Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW
Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW

Do you have what it takes to be successful?

Karina Kwan giving her talk after formal dinner

What does it take to be successful in the corporate world? Well according to Karina Kwan, General Manager of Group Support Services Finance for the Commonwealth Bank, there’s a lot more to it than just academic results and hard work. And she would know after over 25 years in the financial industry!

Kwan moved to Australia from Papua New Guinea at the age of 11. Her parents worked seven days a week, hoping only to give their kids a good education that would lead to a great job, their own home and financial independence. It wasn’t a privileged household or one with connections – proving that Kwan had to use the right skills to work her way up.

Kwan wasn’t initially sure what profession she wanted to go into, studying science for two years before switching to economics at the suggestion of her professionally-minded parents. However all turned out well as she now has a passion for it – feeling that it enables her, through numbers, to be able to provide insight to grow a business, to be strategic, and to help shape a company’s future.

As an employer, Kwan realises that academic results and hard work do play a part. Good results allow you to get a job, and hard work enables you keep a job. But more than this is needed to be successful: everything else about how you are as a person is what counts: your behaviour and your attitudes. Employees have to sell their credibility at some point – they have to realise that they are more than their CVs.

So what do employers want, apart from academic results and hard work?

At the end of the day, Karina pointed out that employers are looking to cut costs. A lot of applicants will be smart and willing to work hard, but employers want to know whether they’ll also add value. They assess this from the potential employee’s behaviour, which is reflective of their values. In other words, the human element is as important as the technical side of things.

She suggested four areas that employers often take note of:

  • Whether the applicant has healthy ambition and passion, and knows how to direct it
  • Whether the applicant can describe their personal brand and what they stand for
  • Whether the applicant realises that success is more than only results and hard work
  • How others describe the applicant

Your personal brand

Kwan mentioned the importance of a personal brand multiple times. What is a personal brand? It’s what a person is about, which requires knowing themselves and what they stand for.

If a person knows what they stand for, it shines through to others and creates a good reputation. Before Kwan was promoted to CFO  at Citi Australia & NZ, her boss asked all her to-be peers at the executive committee what they thought of her. They all thought she should be given the job, not only because she had the skills but also for more human factors; such as her willingness to tell them things they didn’t necessarily want to hear, but always with a solution in mind.

When asked how one could discover their personal brand, Kwan suggested taking time for personal reflection – on how one handles various situations, how they could do things differently in those situations, and their motivations. A mentor in the industry can help with discovering a personal brand (as well as with strategic career advice).

Qualities that employers look for in new hires

Kwan made it clear that the little things count. She told the story of a young graduate who’d only been working six months in his role when he falsified an expense claim: for a $26 dinner, claiming that he was staying back late to work. But he was found out, fired and won’t be in banking again – what he didn’t think was a big deal certainly turned out to be!

Here are some of the qualities Kwan looks for in employees:

  • Integrity – Knowing and doing the right thing. Are they working for the principles or for the money?
  • Humility – Are they willing to take on a messy project and give it a go? No task is too menial for a good employee: this impresses and it’s a chance for someone to make a name for themselves as a team player and a leader. Those willing to take a personal risk are more likely to prove themselves and to be promoted. Ego can make or break a personal brand.
  • Positivity and resilience – Change will happen, and those who react with positivity have the ability to embrace change and make the best of it; especially in this ever-changing global workplace.
  • Accountability – Taking ownership for one’s decisions; getting things done rather than running from them.
  • Service – Seeing the needs of others rather than focusing inward.
  • Good influencing skills – Being able to persuade others and gain trust: this is good for networking and relationship building.
  • Emotional quotient – Being able to read others’ emotions and adapt your interactions to help bring out the best in them.
  • Other things – Excellent communication; initiative; resourcefulness; inquisitiveness; willingness to learn; readiness to take on a challenge.

Yes – this might sound like the perfect employee – but Kwan was confident is saying that she was all these things.

[Warrane College offers a lot more than just student accommodation at UNSW: find out about some of our other guest speakers.]