In fall of 2011, SFU’s Co-op Office posted an International Co-op opportunity with HSBC in Hong Kong. Having been born in Hong Kong but raised in Canada, I had always wanted the opportunity to work in my hometown. Being known as the city that never sleeps with a fast-paced and upbeat culture filled with excitement, I jumped at the opportunity to apply. Getting the job was definitely not easy.
After applying online, I received an email explaining the actions that I had to take to continue with the selection process. There were numerous online assessments that had to be passed before a screening interview would even take place. And if I were lucky to make it through the screening interview, I would then be awarded additional panel interviews with senior managers in an assessment centre to confirm my candidacy in the trainee program.
When I finally received the phone call from Human Resources informing me that I had been selected to join the company as a trainee, I was beyond words. I didn’t quite know what to feel. I was excited, nervous and exhausted. Looking back now, I am extremely overwhelmed at the number of stages I had gone through (and thankfully passed) in the entire selection process. I believe the most important lesson learnt from this experience is to always give everything your best shot and to be confident in yourself even if it may be against all odds.
Making The Move
In my experience, leaving Vancouver was definitely not the hard part. In fact, it was exciting to be packing and getting ready to leave to start a new life in an unfamiliar setting. The adrenaline definitely kicks in and you don’t really realize what you’ll be missing until you start to settle down.
I think it was after about a month when I started to get homesick and wished that I had spent more time with my closer friends and family during my last few days in town. Having built routines and a circle of friends back home, it definitely became a challenge to ward off from the blues once the adrenaline dissipated.
Starting a new job with no close friends in an unfamiliar setting suddenly didn’t seem so exciting. I then realized that I was no longer within my comfort zone. The only way to change my outlook was to develop new routines. After all, I realized that this was all part of the International Co-op experience - to push ourselves away from our comfort zones and tackle new challenges. The first place to start was to definitely familiarize myself with my workplace and team.
Finding My Feet
In my role as part of the Business Management team, my primary focus was on Employee Communications for the entire Asia-Pacific region within the business function. I had worked directly with my Line Manager and team in drafting regional communication messages to employees across Asia-Pacific, as well as ensuring leadership visibility with our executive officers while maintaining employee engagement within the firm on a regular basis through recognition programs, town halls and seasonal festivities - just to name a few.
Not everything was fun and exciting at the beginning though. The first few days at work were definitely intimidating. Finding the right floors, meeting rooms and learning how to access different parts of the office with over 40 floors was definitely not easy – particularly when my previous experience in Vancouver included buildings with less than ten floors with simple layouts. Remembering all the names of all my 900 or so new colleagues was no easy task either.
This was when excitement began to transition into anxiety and stress. Starting a new job in a global organization didn’t mean jumping into exciting work right away. I realized that I had to start from the ground up to prove my experience and capabilities to the team before having the opportunity to tackle greater tasks. To begin the work term, I was assigned a simple project of revamping the office signage to demonstrate my project management skills and technical capabilities to my team. I took the opportunity to standardize office floor signs with a clean and professional design. By infusing the corporate brand with a more light-hearted tone by incorporating a fun mascot with engaging dialogue, the new office signs were well received.
Having shown my responsibility and capabilities to execute a project successfully to my Line Manager, I then became responsible for revamping the Asia-Pacific Intranet, which required much more interaction with supporting teams, copy writing, creativity, strategic planning and greater project management skills. By willing to always get involved and take initiative in my work, my Line Manager then gave me the opportunity to shadow and work with her by acting as a consultant to others teams by providing them with communication recommendations. These recommendations helped them deliver key messages and campaigns across the organization. I was beginning to blend in.
Exploring Asia’s World City
With a year in Hong Kong, I had the opportunity to not only go sightseeing to famous landmarks in the city, but also adapt to the local lifestyle. Having lived in Canada for a large part of my life, I was completely unused to the way people interacted with each other. People would talk extremely fast, walk extremely fast, and even eat fast too! Some people in Hong Kong are so busy that they don’t even have the time to properly sit down and have a meal in peace.
