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Thursday, 22 September 2011

Job-seekers not so street-savvy these days; Top American graduates heading to India for employment!

Did you know famous Rod Stewart had football trials at Celtic and dug graves?

Monday Starters - By Soo Ewe Jin

DID you know that Rod Stewart had football trials at Celtic and worked as a grave digger before starting his music career by singing on the streets across Europe? Or that Michael Dell’s first job was as a dishwasher at a Chinese restaurant earning US$2 an hour?
Image representing Michael Dell as depicted in...Image via CrunchBase
What about your first job? There are many magazines, including Reader’s Digest, that have at one time or another, run a column simply entitled My First Job.

Of course, they only interview the famous personalities but I am sure even ordinary people like us have extraordinary first-job experiences to share.

Rajan Moses is well known in the journalistic fraternity but what he shared in The Star last Tuesday (The Star, where I cut my teeth, see below) contains an important lesson for all of us, especially the thousands of unemployed graduates out there.

Rajan was studying mass communications at Universiti Sains Malaysia when The Star came into existence. He wanted to be part of this racy new tabloid so he rode his motorcycle to the Weld Quay office to try his luck and see if he could get his break into journalism.

Rajan wrote how he managed to slip past the guard on duty and headed straight to the office of the legendary KS Choong, the founding editor of this newspaper. As he was talking to the secretary, Choong peered through the glass window from his desk and beckoned him in. He had a strict face, but was surprisingly kind and gentle.

“When I told him that I wanted to intern at the paper, he smiled and said yes. He gave me my first break and told me I could be The Star’s USM correspondent, and even said that I could work full time with the paper in Kuala Lumpur during my three-month varsity vacations,” Rajan wrote.

From that first break, Rajan went on to have an illustrious career not only in The Star but in other media organisations at home and abroad. He is currently with Ogilvy as a senior media adviser.

I find recollections like this very rare these days. There was a time when people would do all sorts of things to get a job, but these days, many of them expect the job to be handed to them on a silver platter.
I believe we were more street-savvy those days and we knew how to take the initiative. When I tell fresh graduates that they do not need to wait for advertisements to appear before they apply, they are not too convinced.

After finishing my Form 6, I decided to write in to all the newspapers to see if they would offer me a job.

The National Echo was the first to respond. The kind and gentle Choong at that time had moved to The Echo which had been revamped to be also a tabloid to challenge The Star. He brought along many of The Star’s pioneers with him.

At the interview, the first thing he said was, “So you are the fella who is always writing letters to the editor. I didn’t know you were still in school then. You had so many good comments on current issues. When can you start?”

So, for a princely sum of RM135, I started my journalism career as a cadet reporter.

For the next job I applied for, I was surprised I was even called for the interview because I thought I had flunked the pre-entry written test.

One section required us to explain the meaning of 20 rather bombastic words.

I didn’t know any, so I wrote, “If I had a dictionary with me, I could give you the meaning of these words. But if I have to use a dictionary to read a newspaper, then these words certainly don’t deserve to see print.”

There was still an hour to go, but I handed in my test paper and walked out of the hall. Call it bravado or whatever, but the editors appreciated my candour. I was interviewed and I got the job.

Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin wonders what young people do to get a job these days besides giving us those templated CVs that are strong on style but weak on substance.

The Star, where I cut my teeth

WAS one of the pioneers who had the good fortune to work with The Star at Weld Quay in Penang soon after its birth. The Star was the launching pad for my eventual success as a seasoned journalist, correspondent, chief sub-editor and editor with the international news agency Reuters, the national news agency Bernama and the Business Times, spanning a period of over 32 years.

I believe I owe a care of duty to The Star and its founding editor K.S. Choong, who gave me my first break.

The launch of The Star in September 1971 had a great impact on Penangites who were so used to the existing newspaper fare that the arrival of something new perked them up. Finally, an alternative paper to read had arrived, and a racy tabloid at that!

Newspaper boys sold the first editions of the new paper late into the night on Penang’s streets, and The Star created quite a buzz.

It had a picture of a Page 3 girl daily (very much like what the The Sun and Daily Mirror did in London) and bright, bold and interesting human interest stories and pictures which sparked much local interest.

As an undergraduate at Universiti Sains Malaysia pursuing a Mass Communications degree, I was on the hunt for an internship to learn more about my passion – journalism. I saw in The Star my guide and mentor.
Plucking up courage one fateful day, I rode my motorcycle to the Weld Quay office to try my luck and see if I could get my break into journalism.

I had long hair then (which was the vogue among students), but managed to slip past the guard on duty and headed straight to the office of the Editor-in-Chief, K.S. Choong.

I told his secretary that I wanted to see him. Choong peered through the glass window from his desk and beckoned me in. He had a strict face, but was surprisingly kind and gentle.

