- So Taha tell us a bit more about yourself
Okay, so I’ll try to answer it in the most interesting possible manner. My personal profile goes back to being a normal boy in Karachi, who transitioned into an accountant and finally an auditor – an interesting one of course!
Becoming an accountant was never a matter of choice for me. I hated science, never aced mathematics, found computer studies “okay-ish”, so accounting became my only and last resort. After completing college, I took a leap of faith and joined CA, which went quite well, and as part of my CA program got affiliated with KPMG as an audit trainee.
Even joining KPMG was never a matter of choice! I wanted to get exposure of the Financial Services sector, which fortunately or unfortunately was not offered to me by other firms – so KPMG it was then!
After a year of joining KPMG, I came across this thing called ACCA, and I told myself “why not!” and got enrolled with ACCA alongside CA. Two and half years later I found my name on the ACCA members list.
While working with KPMG Pakistan, I was also seconded to the Dubai office. I can rave about my time in Dubai for ages, so I’d rather keep it short and sweet – It was Amazing!
On my return to Pakistan, I started applying for jobs outside Pakistan, and one day found an opening in a country right on the corner of the map – I applied and somehow got an offer. This marked the start of my journey with KPMG New Zealand.
At a personal level, I consider myself to possess some serious party skills! I actually take pride in saying this, as this defines me as the person I am, and maintains a striking balance between both my work and personal life. So in summary, an auditor by daytime (sometimes night as well) and a trooper at night!
(Haha! Quite an interesting description)
- So what made you want to go abroad?
I personally like to work in challenging situations and test my limits. After you work in a particular culture / environment for a long period of time, things inherently become easy for you. Yes, things become easy for auditors as well! Spending 5 years in KPMG Pakistan brought me to a stage where I re-assessed what I wanted to grow faster and better, both as a person and as a professional. Staying in Pakistan was an easy option for me to choose, but me being me, went with the option which I considered to bring more challenges for me.
At that moment, I really came to point where I was highly convinced that my learning curve had reached the saturation point, and I needed something new and absolutely different. I might overuse this word, but I like taking “leaps of faith”, which keeps me engaged with my life.
Other than this, obviously it’s always good to have international exposure on your CV, which is also complemented by financial attraction – general reasons really.
‘Read what ICAP Gold medalist Syeda Mehrunnisa has to say about jobs in UAE here‘
- What are the factors that a person should consider when deciding to work with in Pakistan or move abroad?
I can name quite a few factors to consider when making this decision, but this is no one rule for all. Some factors may be relevant for one, but totally irrelevant for someone else. To name a few, one should consider how far away he is willing to move from family? How culturally adaptable the person can be to the new environment? What is the long-term plan and whether the move will support the plan?
The Economic outlook is another key variable to consider which is somewhat ignored by quite a lot of people moving abroad. Nobody would want to make a move thousand miles away just to find out the new country is about to hit a recession – So better to consider this aspect first.
Again, a lot of it depends on personal choice and circumstances, and there are always multiple options to evaluate. For example, I know quite a lot of friends who snubbed moves towards Western countries and opted to move to the Middle East to maintain proximity with their family. Then there are people like me who don’t mind flying 24-26 hours back to Pakistan and opt to move to the last part of the world!
- Are you happy with the decision you made?
Absolutely! I believe not all decision one makes in life turn out as anticipated, but I am quite lucky to find this decision working for me beyond my expectation.
- So if we were to talk about New Zealand specifically, what is the current job market like in New Zealand?
Globally audit remains a field with a higher than average employee churn, and New Zealand is no exception. So the demand for high performing professionals always comes up if not on a very regular, but for sure on a cyclical basis, just my personal observation.
(So do you think they are more open to hiring Pakistanis currently or do other western countries get more preference?)
Now that’s a tough one! While there is always a preference, it remains a “preference of skillset” and not a preference by country. If you are good enough and possess the required skill set, you always stand a chance of getting in. I know people are always concerned about this, but preference of nationality remains a “myth” at best. Talent lies everywhere, and that is what good employers are after.
‘Read what Partner PwC – Troy Florence has to say about job interviews here‘
- You’ve been working in NZ for some 1.5 years now I guess and must have interacted with a lot of locals…what is their mindset like? As in what do they look for hires from different countries? Any special skill sets they look for?
First of all relevant experience is what matters. A person with Financial Services experience can’t expect to land a job in the non-financial services sector and vice versa.
After relevant experience, historical performance carries weightage. High performers are always preferred, which is a fair call if you consider the costs and related logistics which employers have to arrange to bring in employees from overseas.
Then specific attributes are looked at which goes back to one of the questions earlier i.e. communication skills, flexibility etc.
Interestingly I have left out specific qualifications from this list. Unlike Pakistan, where CAs are given preference, there is no such “classification” of qualifications over here, which is always good. ACCAs, ICAEWs etc. all stand an equal chance.
- So in that case, when applying to New Zealand what do you suggest should be the possible route?Quite a few actually. The first option is definitely online job portals, which removes the divide between potential employers and applicants, personally it was the mode which worked for me. Some people opt to directly contact recruiters who assist them in getting a job, but obviously, it has a cost associated with it. Other than the norms, I would also not write-off internal references, as they can be a big boost to an application.
- Any idea about the industry outside the Big Four and the “finance” related profession…do they have a high hiring rate for locals or prefer international employees?Unfortunately no. Too much in love with audit, for now, to think about what’s going on elsewhere!
