Book Review: An American Family by Khizr Khan

‘An American Family’ is literally one of the few Advanced Reader Copies or ARCs that I finished reading within days of receiving it via NetGalley.

I was curious to read the story of Khizr Khan. He is the Pakistani-American man who stood proudly at the Democratic National Convention in 2016 to take Donald Trump to task for his criticism of John McCain and Muslims during the U.S. Presidential Campaign.

Not only does Khizr describe his own struggle to achieve ‘the American Dream’, from sleeping on park benches to working multiple jobs, he also manages to become a voice of the 2nd or 3rd wave of original Pakistani men who had to leave the newly-minted nation to find work and stability in the Arabian Gulf countries and beyond. This entire generation or two, both men and women born in the early 1950’s to late 1960’s, all chased a better standard of life for their families and themselves, often by being exploited as skilled and unskilled labor in the Middle Eastern nations like the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia.

I highly recommend this book for millennial Pakistanis and Pakistani-Americans to read to understand life from the perspective of our parents, aunts, uncles and mentors.

 “I wasn’t leaving so much as I was going forward”

“The billionaire’s playground that Dubai would become was light years away, but it was obvious even then that the emirate was making a frantic leap forward.”

Read my book review on Goodreads.

 

Product Design Demands Discomfort

AhaMoment

Take a careful look at the infographic titled The AHA Moments above.  Ranging from age 19 to 47, these people  have revolutionised how we communicate (Steve Jobs/iPhone), how we re-energize (Dietrich Mateschitz/ RedBull) and even workout (Chip Wilson/Lululemon Yoga Pants).

None of them set out to create a break between the old and new way of doing things. All they wanted to do was solve one particular source of discomfort. They zeroed in on that particular barrier and relentlessly worked to eliminate it.

Product design and system design demand discomfort. If a device or system seems broken, inadequate or even missing – that is your cue!  You do not require anyone’s permission to make a system or device more efficient. I think this is a reminder for myself as much as it is a blog for public consumption. 

Meet the Millennial Asian: Over-educated + Under-employed

If you are a Millennial Asian, the newspapers think you are pretty pathetic. Looking at the numbers, you have earned more degrees than anyone else in your family,  are up to your neck in education debt, you are chronically under-employed and will stay so for the foreseeable future.

Yes. Under-employed.

Investopedia defines this phenomenon like so:

Labor that falls under the underemployment classification includes those workers that are highly skilled but working in low paying jobs, workers that are highly skilled but work in low skill jobs and part-time workers that would prefer to be full-time.

The market has few jobs to offer the growing legions of fresh grads and the ones available fail to offer much of anything: little money, little career growth and little in terms of security. These handful of jobs are not what you aspired to back in college. It is highly likely you will be delivering goods ordered online or managing a social media campaign for the local non-profit organisation until a “Real Job” opportunity turns up.

Let’s suppose that you finally get a chance to interview for a “Real Job”.  As a fresh grad  you are facing competition from the people who graduated years before you and have relevant work experience to show for it.

Jobs available in the government sector are scarce, practically impossible to access unless one has a ‘link’ (how I loathe that practice)  and the benefits hardly ever compensate for the dismal pay.

Gordon Orr warns China’s fresh graduates that even the low-barrier, entry-level careers  in bank telling or insurance agencies are going obsolete. Technologies like AliPay and WeChat have streamlined basic banking tasks and banks will soon be a thing of the past – much like post offices.

…there may be new jobs but they are just not the jobs you set your heart on when you went to university: low pay and low security is a poisonous combination of many of the new jobs in China’s “rebalancing economy”.

Orr suggests brushing up on vocational skills that may come into play in the emerging sectors, like learning coding or other such I.T. wizardry. If nothing else, it is suggested that a fresh grad like you should start a business and embrace self-employment as your fate.

The fastest growth category of urban employment in recent years has been self-employment.  While some of this is likely a cute way of describing unemployed, the broader trend that it represents is the growth of small and mid-sized enterprises and their importance to job creation in the economy. 