When I told him that I wanted to intern at the paper, he smiled and said yes. He gave me my first break and told me I could be The Star’s USM correspondent, and even said that I could work full time with the paper in Kuala Lumpur during my three-month varsity vacations.

It was indeed an honour to be a Star reporter then. It opened many doors for me in Penang – people started recognising this rookie reporter – and with my enthusiasm bursting, I started seeing stories everywhere and in many things.

One of the biggest stories I ever broke as the USM correspondent was about how forged coupons were used by a syndicate at a major USM carnival, which resulted in the organisers losing thousands of ringgit.

The work – for which I was paid by the column inch (that is, the length of the story) – earned me about RM50-RM60 a month, good supplementary income for a poor student.

Then when the long university vacation came around mid-year, I was despatched as a reporter with The Star in KL where the paper at that time was circulating a few thousand copies. I was paid RM100 a month.

The KL office was then headed by bureau chief Maureen Hoo, who taught me a lot about writing news stories by re-writing my copy and who was generous enough to let me go out and pound the streets to find really rare and interesting stories.

There were five or six staff in the rather small KL office in a building in Jalan Silang in downtown KL. The Star was really small in KL.

Then we moved to the Jalan Travers office in Bangsar, where the circulation department, advertisement salesmen, and editorial department were all housed in one place for the first time in KL.

At that time, in 1972-73, The Star circulation was only a mere 8,000 copies, and we had to fight hard to get our KL stories in the Penang-centric edition of the newspaper.

Lady Luck poured her fortune on me when I got my first front page byline after witnessing a major fire at a rice/padi godown alongside the railway line near the Brickfields/Jalan Travers junction. Police estimated the fire had caused millions of ringgit in damage, quite a large sum at that time.

It was truly gratifying to see my name on the front-page story, and I remember showing it to my parents, relatives and friends. I think I still have a copy of it somewhere at home.

Soon after came another front-page byline from me in The Star when a tall and well-endowed Australian stripper I had interviewed in KL several weeks before was found walking around bald, naked and in a drug-induced daze along Batu Feringghi beach in Penang.

My experience as a reporter for the then under-dog newspaper was really exciting.

On one assigment, our photographer, the late Mok Yong, and I interviewed two sales representatives of the “Perfumes of the Orient” company at their stand in the Federal Hotel in KL. Soon after the article and photo came out, the local perfume company wrote to my editor and booked a whole year’s worth of advertisements in the paper.

I received a congratulatory letter from the boss because, as the under-dog newspaper then, it was tough getting advertising revenue.

Upon graduation from USM in 1974, I joined The Star full time as a journalist in Penang at the Pitt Street office. I remember I was paid RM125 a month, although I was a graduate, and given an increment of a mere RM15 a year.

It was not the money I was working for. My friends who had graduated along with me from USM were earning about RM650-RM800 a month in government service or as graduate trainees elswhere.

I chose to remain in The Star despite the low salary because of my passion for journalism, loyalty to the paper that gave me my first break, and the great company of senior journalists who taught me the ropes.

That was when I met former greats who believed in the cause and laid the foundations for The Star to become the great paper it is today.

I remember the valuable guidance and counselling from pioneer Star journalists and editors like K. Sugumaran, Charlie Chan, Mohanan Menon, R.D. Selva, Gobind Rudra, Tony Rangel, R. Pachymuthu, Khoo Kay Peng, Tony Chew, Alan Tan, Soon Boon Phin, S.P. Cheah, Robert Ang, Robert Kuan, Sri K. Nayagam, and a host of others.

In November 1975, having earned a solid base in journalism and becoming well honed in reporting news at The Star, I made the decision to leave Penang and return to Kuala Lumpur to work for Bernama as a news executive.

There was no looking back after that.

In 1983, I was head-hunted by Reuters to join the KL bureau. I went on to become the pioneer Malaysian journalist to be posted by an international news agency to the United States – Chicago and Washington DC, between 1987 and 1991.

After 20 successful years with Reuters as bureau chief in Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, chief subeditor in Hong Kong and Singapore, I returned to KL and worked for the Business Times as executive editor for several years.

Today I work for Ogilvy, a PR and advertising agency, still keeping my links with journalists as senior media advisor.

When I look back at my early days in The Star, I feel a sense of warmth and gratitude.

My mind races back to the many things I learnt that gave me the foundation to become a journalist, of those who gave me great friendships and taught me the ropes and, of course, some of the funny, weird and interesting news situations that I encountered as a rookie.

Most of all I remember and thank the late founding editor, K.S. Choong, for giving me that first break.

RAJAN MOSES, Kuala Lumpur

Top American graduates heading to India for employment

Breaking tradition, top American graduates are heading to India to find jobs and opportunity. Many believe that having experience in India is an important addition to their resume in this increasingly globalized world. Some say that its easier to find a good job in India than in the United States, as India's economy is growing while the US economy is predicted to shrink within the next year.