How to get ahead in Malaysia

It appears from my experience that in order to get ahead in Malaysia you must:

1. be able to speak at least english and malay
2. be sociable with excellent "PR skills"
3. behave like the crowd - individualist are not preferred
4. have "contacts" and continue making "contacts"
5. be good at "ampu bodek"
6. just follow instructions - do not "think" and ask too many questions
7. not show how smart you are - do not be perceived as a threat to your superiors or potential superiors
8. not be an intellectual or behave like one
9. speak broken english; to fit into the crowd
10. be an expert in image management - be cleaver at manipulating people's perception of you.

Dina Zaman whose article in the Star below addresses this interesting Malaysian phenomenon.

It doesn’t matter any more where graduates and professionals attended school, what they all want is a short cut to fame and glory.

THERE’S a sense of deja vu as I write this because I think I wrote about this particular issue a few years back – for which publication I can’t remember – but here we go again: getting a job in this town will be the death of a good number of us.

In April itself, I witnessed the departure of a few friends and their families as they moved lock, stock and barrel to pastures far away from home, simply because there were no opportunities for them here.

These individuals are highly educated, professionals and be they Malay, Chinese, Indian, they can’t seem to get the lives they envisioned for themselves here. I also had a new function: I acted as career-postman for friends looking for middle to senior management positions.

I don’t know about you but I really do think that something is not right here. For people in their late 30s with family to up and leave a country they say they love and to see friends with the skills, experience and yes, the emotional intelligence, not getting the positions they so desire – what is Malaysia Inc looking for?

Obviously everyone would point out that to succeed in Malaysia, he or she would need contacts. The network. It’s not just your education and fantastic organisational skills; you need to be on first name basis with VIPs and the young turks that rule corporate Malaysia.

D went for an interview a while back and was asked if he knew any Datuks. Being the rather gullible and exuberant fresh graduate, he blithely replied that the only datuk he knew was his late grandfather.

His interviewer pointed out that if he wanted a job with them, he’d need to know bona fide Datuks, not paternal or maternal ones. And since it was obvious the young man hadn’t any connections with VIPs, he was not fit for the position.

Likewise with A. Thinking that with her biomedicine degree she’d be up a GLC, she was surprised to be told by an acquaintance who worked there that she was not what they were looking for; they only accepted bluebloods from Oxbridge or MIT. A is a local graduate, you see.

On the other hand, I also have friends who have attended illustrious overseas universities and have friends who belong on KL’s social register, but because they don’t play ball, they’re put in cold storage or assigned to a “lateral position,” which really means a demotion.

I have a friend who’s a genius and attended all the best schools locally and abroad but because she wears the hijab, she’s persona non grata. Go figure. This country is weird.

What is corporate Malaysia looking for, apart from the obvious? I met with my old CBN friends over the long holidays we had, and these are women who can be considered high-fliers, influencers and personalities who hire and fire.

SC, an old friend, observed that it didn’t matter anymore where graduates and professionals attended school; what they all wanted was a short cut to fame and glory. And in her industry, it wasn’t just business and people smarts that got one ahead in the race; it was also sheer drive.

“None of them wants to work hard! It’s so different from our time, when we spent the first year of working stuck at the Xerox machine, doing dogsbody work,” she lamented.

Other successful friends echoed similar sentiments. They weren’t where they were because of their connections and degrees – the two would have been redundant if they had not battled it out at work.

Surely, young graduates are not such sloths? I have met with a number of young professionals who are very inspiring and work very hard. D, who’s now working for a foreign bank, is one, and thrives on pressure. I met a young man who’s farming cili padi and selling it to supermarkets – he lives and breathes cili padi!

And what of mid-range professionals like you and me, who are at a professional crossroads?

As a friend who’s based in Europe said to me over an email, she would not be accepted for work in Malaysia, simply because she “knew too much, she was too smart.” And potential employers back home have hinted as much that her presence would mean that she would want to change things, which would not be “healthy” for the organisation.

I can only think that what a person would need to get a job in Malaysia are the following: high proficiency in English and Bahasa Melayu, written and verbal (and already many recruiters that I know have pointed out that many Malaysians lack these skills; yes, even young Malays who are supposed to be more fluent in their language); relevant degrees and activities; enthusiasm, initiative and having innovative ideas for the organisation; the list is endless.

I do note another criterion that a Malaysian professional may have to look into: is he or she viewed as part of the gang?

