You can find the original interview in Bulgarian on the website of Capital here.
Mariya is the Chief Operating Officer at Brightive – previously known as EHS Consulting. Founded in 2006 in the UK, the company operates in the fields of project management and business analysis. The consultants who work there usually are recent graduates from top universities around the world.
As an employer, what are the most essential skills you are looking for in a graduate without prior working experience?
The essential qualities we are looking for in recent graduates are curiosity, enthusiasm and the motivation to improve, day by day. Having a vision of what needs to be done and how to do it better than everybody else are parts of the self-improvement process. The second most important thing gained at the university is knowledge, but the first are the soft skills such as critical thinking, communication, teamwork, etc.
The theoretical understanding of a subject is not the most important skill of a future Brightive employee. Our view is that lack of knowledge should not be discouraging, but the opposite: it should challenge our curiosity and kick off a learning process. Notably, the language skills cover the basic expectation of a CV nowadays. The main reason for recruiting recent graduates is their idealistic vision and their drive to improve Bulgaria’s status quo.
Is it right to say that fresh graduates possess those skills that the employers need? If not, what are the reasons behind it?
You could say that graduates possess knowledge which they can contribute, however they are not expected to know everything; being motivated to learn is what matters. However, there is a difference between how a graduate self-assesses his or her competencies and what an employer needs, because sometimes the graduate has difficulty being objective enough. That being said, once a graduate has set a goal, motivation and proactivity are the final ingredients needed to achieve it.
All things considered, I would say that a connection needs to form between the future employee and the employer. It is important to realize that interviewing is a two-sided process. On one hand, the employer is figuring out if the candidate would fit within the company, and on the other, the employer is also interviewed by the candidate, who can then decide whether the company fits them or not.
According to the ratings of the universities, only 48% of the students tend to have a career in the field of their education. What are the reasons behind this? Do you see this as a problem and if so, what would you say is the solution?
I think that Bulgarian Universities put the emphasis on the theory rather than on the practice. Due to the fact that most educational institutions lack the connection to the business world, not having the opportunity to apply knowledge through practice turns out to be a major disadvantage for the students.
Another problem is university candidates not fully understanding the disciplines of the study area they choose before entering the university, or being aware of the potential career paths post-graduation. Consequently, frivolity while choosing a discipline at the university is a common occurrence. Considering these, I would suggest that the process and criteria of entrance to higher education institutions, as well as academics’ responsibilities, should be both reconsidered.
Do you see any differences between students who have studied in Bulgaria and those who have studied abroad?
Indeed, there is a notable difference. Students that have spent time abroad have met a variety of people from diverse backgrounds, and they tend to be more adaptive, independent and responsible. By all means, the most substantial part is their experience with progressive countries all over the world. Having the know-how, students abroad know how to implement the good practices they have learned during their education. In the light of the level of competitiveness in some of the Western countries, the ones who have returned from there are more likely to be purposeful and aim higher than the others. Combined with them being away from their home and family, recent graduates coming from abroad have a strong understanding of how to find their career path.
Part of Brightive’s culture is attracting talented young people to come back home, contribute to the economic and social development of Bulgaria and gain international experience while growing professionally.
What is the way to overcome the gap between the market’s needs and the contribution of Bulgaria’s higher education?
A point often overlooked is the importance of the communication channels between the business world and the higher educational institutions. Another common occurrence in Bulgaria is the saturation of a sector with many specialists at the expense of another sector. To mitigate this, the government should invest in looking into the market’s needs when determining the entry quotas per study area. Currently, businesses suffer from a shortage of trained staff for hire, so they have to strategically train them themselves. So, they could work together with the universities to harmonize the two sides.
It’s time to make this communication two-sided, meaning that higher educational institutions should seek for business’s guidelines to produce the supplement of needed professionals. Not only for more successful economical structures but also for reducing the number of graduates whose diplomas have nothing in common with their current job.
How do businesses manage to fill the gaps in the skills and competences of the recent graduates?
Our company, as well as many others, invests in our newcomers with numerous training sessions. Another good practice is to offer further trainings to graduates before deciding to extend a job offer to them. There is big demand of specialists in many growing sectors, with IT being one of them. Different companies, even the ones which are competing in the same industry, could work together and combine their resources to prepare promising, talented candidates for the industry.
What advice would you give to recent graduates for them to prepare better for the labor market?
I would advise them to gain as much practical experience as possible. This could be achieved by having extracurricular activities, getting involved with NGOs or doing an internship. At the very least, by doing this, they can get a career orientation from such experience within various sectors. Another piece of advice I would give them is to research the company before attending a job interview. Understanding what the role expectations are and asking the right questions about the skills and knowledge required to grow within the company shows that the candidate has a good perception about his or her career path.
Given these points, what would be your advice to the high schoolers who are just about to make decisions about their future? How to choose a discipline, university, and career sphere?
As I mentioned earlier, it is crucial that a person understands where their interests lie. To achieve this, students should be curious and ask meaningful inquiring questions to people around them. Discussions like these can help form a clear notion about the particularities of different professions and industries.