Steve Barclay has held a wide variety of jobs in his life, from babysitting in a small English village to directing the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Sydney. I was very fortunate to have an opportunity to speak with Mr. Barclay recently in his Druitt Street office – Hong Kong House.
During the interview, Mr. Barclay shared his own career story, as well as some important job searching tips.
E: What was your first job (Part Time and Full Time)?
S: When I was a teenager I did lots of part-time jobs such as babysitting (surprisingly easy and well paid!) and fruit picking. As a student at the University of Birmingham I also did a variety of part-time and summer jobs. These included being a pan scrubber in a university hall of residence kitchen, a Christmas postman, and working on the assembly line in a chicken-processing factory.
My first full-time job was as an Inspector in the Royal Hong Kong Police. In my days at university, the prospects in England did not look at all attractive. So I decided to try and find a job somewhere overseas. I found out that the Hong Kong Police recruited young graduates from UK without any police experience on 3-year contracts. So I decided that a 3 year adventure in the far east would be the best way to get out of England, do a real job , and have a bit of fun at the same time.
E: How did you spend your first pay cheque?
S: I arrived in Hong Kong almost broke. The Police gave me an advance of salary shortly after I arrived, which I had to pay back as soon as I got my first salary at the end of the month. I remember that my first major purchase in Hong Kong was to have a custom-made suit at Sam’s the Tailor in Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui.
E: What are you doing now?
S: I am now the Director of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Sydney. I am responsible for Hong Kong Government relations with Australia and New Zealand. I have been in the position for just over 2 years. Despite arriving in Hong Kong in 1979 to do only a 3 year contract , I have never worked for any employer other than the Hong Kong Government since then.
E: How valuable was the experience gained as an Inspector in the Hong Kong Police?
S: The police experience was fantastic. First of all it exposed an expatriate to many aspects of Hong Kong life that other expatriates never see. Second, a disciplined service is one of the few employers that actually trains people how to lead and manage their staff , and throws them in at the deep end to actually do it.
E: When recruiting, what makes a leading candidate stand out from the rest?
S: In my experience, many candidates eliminate themselves by demonstrating a lack of care and knowledge in their applications. I want to employ people who want to work for me, and who have taken the trouble to find out what it is my organization does. So application letters that start with “ Dear Sir or Madam” or “ Dear Advertiser”, or give clear indications that the applicant has submitted the same letter / CV to many other job advertisements are unlikely to be short-listed. When I am interviewing short-listed candidates, I do not want to hear about what a wonderful job my organization is doing. I want to hear how the candidate would improve the performance of my organization.
E: What motivates you?
S: I have a short attention span, so I need variety. I have been fortunate in my career that, despite staying with the same employer for over 30 years, I have had a great deal of variety. In my time as a copper I worked in uniform, in the vice squad, and as a detective. Afterwards, as a civil servant I have dealt with policy areas such as gas safety, consumer protection, intellectual property, housing and environmental protection. I have been a District Officer (like an unelected Mayor) for a district of 600,000 people. As well as working in Hong Kong I have been posted to Brussels and Sydney. Different jobs at different times have given me travel opportunities throughout Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and many cities in China and East Asia. I have also been a management consultant for nearly 10 years.
E: What is the best advice you have received?
S: When you write to someone… tell him or her concisely why you are writing in the first sentence. All the background and details can then follow. Busy, senior people will not read through pages of detail before finding out what your correspondence is all about. Similarly, make sure that the heading of your email etc attracts the attention of your intended reader… if not, it will be deleted without even being opened.
E: What advice can you give to job-seekers?
S: If you can find a job that you enjoy, and its reasonably well-paid, that’s difficult to beat. And persevere.
E: Have you realized your childhood dream yet?
S: My childhood dream was to be a Physical Education teacher. I studied sports science at university, but the dream faded. Before I graduated I had decided that I no longer wanted to teach… or at least not immediately after graduation. I suspect that I have now left it a bit too late to be a PE teacher.
E: What book are you reading now?
S: I’m a big fan of Wilbur Smith. He writes ‘ripping yarns’, mainly about Africa. These are great for reading in airport lounges, on planes, and in hotels where you can pick them up and put them down easily. My current job involves so much travelling that his books are perfect for me. And they are great fun.