than some senior colleagues, and they may sniff out real opportunities that otherwise may have been missed in sectors that are particularly hot. In fact, with technology making it easier to start up businesses (through crowdfunding, e-markets, free advice, fewer overheads and so on), there are more options available than ever before which enable young people to compete with the traditional company set–up. Technology has, in effect, empowered the new generation of young business people. They have the chance to taste success earlier, with age and experience being less crucial than it was previously, and this bullishness is starting to challenge existing hierarchies and traditional ways of doing things.
Of course, not all opportunities will be missed because someone chooses to stick to more ‘traditional’ business methods. Indeed, traditional ways of working tend to endure because, simply, they’re effective. There are fundamental skills and aspects of business that new starters shouldn’t dismiss just because they are utilised by senior colleagues and older generations. In fact, advice from these senior colleagues, and insights into the lessons they have learned, can help young people in business to more effectively navigate the changing business landscape today. If young people can then harness this advice and combine it with the inherent skills they have developed themselves, the world of business will surely be theirs for the taking.
At its core, business is about building relationships with people. While the new generation may be streets ahead with their online networking skills, senior colleagues will undoubtedly be able to impart valuable advice on building and maintaining concrete networks of contacts which, if nurtured properly, may provide fruitful opportunities throughout their careers. The added value for new starters may then come for those who are able to link up their online and concrete networks intelligently and effectively, across global markets.
Business culture is another area where advice from experienced colleagues can help new starters to find their way. Whether this is specific advice regarding a particular company or more generally, it can be invaluable to those unfamiliar to the environment. While as a whole the business world is changing, right down to the make-up of the working week itself as technology enables working from home and e-conferencing, fundamental aspects at the ground level are changing less quickly. It is for this reason that advice on behaviour, hierarchies, client interaction and deal making can help new young people in business start off on the right track. Once they have nailed down these basics they will be better placed to use their own skills to forge a successful career path going forward.
One final point, which may be the most important of all: millennials may be less risk averse in their business dealings but this should not mean they be any less ethical. Senior colleagues should be able to provide valuable lessons on the importance of working to high ethical standards. And this is all the more important today. With global networks of business and online information, reputation matters. New starters who create and cultivate business opportunities honestly will surely find that there are more doors open to them in the long term than those who conduct themselves in a less than dependable way.
It is really an exciting time for those just starting out in business. The opportunities available are numerous and diverse for those willing and able to seize them and having a broad education and understanding of the more traditional skills of business and investment can be a real advantage in going forward and seizing these prospects. Those who are able to combine their knowledge of traditional business practices with their own skills developed in the new business world will find that there is a multitude of opportunities ready and waiting for them. It seems highly likely that the board rooms of the near future will be very different from those we see today, and it’s today’s new graduates who will undoubtedly be filling them, whether that be in person or online.
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