Attitude vs aptitude: Selling yourself in challenging times

Roche Diagnostics’ Numair Hussain shares a few pearls of wisdom for job seekers today.

There are a few things in life that have an everlasting impact from a personal point of view. These moments stick with you, shaping your outlook for years to come. For me, one of these formative moments stands out.

I was around 11 years old, growing up in Saudi Arabia. As part of a Muslim family, celebrating Eid, all the kids would dress up in fine clothes, receive gifts and celebrate in style.

On this occasion, all my cousins decided that they would buy suits. Of course, I wanted to jump on the bandwagon and get one too. But my parents had already bought me a set of clothes for Eid and, being from a humble home, could not afford to get mea suit as well.

I was disappointed, of course. But my mother sat me down and said something that really stuck with me. It was along the lines of, “Sure, you can’t afford a suit right now. But anyone can buy a suit. How many can carry off wearing it, having worked for it themselves?” My interpretation of this has always remained that you must work to make yourself worthy of the clothes you wear, and chase your dreams. That takes persistence, hard work and passion.

Shortly after I finished high school, with my mother working as a teacher, my father lost his job. Fresh out of school, I started applying for work. At first, I was offered a job as a tea boy. I was prepared to take it because I had no qualifications to speak of, and I felt nothing was beneath me if it provided an income.

Before I got the chance to pour my first cup of tea, though, another opportunity came my way. A company was looking for an administrative assistant that could speak both English and Arabic. As I was fluent in both, I leapt at the opportunity, even though at that tender age, I had no idea quite what an administrative assistant did.

I had no skills, no university degree and had to learn on the job. I didn’t know MS Office or any of the tools I needed when I began. But I did have two things that really helped – confidence and an innate desire to better myself. I took to learning on the job, embracing any opportunity to better my knowledge and add more value. Earning my own money for the first time felt really good.

I worked at the company for two years, studying the more accomplished people around me and learning as much as I could from them. When I joined the organisation, in the back of my mind, I knew I was not there to stay, even though I made sure that I applied myself as best I could, relishing the opportunity to learn.

I wanted to make more of myself and truly be worthy of that suit. I focused and applied for a number of more senior administrative and finance positions until my persistence eventually paid off and I was offered my first position as a Project Administrator. As my career path continued, I took in all the valuable experience I was lucky enough to be gaining, and it all led me to where I am today, working as Head of Finance and Operations for Roche, where I have been for almost two decades.

I do not take anything for granted and am very grateful to the people along the way who have seen potential in me and allowed me to explore it. The people who saw potential have had an immeasurable impact and that is something I hope to do for people who show promise, no matter what their background, race, creed or qualifications on paper may be.

Ultimately, the point I am trying to make is that you can start anywhere. And much like I have, you will experience a lot of rejection and obstacles along the way but it’s important not to give up.

Ambition, confidence (but also humility), determination and the willingness to learn from every incident are the keys to overcoming obstacles, whether you feel you are qualified to or not. Seek out companies that give you an opportunity to be yourself and are willing to take a risk on you. Remember, it’s okay to fail.

A good support system is critical for a successful career. I found mine in my wife and children. My wife, Sana, stood by me and supported me, even as my career took us across continents and even though, in many cases, she chose to put her career on the back burner. The importance of personal support cannot be understated.

A career is something you can grow into, and the right employer will afford you the time to do that. It’s never quite as black and white as your CV might suggest. I, for one, am grateful to the leadership at Roche for providing a fertile environment for my career. All it takes to make a difference is one individual, willing to make a conscious decision to take a chance on the right person.

In these challenging times, I encourage job seekers to grasp at any opportunities that come your way, even if you have to start small. But keep evolving your ambition and using every point in your working life as a learning experience. Try to visualise the next step in your own evolution and set realistic benchmarks for yourself along the way.

Do it one short-term goal at a time with a bigger picture in mind. Work your way up and break your journey into chunks that map it out as you give yourself a chance to improve your skills. Keep reading and educating yourself, because even though you may not be certified, you could potentially make yourself qualified.

Ambition, aspiration, resilience and focus pay off. Nothing is impossible if you are single-minded. In a crisis, you can either disappear or succeed. And transformative thinking means disconnecting yourself from the environment and finding ways to add value to society. Try not to limit yourself to your comfort zone. Look to doing things that you would not normally do or are not even necessarily qualified for. If you have downtime, keep improving on your CV. It is your main selling point.

Despite the crisis we are currently experiencing, the world is never going to stop moving and changing around us. We are all responsible for our own destinies and the best we can do is sell ourselves, try to be in the right place at the right time, be focused, be committed, and stay hopeful. Dream big, even if you have to start small.