This is a true story that happened some years ago. I recounted the conversation as much as I could remember word for word. The name of the consultant has been changed.
I lean back in my chair, delighted at having just finished writing my latest blog post in my favourite corner of my room. I stare outside my bedroom window to my left. It is a sunny mid-autumn day in Melbourne, the sky a crystal clear blue and the leaves on the trees outside still bright green. A happy, uplifting sight.
Bzzz bzzz. My handphone rings, vibrates and jerks about on the table, the sharp ringtone shattering the tranquility of this relaxing afternoon at home.
I pick it up. “Hello?”
“Hi, is this Madel?” a male voice on the other end asks.
“Do you mean May-bel?” I pronounce slowly. People always fail to pronounce my name correctly.
“Yes, Mabel. Hi Mabel. This is Jason calling from XYZ Careers. Have you heard about us before?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“We are a consulting firm located on Collins Street in the CBD, near the Parliament Station end. We specialise in assisting graduates in gaining employment in Australia,” Jason explains. “Are you currently working?”
I dislike Jason already. Intruding on my privacy like no one’s business. At least he speaks good English. “Yes.” And that was not a lie. I was doing contractual work.
“What is your visa status?”
“I’m a local person.”
“Ah…okay,” Jason says, surprise aplenty in his voice. “What fields are you looking to work in in the future?”
“Do you have the qualifications for it?”
“Yes. How did you get my number?” I ask. I have every right to know where he wrangled my number from. And I want to.
“Well, you must have put down your name and number on some career list you signed up for at university. Or you must have put your details down for a job that you applied for but weren’t successful in getting and now we’re just following up with that.”
I try in vain not to sigh. “But you must know who gave you my number and where it came from. You must have some sort of contact. How did you get my number?”
“You must have left it somewhere so now I’m following up,” Jason repeats calmly. “We can help you stand out in the job market.”
“What do you offer?”
“I can’t tell you that over the phone. We’ll show you when you come in to our offices.”
Such a wishy-washy response. “What exactly do you offer?”
“As I said, I can’t tell you that now. We’ll discuss it with you when you are here in our offices. We offer you a SECRET WEAPON that will make you stand out to employers.”
I glance outside my closed window. The sunny outdoors looks so inviting but I feel trapped in my corner. Trapped with no polite way out of this conversation.
“Okay. I see,” I say after five seconds of silence, infuriated and stunned for words at Jason’s brazenness to lure me down to his end of town.
“We can help you showcase, for example, your communication and presentation skills to employers. We have a SECRET WEAPON and we can talk more in our offices.”
Jason prattles on. “You have been looking for work and you haven’t found anything. You are an Australian citizen. You have the qualifications. You communicate and speak English well. There is something wrong with you. And we can help you fix that and gain better employment.”
I say nothing. I don’t have anything to say. I feel insulted. No one deserves to judge me like that without specifically knowing who am I, what I do and what I believe in.
I hang up. I stare straight ahead, straight at my white bedroom wall that looks so akin to a blank, empty canvas.
Empty. That’s what one feels when they try so hard and get no where and the end’s no where in sight.
* * *
As I have discussed in Career Consulting Firms: Treating Asian Clients As Cash Cows?, many Asian international students in Australia often struggle find employment here and so feel pressured into signing up for the ridiculously priced “services” of career consulting firms. At times, these firms can assist some in landing a stable job. After all, they boast a number of testimonials from satisfied clients.
However, at times career consulting firms arguably hinder naïve Asian international students from performing their best in the job market. Judging from my experiences, career consultants working for these firms seem to outright demoralise their clients about their own job-hunting efforts – and worse, their clients’ personal character.
Demoralising Asian students/graduates can potentially instigate them into feeling they will never be good enough for a certain job. It is already hard enough that “being Asian” is an upsetting barrier to landing a job in some instances. Sometimes, students/graduates have tried multiple avenues of improving their chances of employment and it is just purely because of luck no one hires them. And truth be told, none of us has all the luck in the world.
It is not uncommon for young Asians seeking employment to fork over thousands of dollars to career consulting firms and sometimes fail to get much out of these services, and become strapped for cash.
Who can blame them since these firms constantly hype up their services to the point they sound believable? For many (gullible) Asian international students, these services seem so genuine coming from the mouths of consultants who speak impeccable English. The ability to speak good English is always admired by many in/from Asia. This is a cultural thing – people in South-East Asia tend to deem people who speak good English believable and trustworthy.
Attending classes and programs run by these firms can be a waste of time. Most universities have on-campus career centres that offer to help students/graduates tidy up their CVs and give pointers on acing interviews, exactly what these firms offer.
A fathomable reason as to why some Asian international students still gravitate towards the services of career consulting firms is: money. In Asian cultures, a reputable stigma is often attached to anything that has material worth. Thus, in their eyes, a thousand-dollar “career package” put on the table by career consulting firms can be seen as “valuable”. However, there is no guarantee that these programs will secure one a job.
The job market is an extremely volatile arena. It is hard to predict what employers are looking for in prospective employees. Employers frequently look to hire someone based on their skills, personality and/or unfortunately race. And (perhaps) most of the time it is an uneven combination of all three.
In times of uncertainty on the employment front, all job seekers regardless of race can do is to remain upbeat and never give up their search of that dream job, and most importantly believe in themselves and their abilities no matter what others say.