Next up is the “Has Pakistan overeducated it’s middle class?” article that appeared on Dawn’s website about two days back.  The lack of congruency between the education Pakistani universities are churning out and the jobs available is painfully apparent for anyone who been through a hiring cycle. Not only is the quality of education suspect, the graduates are ill-prepared for the rigours of the job-search and interview process. I am in complete agreement that there need to be university-based career prep centres at both public and private universities. Private universities barely scratch the surface when it comes to preparing their students for the corporate/real world. A mandatory 2 hour workshop in the last week of university does not suffice.  I recommend universities to start students on mandatory courses that cover internship seeking, c.v. writing and interviewing skills from freshman year.

The author, Murtaza Haider,  makes a valid point about how loosely underemployment is tallied and also how faulty the premise is regarding what constitutes a ‘living wage’.

My primary concern is about how the state defines underemployment.

The state considers those working for fewer than 35 hours in a given week as underemployed. This definition assumes that those working for 35 hours or more in a given week are gainfully employed, i.e., they are earning enough to support their families.

The under and unemployment figures are quite meaningless for struggling economies like Pakistan. Even by the government’s estimates, 60 million Pakistanis, 29.5 per cent of the population, live below the poverty line. Experts at Oxford University estimate a much larger proportion of Pakistanis (44 per cent) to be poor.

Thus, boasting about low unemployment rates is rather futile because a large proportion of those considered employed by the government are not earning enough to feed and clothe their families.

Lastly, here is an article from the World Economic Forum warning us that for the millennials post-graduate degrees may be a waste of money.  Lux Alptraum shares that despite belonging to a family accustomed to collecting degrees (the way some collect shares) she ultimately decided not to seek a postgraduate degree.  For her, the math simply didn’t add up!

Every time I’ve considered going back to school, I’ve done a cost-benefit analysis—and for me, that analysis has never worked out in academia’s favor. My law school dreams died when it occurred to me that the kind of do-gooder law I was interested in would likely leave me in debt for the rest of my life (and also when I realized that “liking to argue” is but a small part of a law career). My potential public health degree stopped making sense when I realized the small salary bump I might secure wouldn’t balance out the money—and time–I’d spend getting the Master’s.

As a fellow Millennial Asian, I feel your anguish.

ice-cream-cry

I also sense your need to reach for the nearest tub of ice cream to drown your sorrows.   Hold off on that for a second.  There has to be a Plan B.

Will it be running our very own Food Truck? Maybe.

Can it be starting up a coaching centre for the chronically under-employed and helping them loosen up via improv sessions?  Could be.

The beacon of hope lies in our ability to carve out careers, create brands  and provide services in emerging markets – despite the nay-sayers and dismal statistics. 

Drop me a tweet @marsonearth.

I write about financial empowerment, digital literacy, and educational technology at my blog called Catalyst Woman.  Who am I? I once described myself as a Communications consultant who conducts trainings focused on Women’s Empowerment, Employability Skills and Educational Innovation.

M.I.A.: Work Culture

First, read this tweet.

When the Wiggle-Room Becomes the Bermuda Triangle 

As social animals, us humans have an inherent sense of how compatible we are with others.  This compatibility does extend beyond the typical domains of romance or familial duties; we have a definite compatibility ratio when it comes to our colleagues at the workplace.

In today’s project-driven offices it is quite common for us to be communicating with coworkers in the next city over or even the next timezone.  Given this reality, despite the numerous advantages of instantaneous connections via the internet (Skype, WhatsApp, Email), colleagues often provide each other some wiggle room when it comes to responding back on tasks that aren’t red-hot, Priority #1.

