The 2022 SAIS Virtual Asia Career Trek

The 2022 SAIS Virtual Asia Career Trek

Three weeks ago, during the first week of winter break, Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC) career services organized the 2022 Asia Career trek focusing on careers in Hong Kong and Shanghai. This trek is actually an annual “tradition”: every year students meet with alumni and professionals in the Shanghai-Hong Kong areas to learn about the myriad of career opportunities available to Johns Hopkins SAIS students. HNC MAIS student Nathan Rose discusses his experience at this year's trek. 

This year, we were able to organize a total of nine separate career panels, with professionals sharing their experiences working in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Normally, this trek is done in person, but because of the ongoing pandemic and travel restrictions, this year’s trek was conducted virtually. 

One of the great things about this year’s trek is that we were able to showcase a variety of employers. Often times, treks are organized around a specific sector or industry. This is good, as students can dive deeper into industries of interest, but treks focused on specific cities or regions allow students a broader view of all the career possibilities out there. While there are more sectors and opportunities than we could cover in one career trek, we were able to showcase a variety of industries in Shanghai and Hong Kong. 
Our HSBC and Fitch Ratings panels highlighted opportunities related to the financial sector (we conducted a career trek earlier in Fall 2021 which specifically focused on careers in the finance sector). This year’s trek also showcased opportunities working in the media sector, with panels from Reuters and The Economist Group (the media company behind the Economist Magazine and the Economist Intelligence Unit). Consulting firms are the bread-and-butter of Johns Hopkins SAIS career treks, and this year was no exception, with speakers from APCO Worldwide, Intralink, and Control Risks discussing career opportunities at their companies. One industry that was added to this year’s trek was the due diligence industry, with participation from companies S-RM and Blackpeak. 

While putting these firms into categories like “finance” and “consulting” is helpful, it can obscure interesting differences and similarities between them. For instance, both S-RM and Blackpeak are due diligence firms, meaning that a central part of their business is discreet investigation on behalf of a client. However, the foci of these firms are slightly different. S-RM focuses on background checks regarding visa and citizenship applications and will often advise clients if a person (or company/investment in the context of mergers and acquisitions) is high-risk or not; in other words: they are hired to ensure that criminals don’t receive visas. Blackpeak focuses more on mergers and acquisitions, and so their focus is on identifying potential risks (legal and reputational). They see their role as providing information so that clients can make accurate judgments, rather than Blackpeak giving judgments themselves. Thus, even within “due diligence, there is significant variation.

Conversely, different “sectors” may have jobs that can be quite similar to each other. HSBC is a huge organization: it is one of the worlds 7th largest banks. Such a large organization has many different departments and positions. The folks we talked to at HSBC were part of the economic analysis and research department. Rather than managing asset profiles or making trades (activities we might think of as “traditional” finance), their main deliverables are reports analyzing and predicting macroeconomic trends. This is similar to the work that the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) does. The EIU is a company in The Economist Group, making the EIU a sister company not only to The Economist magazine but also to Economist Education and Economist Impact (whom we also heard from at the panel). The EIU’s main product, like HSBC, are reports: every month, the EIU publishes a report to its subscribers summarizing relevant political and macro-economic trends. Thus, similar opportunities exist even between different sectors.

This discussion about similarities and differences between firms and sectors highlights an important truth in charting a career path: be open and be flexible. This advice is best epitomized by our alumnus working at Reuters. She is a Hong Kong native that attended the Johns Hopkins SAIS DC campus and worked extensively in the DC think tank and NGO world. When her work authorization expired, she returned to Hong Kong. This was difficult career-wise, as Hong Kong is very finance focused, and doesn’t have as strong of a think-tank or NGO sector as DC. She adapted by reaching out to alumni and keeping an open mind for new opportunities. Originally, she was just searching for openings at Asia-based think tanks. However, she also reached out to the broader Johns Hopkins SAIS alumni network in Hong Kong, and in speaking with alumni was able to get a more nuanced view of the opportunities that Hong Kong had to offer. She heard about an entry level analyst position at Reuters through this network, and has been working and developing her career at Reuters ever since. 

These career treks are designed to give students a head start in developing career networks. They give students a taste of what opportunities are out there and allow students to connect with professionals that can help them learn more or even find good jobs. Networking is the key to a successful career, and these treks help Johns Hopkins SAIS students build these networks.

Another key takeaway, is that the skills which students develop during their SAIS/HNC education neatly match the skills that these employers look for in applicants. All employers in this year's trek are looking for applicants with strong research and communication skills: they want workers who can understand and distill complex phenomena into a usable form. These skills manifest themselves in many ways. First is a strong grounding in hard skills, for instance, the quantitative background necessary to digest, understand and develop macroeconomic modeling (or, perhaps, base linguistic competencies). Second are strong writing and communication skills. For many of these employers, their products are written reports; as such, the ability to write in a clear and concise manner is necessary. Last but not least are the soft skills, such as collaboration and cross-cultural understanding. A SAIS/HNC education encourages students to develop all of these skills - it is no wonder then that employers are so eager to meet with current students!