On a warm Friday evening in May, we joined 130 of our fellow postgraduate students on fieldwork from the Global Development Institute at our hotel in Paris, France. We had gathered to meet two outstanding alumni of The University of Manchester and get career advice. Most of us were initially a little sceptical. Could two very successful men from different countries with very different pathways from most of us really give us relevant insights into how to succeed in our careers?
As the speakers introduced themselves, we got to know Mr. Getachew Engida, Deputy Director-General of UNESCO and Mr. Christopher Sharrock, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the OECD, both now settled in Paris and remarkable members of the Manchester alumni network. Our initial thoughts quickly gave way as we listened in.
When both of the alumni were asked about the skills that we should focus on, we were pleasantly surprised that their answers emphasised “human” skills. They assured us that with a good education from The University of Manchester, we had a great start – but that we should not forget to nurture those all-important soft skills: confidence, respect, communication and interpersonal skills, to mention a few.
Mr. Getachew conquered the audience by advising us to “marry right” – whether you decide to actually marry or not, he noted that having the right support is absolutely crucial. As his wife sat among us, he thanked her for all the support and assured that he is where he is, because of her. *Cue in awws from the audience.* The Deputy Director-General also highlighted the importance of learning languages. Many doors can be opened if we learn as many languages as possible and take advantage of our international backgrounds.
On the same train of thought, Mr. Sharrock talked about his successful career with British charm. He encouraged us to be nice to everyone we encounter on our way to the top, as we might meet the same people on our way to the bottom. The Ambassador highlighted the importance of kindness and respect to others, including in the professional environment.
Both alumni advised us to be passionate, to take advantage of professional networks, and to stand out from the rest, and “be original”.
We all agreed that the event was one of the highlights of our week of fieldwork, and we are grateful to both Ambassador Sharrock and Deputy Director-General Engida for their time, for the inspiration, and for reminding us all that we can change the world.