Working in Pakistan there are times we are dealing with choppy internet, poor bandwidth and plain ol’ power breakdowns; to battle all this, Pakistani professionals make it a priority to build in a cushion of time/space to ensure work gets delivered on-time.  We also invest a hefty sum of money in back-up power and multiple internet service providers;  I would specially give credit to our independent freelancing professionals who maintain this high-level of responsiveness without the buffer of a mega-corp or the mega-corp budget.

Going back to the compatibility aspect, we usually have a good sense of who will not exploit the wiggle room given; until that wiggle room becomes the never-ending Bermuda Triangle. Something inexplicable happens and the perfect syncopation fizzles out into unanswered emails and missed deadlines.

I write this only to trigger a conversation about this phenomenon. What makes us, all of us, lose steam during a project? Is this an indication of poor leadership?  Aside from the obvious communication breakdown, are there expectations from the project associates that aren’t being met?  How to jump-start such failing connections?

Is this a failing of our national work culture?  Can work culture even be generalized to include multiple industries across a beautifully complex and rapidly metamorphosing country like Pakistan?

Note: I am sure I am not the only one who has experienced this phenomenon in the workplace. If you have any stories, please leave a comment or drop a tweet at @catalystwoman

 

Stranded in Career Hell?

Slowly but surely, your career search is starting to resemble the Sahara Desert *- miles upon miles of punishing expanse with no guarantee of relief. Interview calls that never arrive – CVs and resumes that illicit no response – the future looks bleak and lifeless.

The thirst is unbearable, the need to live, truly live and regain control, even for the simple things, paying the bills on time or buying your sweetheart their favorite book, has reached it’s pinnacle.  You reach for a glass of water only to find it empty – the last drop long evaporated in this never-ending summer.

CW Post sad kitty

Any hope of a viable career opportunity has long abandoned you. Panting, dusty, and covered with the stench of failure, you drop to your knees in the burning sand and squint upwards into the Sun.

Should you wave the white flag?  Settle for the ‘job-you-can -get’ versus the ‘career-of-your-dreams’?

Continue reading “Stranded in Career Hell?”

Career Success in 2016 (1/3)

CW FB Post Winter- season for planning

GOT A JOB?

The job market is rough. There are no two ways about it. You may get the phone call but the interview gets postponed indefinitely. The first interview goes well, apparently, but you never get a call back. You settle for a role that you are overqualified for ( as well as a drop in the take-home salary) but it’s a part-time gig that costs considerably in petrol and petty office politics than your nerves can bear. Your Elance work is pays reasonably; however, you are so busy focusing on the live job search that you only pick up short-term projects. If you focus any further on Elance, you are afraid of losing out a wanted ad that fits your experience in the neighborhood.

Over the weekend, let’s explore ways to ensure Career Success in 2016 in this blog series.  There is no magic wand to waved. These are tried and tested methods to set yourself up for maximum positive employability going into the new year.

 

Refuse the Question

There is no good answer to being a woman; the art may instead lie in how we refuse the question.

– The Mother of All Questions, Rebecca Solnit 

More gems from Solnit in this article:

We are constantly given one-size-fits-all recipes, but those recipes fail, often and hard. Nevertheless, we are given them again. And again and again. They become prisons and punishments; the prison of the imagination traps many in the prison of a life that is correctly aligned with the recipes and yet is entirely miserable.

The problem may be a literary one: we are given a single story line about what makes a good life, even though not a few who follow that story line have bad lives. We speak as though there is one good plot with one happy outcome, while the myriad forms a life can take flower — and wither — all around us.

Step-Up Workshops : Employability & Empowerment for Pakistani Women

I run self-empowerment, employability skills and digital literacy workshops for young professional women, minorities and economically disadvantaged youth under the banner of Step-Up Workshops.

With my team, our focus is to offer discounted workshops and resource materials that counter common obstacles for women/minorities  in the workplace/hiring scenarios.

