Olga Gaevskaya was appointed head of the Career Development Unit in autumn 2021, and the first months of her work turned out to be rather tricky. Nevertheless, she doesn’t view the current situation negatively. She spoke with HSE Life on how to act in the current labour market and what skills people need to develop.
— Students who are currently entering the labour market feel extremely uncomfortable: they don’t know what to expect from this market and how it will react to them. Can we predict what will happen in the market?
— Of course, it’s very difficult to make forecasts, the situation is very dynamic. We understand the concerns of HSE students, since a certain some of our students have always had an interest in working in Western companies, and now these companies are actively leaving the market. But I wouldn't see the situation in a totally negative light. First of all, we see that our international relations, various communications with foreign partners have not been severed once and for all. Most international companies are note holding marketing events, and they have suspended recruiting, but everyone hopes that the crisis will end sooner or later and that there will be a new world order, and that everyone will act with a view to returning.
— What should graduates be doing now during this time of crisis?
— The main thing now is not to give up. For example, if a student has built his entire educational trajectory around the ‘big four’ companies , then he should know that that the Russian offices of these companies are still working. Now they work separately, outside the framework of large corporations, but the level of competence has not dropped. These are still good places for employment. In addition, we should not forget that there are large Russian companies — CBER, Yandex, VK – that have become entire ecosystems, there are a lot of areas for development in these companies. Of course, many areas of Russian business have suffered from sanctions, but government support measures are being taken, and, as we know, there are business areas that will keep developing regardless of crises: food production, IT, etc. Some graduates might have to lower their expectations in some way and work for Russian companies that previously really wanted to recruit HSE graduates but could not afford to do so. And there's nothing wrong with it either.
— What's good is there in deciding to work for a company where you didn't want to?
— Well, if you decide to do that in low spirits, then, of course, there is nothing good. However, if you understand that any experience, especially the experience of working in a real business during a time of crisis is a huge contribution to your development, then your attitude will change. The main thing is that you shouldn’t waste time, sitting still and feeling sorry for yourself. You might not be able to start your career in a large international company with a huge salary. It's like the situation with internships. Some students tell us: ‘I will not take an unpaid internship, I will only go for a paid one.’ But unpaid internships may give you an opportunity to work on bigger challenges, broaden your horizons, develop skills, and it would be a mistake to ignore such an opportunity.
The same situation is developing as it relates to work. I don't think Russia will be completely excluded from the international environment. We are too big for this outcome, and there are too many business ties. There will be a new milestone, and those who know this market, who have worked ‘in the field’, will be in demand.
— What measures is the government developing to support young specialists?
— We see that the government is actively working in this area, and recently, on March 20, the Russian Prime Minister signed a decree enabling the government to subsidize companies that employ people under 30 years old. We don’t yet know exactly how this solution will work and whether it will help young specialists or business, but, in any case, this is the evidence that the government is paying attention to this problem.
— Speaking of international companies, western companies aren’t the only ones. There are also eastern ones. Should students focus on them?
— Yes, they definitely should. Russia is now turning to the East – to China, India, Israel, and Arab countries. This is something that all students should keep it in mind, not just graduates. And it's time to think about learning Chinese and Korean in addition to English.
This will always be an advantage. If there’s an opportunity to study not only European culture, European business, and values, but also other world systems, students should take advantage of it. Russia has always been at the crossroads between East and West, and at any time you should look in both directions.
— What forms of career support can the university offer students?
— I can tell you about several projects that were carried out before current events and turned out to be especially relevant now. First of all, we provide career advice. Any student can contact us with any request — from ‘I don’t know where to start’ to ‘I want this, but I don’t understand how to achieve it’. Career consultants speak with students, analyse their CVs, and together they decide what can be improved and how to build a career track. Career managers who work at HSE faculties are engaged in it, and it’s turned into a university-wide programme.
HR Day at HSE University is one of our new projects in which HR specialists from different companies come to HSE University, and students of all ages, from first-year bachelors to second-year masters, can sign up to get career advice. This is a combination of career counselling and rapid interviews. The participants discuss more specific topics. Here you don’t say: ‘I don't know what I want’; rather, it’s ‘How can I get a job in your company?’. We have already had cases when an HR manager says: ‘A first-year student contacted me, and I'm ready to recruit him as he has great reasoning skills.’ Of course, no one recruits first-year students, but already in the third year they can go for an internship in this company and get a job afterward.
In addition, as part of student support programme, HSE University in St Petersburg joined us and twenty leading universities in Russia to launch the Higher School of Career Development. This is an online project that provides students with eight very cool lectures, and participants work on personal branding, CV writing, market analysis, and communication with employers.
Recently we also held an event called ‘Women's Career: From Thought to Action’, which was organized as part of the Inspiring Girls international programme. What I liked most at this meeting is that the girls who came to the event did not feel panicked or distressed, and they asked the right questions. It wasn’t just ‘everything’s bad, it’s a crisis’, but ‘what should my strategy be during the crisis, what do I need to learn, what competencies do I need to acquire now, what skills should I develop?’ All students understand that everything is changing and that they need to use these difficult times in order to be stronger and better prepared for the new reality.
— And what are the qualities that we need to acquire?
— These are soft skills that we always talk about, but which are now becoming especially important. Stress tolerance, communication skills, adaptability, and the ability to see things from different points of view rather than in black and white. All these skills have been partially lost by the majority during the two years of the pandemic, and the stresses of the last few weeks have hit them even harder. But these skills are important for the HR market, because the strongest will survive here. You shouldn’t fall into despair and give into the desire to hide in a hole. You need to regain these skills and overcome yourself. We all know how to achieve it: create teams, participate in teamwork, and take part in offline events. Don't get stuck in digital communication, especially when you realize that it’s getting toxic, but go out to communicate. Learn to keep focus and not be distracted by social media. It's difficult after everything that's happened. I can even speak for myself. Public speaking has never been a problem for me, it has always been my strong point. But when I came on stage after two years of communicating with people online, I suddenly found that I was slurring and stumbling. So, I attended some courses to upgrade this skill.
Cross-functionality is especially valuable now. Explore related disciplines, study other industries, look for opportunities at the intersection of different fields — this will help you develop your business outlook and give you a better understanding of the market.