Depa executive Noor Sweid says experience and an appetite for hard work trump even a strong college degree
Noor Sweid, managing director of strategy at Dubai-based Depa, one of the world’s largest interior contractors, gave her keynote speech on education vs. experience at the Arabian Business Women’s Forum based on her own personal experiences.
Sweid, who started her working life at the US-based brokerage and banking firm Charles Schwab, described her career defining moment as landing a job as a receptionist during the summer of 2000. Several months earlier, the dotcom era had come to a crashing end, the Nasdaq had seen its biggest decline in years and nearly every finance student had their summer internship placement retracted, she said.
Knowing that she was unlikely to get a job after graduation unless she had completed a summer intern programme, Sweid agreed to take on a role as a receptionist at Charles Schwab in Boston. Her hard work paid off and within two weeks Sweid was opening accounts for clients and a month later was helping the firm’s institutional management team analyse stocks.
“It was my dream come true back then and as a result [it meant] I could apply for a job when I graduated,” she said. “I was one of the very few lucky ones; when I look back now anyone who had managed to get a job that summer had one after they graduated while anyone who hadn’t got a job that summer had no job after graduation.
Today, as a member of the MIT Educational Council and a member of the Middle East team that interviews potential MIT students, Sweid said she often finds herself looking back to that summer. “Experience is fundamental; your education is not worth the paper it’s written on if you haven’t put it to good use,” she explained.
“What I see now is in my different capacities as a recruiter when I try to hire people is its unfortunate the level of entitlement that I believe the younger generation feels,” she continued. “As a recruiter the biggest thing now is how hard are you willing to work and where are you willing to start? Can you be a telephone operator and are you willing to learn before you get to the top [because today] everyone wants to come in as the manager.”
Everyone wants to go to a good university, she added but the young generation has forgotten about the hard work you need to put in to gain experience. “My job as an interviewer for one of the top schools in the world is not to determine how smart that person is, it’s my job to find out how hard they are willing to work,” she said.