Why Are You Scared of LinkedIn? (Real Life Scenarios)

I recently heard of a young man who is facing a tough time finding a new job, while in a role that was about to end.  Shahzad is currently working at one of the leading hotels in the country in the Marketing department. He holds a North American undergraduate degree in Marketing and about 4.5 years of work experience, to-date.  Here is where the challenge is: Shahzad recently got married and is looking for a position with significantly more responsibilities as he wants to diversify his work experience and a higher salary package. Since moving back Pakistan after completing his studies, Faisal admits he hasn’t networked much professionally.

” I just jumped at the first offer that I received. Seeing that I had only a 3 months internship experience, I was relieved to find my place in an established organisation so early on in my career.”  That’s Shahzad speaking, by the way.

He shares that he has not had much luck while looking for a new position.  I asked what his strategy is.  Shahzad says that he has been spreading the word amongst his friends and family members that he is actively searching for a new job. Also, he says that he religiously scans the classifieds section in Dawn and other major national newspapers every Sunday morning.

“And…?”  I ask.

“That’s about it. I have been at it for months now and frankly, I’m getting worried.  I recently got a call from HR for my exit interview. ” responds Shahzad.

It was clear that Shahzad had skipped a few crucial steps in his job search, so I sent over some recommended sites. Using online job boards and social platforms, including even Facebook and Twitter, are no longer optional for jobseekers. You need to be online.

“I see.  Can you do me a favour? Set up your profile on the following websites.  Begin with LinkedIn and then move on to Rozee.pk. If you are interested in working in the Middle East, I would suggest signing up on Bayt.com as well.”

“LinkedIn? Why LinkedIn? A few of my friends have sent me invites. I just never got the point of it. ”  answers Shahzad.

“Easy. LinkedIn is currently the best social platform to network with professionals from all over globe.  Think of it as your virtual Resume that is open to recruiters and  HR managers actively searching for new employees.”  I respond eagerly.

Why are You Afraid of LinkedIn?

For those who are unfamiliar with LinkedIn, logging on for the very first time CAN be an intimidating experience.  I have found that if you approach such sites with a positive attitude, it is easier to see the benefits of an untraditional job search approach.

Afraid of Linked In

LinkedIn puts you in the driver’s seat of your job search. You are no longer passively waiting for someone to pluck your resume out of the hundreds (even thousands!) received in an HR Manager’s inbox.  You are opening up a window to allow potential employers and recruiters to see your career ambitions and accomplishments in an interactive environment.

Why is Shahzad scared of LinkedIn?

A few days later, I gave Shahzad a call to check on his progress.  “How’s it going?”

” Still not sure about LinkedIn, it is so busy!  There are company pages popping up all the time and then I was asked to list my volunteering experience. How will all of that help me get a job in Marketing?!” inquires a clearly frustrated Shahzad.

” Hold up! Take it one step at a time.  Let’s go over the facts:

Did you know that 92% of Fortune 1000 companies are LinkedIn customers? Your profile needs to be on LinkedIn so the chances of being recruited increases. Not only that, being on LinkedIn gives you a chance to do a targeted search for the type of role you are looking for.

Add on friends and colleagues on LinkedIn – it is a great way to practice your professional networking skills. If someone from your industry writes an insightful blog on Pulse, leave a comment or share on your profile. It is pretty similar to Facebook in that way!

During your job search, you must have come across a company or two that you aren’t too familiar with? LinkedIn’s Company pages provide you the background information and allows you to browse the list current employees. All of this information can you help you determine the culture of an unfamiliar organisation before you apply.

As for volunteering experience, that shows more about your personality and the causes that you believe in.  Talent hunters are looking for the right person to fit the work culture at their organisation – that means they need a complete a 3-dimensional view of who you are!  Ever spend time tutoring at a local orphanage? Or  go door-to-door raising money for a Build-a-School campaign?  Stuff like that counts!.”

“Hmmm. That makes sense.  For  starters, how do I add you on LinkedIn?” asks  Shahzad.

“Scroll over to the Connections tab in the top bar and click on Add Connections.  Choose an email account to sync with and you are good to go! You will see all your contacts who are already on LinkedIn. ” I answer.