- What are the 5 things you miss about working in Pakistan?
Not sure whether I will be able to make the number, but I can highlight three things which I really miss:
- Working with big teams – I don’t recall ever working with a team of fewer than 10 people. On my last audit, I was leading a team of around 18 people. The team over here are comparatively small, which is obviously representative of the risk and size of clients, but managing these many people was quite fun.
- Working with people from my year-group tops the list. This is something I miss most. No matter how cool it may be to work with people here, but it cannot be the same as working with people from my year-group. All that banter!
- Nightlife after work should be the second thing. Over here you either work and go home, or you don’t work and chill and party along – with Fridays being an exception. In Pakistan, a post-work weekday hangout was always on the cards with office mates, bless those sheesha cafes for making it possible!!
- How different is the working culture in New Zealand as compared to that in Pakistan?
As different as comparing the Sun and Moon! If I were to categorise the differences into specific categories, I’d be tempted to do it as follows:
Efficiency – Yes, New Zealand takes pride in being a laid back country, but it shouldn’t be misconceived that people here are inefficient. Efficiency remains by far the most important focus in New Zealand. The moment a new graduate joins the professional world, this idea is passed on to him and over the period of time, the idea becomes second nature.
The idea behind efficiency remains to achieve maximum productivity within normal working hours, which is evident in both planning and execution of tasks. While there is focus on efficiency in the Pakistani environment, it ranks quite low on the priority list. Unfortunately, people coming from Pakistan and working in this environment struggle quite a bit. This is probably due to the fact that in Pakistan the deadlines are generally quite relaxed, with bigger team available, which is quite different to the business dynamics over here.
Focus on work-life balance – I still remember my audit years in Pakistan, coming back home post-midnight for 8 months of the year! Probably this is what made me tough as a professional and after going through this nothing ever felt difficult, but at the end of the day, this is not something which can be termed as being “sustainable”. After coming to New Zealand, I realised how seriously the concept of work-life balance is taken. When called for, of course, people would work overtime over here, but constantly working long hours is not appreciated over here. People are encouraged to pursue life, outside of work after office hours. Once again, it all goes back to how efficient one is. If one works efficiently within the normal working hours, then taking charge of personal life is very much possible.
Communication – Another big difference which I noted over here is the fact that one needs to complement his delivery of work with excellent communication skills. Now when I say “communication skills” it is not about how well you speak English. In fact, it is more about how you are able to express your ideas in front of others. How well you can keep the conversation going without reducing an element of interest. In summary, a bit of an X-factor in addition to work always makes a difference.
Social skills – In simple words, workaholics are not required here! While hard working people are always required, but sociability of a person makes a huge difference. Ending work and going out for a drink or two never hurts. Showing presence at corporate and networking events is very important over here, and all corporates encourage their staff to engage in such activities. Going out with colleagues, mingling with staff members, having team coffees, all matter big time.
(Wow! Thanks Taha! That was extremely informative! I am pretty sure the readers would appreciate this information)
- How do you manage to survive and professionally grow in such a different environment?
To be honest, it was a big transition for me to switch into a totally different working culture, but luckily it turned out to be really smooth. Probably it was down to the fact that I kind of expected things to be quite different and new, which kept my expectation levels low. I was able to convince myself that yes, I don’t know much about New Zealand and the working culture, but not knowing leaves me in a position where I have nothing to lose, and probably everything to gain.
My first priority was to understand the expectations my peers, managers, and partners had of me. Based on these expectations I moulded my working style accordingly to blend in the new culture. So the transition phase was more about leaving the working style I already was used to behind. In one word, “adaptability” remained the key.
After adaptability, it was core hard work and my passion for my job. Well, people might call me crazy, but I am in love with audit! Obviously, nothing is impossible with God’s help, but to get that help, I tried every bit possible at my end. Be it pulling off late nights at office, bringing in improvement to my work, keeping my team members motivated in difficult situations, I tried to demonstrate maximum perseverance, which paid off. Joining in as a Supervisor one and a half year ago, I moved my way up to a Manager – that’s moving up 3 levels in 1.5 years! Sounds quite simple, but in reality takes quite a bit of effort!
(No way! It doesn’t sound simple at all! I for one know how much hard work is involved)
- If you were offered a good job at a well-known company in Pakistan would you consider taking it and why?
I might take a lot of stick for this but NO. As I said earlier, I am one of those creatures who don’t like things coming in easy. I want new challenges in life to keep me engaged with it, and the best challenges are brought in when you work in an unfamiliar environment, at least in my opinion.
- Would you like to share a little advice with our readers?
My advice to reader…. Makes me feel too old now! I’d rather share some specific things which I believe in:
- Find a career you actually love and devote yourself to it. You have limited years to work – why spend them doing something which is not on the preference list?
- Adaptability and perseverance are must-have attributes. One keeps you flexible, while the other maintains your intensity level up.
- People management and social skills are critical. There’s no fun in doing anything without people being on your side!
- Make a habit of taking a leap of faith once in a while. Keeps life interesting, makes you realise your hidden potential and weeds out monotony.
‘Want to know more about me and my publications? Check my about me section here‘
- All questions have been answered by Taha in his personal capacity and will have no impact on the organisation he works for;
- Please do not spam Taha with personal questions. If you have any questions for Taha or me, feel free to comment below and we will try and answer them.
Interview with Andrea Blackie, Director PwC New Zealand
When: 25 June 2016
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