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Thinking Big! How to Prepare for Top Jobs in a Global Marketplace

By Ann Puntis and Melanie Hilton

Today’s college graduates are looking at the big picture — towards the world of multinational corporations and the lucrative jobs they can offer. According to CNN Money’s 2013 survey of the “World’s Top Employers For New Grads,” firms like Google, Ernst and Young, Goldman Sachs and PWC top students’ rankings. But what does it take to make it in the world of multinational corporations? For one thing, you must show a history of diligence. Today’s top students aim high from a surprisingly early age. Aspirational teenagers as young as 15 and 16 are already planning for a future career with the big name multinational corporations.  Their targets are predominantly those organizations in the financial services, new media and creative sectors whose activities increasingly define our daily life. And in turn, multinational corporations such as these ratchet up their hiring criteria as they select their new recruits from, no longer just their own country, but from the global talent pool.  This article will tell you the three most important skill sets you or your child needs to prepare for competition in a global marketplace.

1) Extra-Curriculars

There’s a distinct consensus among employers when describing the type of applicant they’re now looking for.  Strong academic performance gets you to first base but no longer clinches the employment deal.  Rather, as always, the breadth of a student’s experience is key – it tells an employer much about an applicant, not least the ability to balance priorities and manage time effectively. Goldman Sachs, for example, looks back to an applicant’s school record for evidence of extracurricular activity: “We look at the types of activities that candidates have been engaged in through school, such as team sports, events or group projects; or even outside school where they may have volunteered for a charitable organization,” says the Goldman Sachs Careers Blog.

But a trawl of the world’s top employers’ websites places a new emphasis on capabilities that have become known as “21st-century skills.” These are skills that relate to new ways of working and thinking in the rapidly changing global economy, and they’re no longer simply-defined skills. The long-standing interest in an applicant’s problem-solving skills, for example, has moved to a new focus on an applicant’s expertise in working collaboratively to solve problems. 

2) Collaboration

Collaborative problem-solving reflects the way in which work is progressed across a multinational company. It brings together effective knowledge management and the ability to look at an issue from multiple perspectives, skill-bases and with a global perspective.

IBM stresses that “Creativity, curiosity, and strong collaborative skills are valued in would-be recruits.”  And Stacy Savides Sullivan, Google's chief culture officer and Director of Human Resources, puts it this way: "I would characterize the culture as one that is team-oriented, very collaborative and encouraging people to think non-traditionally.”

 In fact, collaborative problem-solving is now so widely regarded as a key skill in the 21st century that from 2015, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) will carry out an international survey of the effectiveness of different educational systems in developing this skill.

3) Intercultural Experience

In one sense, one could argue that the need to be an effective team worker is nothing new. But what’s different today is the recognition that those teams will be diverse in make-up, international in focus, and virtual in composition. It’s not just about being a competent team-worker.  Today it’s about whether applicants can evidence levels of intercultural understanding and be excited, challenged and responsive to differences in perspective.  

Shirley Jackson, Global Lead for Recruitment at Ernst and Young, comments: “Recruiters look for team players who can ... work effectively with people who have diverse backgrounds, skills and perspectives”.  International exchange programmes are a well-established feature of higher education courses. But now high school students, aware of the vital importance of demonstrating these skills, are increasingly looking to such experiences, or to focused skill development programmes such as those offered by Global Study Pass which are explicitly designed to build capabilities that are of most interest to future employers.

What Google calls “being Googley” – being able to “innovate in a fast-paced environment, thrive on small teams, excel in flat organizations, and care about making the world a better place” – are qualities valued by all the organizations in which students most want to carve their future career success. 

So how are high school students, the recruits of tomorrow, addressing these challenges? They’re getting involved in study exchanges all over the world, and signing up for leadership and enterprise programs that complement and enhance the core curriculum that they’re acquiring in school. Their energy and commitment to meet the challenges of a new agenda is inspiring and gives us confidence that they will build future success for themselves and for their families, their communities and across cultures. 


Ann Puntis is Head of Programme Management at Global Study Pass and the former CEO of Cambridge International Examinations, and Melanie Hilton is Programme Director at Global Study Pass, a UK-based organisation that offers international study abroad programs giving high school students from around the world opportunities to learn and collaborate together to develop essential skills for university and employability.