Hong Kong, when compared to Vancouver, is a much more commercialized city. Almost every inch of space is bombarded with large signs and advertisements. In more densely populated areas like Mong Kok and Causeway Bay, there are ads on every building! There are even advertisements on the outside of buses, and video advertisements playing inside. In Vancouver, the only ads I can think of on streets are Patterson billboards, which don’t appear too often, because many citizens often complain about it being an eyesore or a distraction to drivers!
Nightlife in Hong Kong is definitely more active and noticeable when compared to Vancouver. Not just in terms of pubs and clubs, but even in ordinary day-to-day night life. In Vancouver, most stores close around 6pm on weekdays, but in Hong Kong, retail stores often open until 9 or 10pm. Smaller stores close even later. People often stay on the streets as well - the streets don’t get any less crowded at night!
Meeting New Friends
I realized that the easiest way to make new friends in a new city was to meet new people within the workplace. In the beginning of my work term, I volunteered to become a member of the Student Program Committee as a Communications Officer, to enable greater relationships between senior management and students within the trainee program. Initiatives in the Student Program Committee included providing students with learning opportunities, such as monthly seminars with senior managers presenting various topics, from self-development to infrastructure within the Bank. The committee also organized networking opportunities and social events for students, which also allowed me to meet with a number of other student trainees in the program.
Beyond being a Communications Officer as part of the Student Program Committee, I had also volunteered to become the Student Project Coordinator to assist senior managers in working with students to develop new programmes, software and applications to change the way HSBC operates. In this role, I worked closely with the trainees, Project Advisors and Mentors to ensure that there was constant progression in development, as well as ensuring that any risks were properly mitigated.
Joining the Student Program Committee definitely allowed me to meet new friends. Beyond that, it also gave me much more exposure to work with different senior managers and to learn from them through example.
Hands-On Student Project
In addition to overseeing Student Projects, I also had the opportunity to become directly involved in my own project. My student project team was given the opportunity to work directly with HSBC’s Global Channel Systems Software Delivery team. In our team, we had to develop an internal iPhone mobile application for employees to use on their personal smartphones securely in replacement of a corporate device as part of a Bring Your Own Device to work strategy. It was definitely an amazing experience to be working directly with professionals who were the leaders empowering the Bank’s actual infrastructure and to have received professional training and guidance from them.
The Open Culture at HSBC
Work qualities and skills I admired amongst my superiors and teammates were their willingness to listen and teach. Any time I voiced out my concerns, senior managers were willing to listen. There really is an open culture in HSBC, which is truly demonstrated by the staff here rather than just as written text on the employee manual or on the corporate website.
I truly felt valued in this organization from the senior managers who were willing to listen, willing to teach and willing to make changes for students to ensure that our skills and abilities are applicable to the right job we were placed in. Under this positive work environment, I have learned the important fact that any business operation is only as successful as the people that are behind the organization. A business is only as successful as the people that empower it.
Looking Back At My Work Term
In shadowing my Line Manager, who has many years of experience in Advertising and Employee Communications, I have acquired a significant amount of both soft and technical skill sets in developing and maintaining effective Communications in a global organization. Under her guidance, I am now able to present my ideas more clearly and professionally in a concise and effective manner. I am now also much more sensitive to my writing and speech – thinking of if what I write or say should be upscale, downscale, the type of angle it should come from and also considering the responses of the audience receiving the message. I had never considered that one more or one less word could make a significant difference to the way a message is conveyed, and how audiences may feel when receiving a message.
I have also been influenced to think innovatively – my Line Manager constantly holds workshops to help us review new ideas being developed in the industry and encourages us to rethink and disrupt the norm. Having a Line Manager who is attentive to detail, experienced in their job and passionate about the work being done truly has a huge difference not only to the organization, but also to those they lead.
In this case, my Line Manager’s leadership allowed me to look forward to coming in to work every day. A routine I will definitely miss when leaving HSBC to return to my studies home in Vancouver.
Beyond the Blog
Find out more about SFU's Business Co-op program.
Download the PDF of Mario's work term report.