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Career Path

Marketing the Hong Kong brand

by Edward Chung

Market Officer
Frederick Lam
Deputy Executive Director
Hong Kong Trade Development Council

The body charged with promoting Hong Kong's external trade, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (TDC) is responsible for helping to increase the market of the export community. As its brief is to promote Hong Kong and Hong Kong companies overseas, marketing plays an important role in the organization.

The rank and file of the TDC are its market officers - distinctly different in function from their private sector equivalent, the marketing officer.

"Presently the TDC employs about 100 market officers at different ranks," says Deputy Executive Director Frederick Lam. "It is difficult to briefly explain the full scope of the job, but the role is much more in-depth than that of a marketing officer."

The TDC has operated an executive trainee program for the past five years, hiring fresh or recent university graduates to take a three-year training period before beginning work in earnest. The entry requirements are stringent due to the critical role market officers play within the TDC; the organization requires a good first degree and strong linguistic ability.


"A university degree is really just preparation for a career, and what we are looking for is analytical ability, common sense and a genuine interest in the job"

"We insist that candidates take written tests in English and Chinese and are fluent in spoken English, Cantonese and Putonghua," says Lam adding that other aptitude tests, plus a thorough round of interviews await candidates. "We need market officers with the right personality, who are at ease meeting people and have good communications skills."

Apart from the academic entry requirements, the TDC is also insistent on candidates' experience, or rather lack of it. Lam explains that for the training program, they prefer to hire people with a maximum of two years work experience, although allowances can be made for exceptional cases. Appointments at senior level (manager and above) follow different selection criteria.

Notes: Apart from experience requirements, the upward movement is subject to availability of senior positions, merits and potential of the staff concerned.

Lam adds that the degree discipline studied is not important, preferring to stress personal ability and a positive mindset as more important qualities. "A university degree is really just preparation for a career, and what we are looking for is analytical ability, common sense and a genuine interest in the job," he says.

Despite the tough entry requirements, between 3,000 and 4,000 hopefuls apply for the training program every year; between 5 and 10 are hired. The nature of the job requires an international outlook, and market officers are required to spend some time working in one of the TDC's 44 overseas offices, and must speak at least one other language apart from English and Chinese.

"The job naturally involves plenty of marketing, but market officers also require in-depth knowledge of the various industries that they are promoting," notes Lam. "We encourage market officers to learn a language of countries where the TDC has an office; we even have one learning Arabic."

Lam believes that the market officers require a broad skill base, and explains that fresh recruits are assigned to a number of different departments within the organization to gain experience of the different facets of the TDC.

"To achieve their goals, market officers need a breadth of aptitude," he adds. "Social skills are also important, and we even include training in such things as table manners for formal occasions, wine appreciation and golf - all part of grooming effective officers who can operate in any situation."

At the end of the three-year training period there is a further examination, failure at which the candidate is asked to leave - although this has yet to occur.

Prospects for promotion are good; Lam stresses that potentially, the Executive Trainees can go all the way to the top, and cites the current Executive Director Michael Sze's predecessor, Francis Law, as an example. Law joined the TDC in 1966, working his way to the top position in the organization.

A number of trainees leave the organization after the three-year training period, although Lam points out that this figure is far smaller than originally envisaged.

"Given the high entry requirements we expected the dropout rate to be high, since such qualified candidates could find private sector employment quite easily," he notes.

"It is therefore gratifying to see so many of them remaining with us after the training program. I believe the program has demonstrated to them our commitment to people who are the most important asset of our organization.

But, I have to say that in any case, we are very open about people leaving the training program, and view it as another form of contribution to the community. Trainees who leave the TDC have a good knowledge of the organization and Hong Kong trade and can make a good contribution to industry."


Notes:
Apart from experience requirements, the upward movement is subject to availability of senior positions, merits and potential of the staff concerned.
 

Taken from Career Times 05 July 2002, p. 28

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