Stay tuned for the next instalment, where we will compare and contrast using LinkedIn and Rozee.pk during a job search.

Oh, also  we will get an update from our friend Shahzad!

Good luck to all of you on the Job Hunt!

Ambitiously Yours,

Catalyst Woman

If you have a question for Catalyst Woman, email me here:  talktocatalystwoman@gmail.com .  I will try to answer it on here a.s.a.p.!

Work It, Girl: How Tech Has Changed the WorkDay

My browser is overflowing tabs with various articles covering the transformation of ‘Work’ in contemporary times. CatalystWoman I simply can not get enough of this discussion, and despite the different sources, these writings make up a vital dialogue about the future of ‘Work’.  All our academic lives are spent in preparation for our entrance into the workforce; if there is a revolution going on regarding the employment sector, it’s high-time that education gets a thorough appraisal.

Couple of questions:

How relevant is today’s college education?

Are universities teaching employable skills?  Or are they just pacing mechanisms so the job force can be refreshed in a cyclical fashion?

How can online-learning, Massive Open Online Courses and other cheap, digitally-empowered learning tools enable a young person to earn a living without a traditional degree?

Has technology completely rewritten the constructs of gainful employment?

Does telecommuting break the industrial-era confines of the 9-5 workday?

Can video-conferencing and real-time messaging FINALLY rid us of the excessive time-wasting corporate habit of Meetings?

Have the Millennials turned the corner on the traditional office with their adoption of freelancing? Or, is it more accurate to say that the Millennials are adapting to the weak global job market and growing consumerism by ‘going organic’, simplifying their lifestyles and hawking all skills available to make ends meet?

In attempt to find these answers or risk confusing you further, I share snippets from across the web:

Freelancing, contrary to popular belief, is not just restricted to stay-at-home parents and aspiring novelists; it is increasingly a deliberate part of many people’s work routine. Freelancing and it’s twin, Telecommuting, provide workers greater flexibility and varied projects without the limitation of geography.

With 83% of millennials claiming that freelancing is a cornerstone of their career strategy and the dramatic increase in funding of crowdsourcing-centric companies, could we be facing a 21st-century industrial revolution? A workforce shift this substantial has not been seen in 100 years and an Intuit report predicts 60 million people will be contingent workers by 2020. It’s clear that the future of work is changing.

Millennials are less concerned about job security or full-time employment, and more concerned about flexibility, adaptability and variety. They are leaving the full-time workforce to piece together a career path on their own.

Gigwalk

When we combine that sentiment with the constant push in America for entrepreneurship, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that millennials are more free-thinking and independent than previous generations. The idea of climbing up a corporate ladder seems so alien since so many storied companies have ceased to exist in our lifetimes and the process seems so divergent from actually improving humanity.

It also helps that technology has brought down the costs of building our own companies and service organizations. Today, anyone – not just millennials – has this alternative option of simply ignoring everyone and going their own way. The stasis of the world has been replaced with technology-based flexibility powered by the cloud and mobile devices.

Empowerment has a price though. If ever there was a debate to be had in this country, it is that the great projects of our time still do take significant teams to build. Everyone can’t be a founder. While we have a cooperative and community-oriented spirit, that doesn’t necessarily translate into wanting to join someone else’s startup or nonprofit. Indeed, we probably want to start our own.

The Millennial Delusion

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Shortening the work-week leads to more productive, engaged employees  and a dramatic drop in absenteeism- Now is anyone really surprised about that?

“Better work gets done in four days than in five,” he [CEO Basecamp] writes. “When there’s less time to work, you waste less time. When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important. Constraining time encourages quality time.”

Is the Four Day Work Week Right For Your Company?

The questions keep on coming – as do the observations as we keep pace with the rapid changes in tech and the workplace.  As digital natives, will we be able to retain our hold on technology as a tool for completing tasks?   Now that is a question for next time.