Because just like how it is socially in KL, it’s high school all over again for the professional. If he or she is seen as too much of an individual with personality, that very fact can be his or her professional liability.

In this town, there are rules to be played.

Dina Zaman’s father wants her to be in the corporate sector. Her mother wants her to remarry. The writer wants to save the world. Help.

The Star

A good blog that illustrates work life in Malaysia is - Strategi Bina Kerjaya

Please post your comments.


Anonymous said...

Malaysia Boleh !!! fucked up place.

irenelim said...

really happened? But I never met such incident during my interview. Maybe only very big companies doing this practical

Aphroditee said...

So TRUE! especially number 5 and number 7 and 8. I think this applies to certain sectors only.

TheMalaysianLife said...

What is expected for an entry level position i.e. for a fresh graduate is different compared to those who have been in the workforce for 2-3 years and want to get ahead. Fresh graduates are treated as cheap labour.

Red dragon said...

This is so fuckin' true. I just had an argument with my boss. He's so incompetent when it comes to work but VERY competent when it comes to kissing the ass of the big boss. shit lah.

Angie Tan said...

shit! now i know why i can't get ahead in my career.

and here i was, thinking that there is some fxxking glass ceiling for females to get ahead here in m'sia.

shit... maybe there is too.

dunhill lights said...

lets face it. it is a "know who" world out there - be it in america, japan or ethiopia. Who do you think got the most contracts in iraq ? al gore's friends ? tough ! how do you think Roman Abramovich got so rich in russia ? he did it by sucking the right cocks and kissing ass. today, socking cock and kissing ass are essential "soft skills" for success.

Anonymous said...

damn retards. is that what it takes ? sucking cock and kissing ass. fuck off. they can keep the stupid job. Hey, malaysianlife - good job. i like your blog.

Adam said...

I learnt it the hard way. Duuring our MBA we were taught to be independent, ask questions and market ourselves. However, learnt that this does not fit in with the so called "Malaysian culture" where you don't question the boss and you do as you are told.

Anonymous said...

Budaya mengampu adalah budaya yang biasa dikalangan masyarakat kita tidak kira Melayu, Cina, India, Kadazan, Iban dll. Budaya ini bukan saja diamalkan oleh orang politik tapi juga dalam sektor pekerjaan. Dalam sektor pekerjaan budaya mengampu bos adalah untuk mendapat ganjaran seperti kenaikan gaji lebih, bonus lebih, cepat naik pangkat dan lain-lain kelebihan. Ianya adalah lumrah walaupun ianya boleh dikatakan tidak sihat.

redgrave said...

from what i know no. 3 & 4 are very true. i went through hell just to get a place for internship.

TheMalaysianLife said...

Thanks YB Datuk for your email. I understand your preference for anonymity. You should have posted your comments in English, as Malay is only understood by Malaysians. About 20% of the visitors of this blog are foreigners (Americans, Europeans, Australians...)who do not understand Malay, thus will not be able to benefit from understanding your comments, as it is written in Malay.

Zamri said...

those who had gotten ahead did it by kissing ass, ampu bodek...etc. Once they have attained a higher level in society or career, they expect those below them to do the same to them. They would feel offended if those below them didn't kiss their ass, or behaved "superior" in any way (even if those below them are indeed superior to them). asian culture ?

kingcobra said...

Ampu bodek is not very much a "skill" as it is a matter of personality - not everyone can do this; its difficult to learn it. It really depends on your upbringing and values.

Aphroditee said...

Agreed, to the person who posted in Bahasa Malaysia. I somewhat agree with him. Although, the "mengampu"(kiss ass) can be done by everyone, not everyone can do it without being obvious and get away with it. It is not easy to bodek, believe me I've tried it, but it only works well when you definitely know someone big, or play golf, or.. you can do favours, like writing a thesis for your superior's master's degree etc.

peterloh said...

Females can flirt or "manja" with the male bosses - this is also considered ampu bodek right ? I strictly told my female employees - "don't try to flirt or manja with me, I'll sack you for sexual harassment.:)

GTW said...

"Brown nosing" is very often difficult to distinguish from being genuinely proactive at work. Similarly, the boundary between cronyism and 'networking' is difficult to delineate. These practices does however seem to be a necessary evil, especially so, in the modern world.

aphroditee said...

Been thinking about it since the last i posted,If we can't beat 'em.. we should join 'em. Can you write up on something, probably titled. "How to suck up to your boss(or anyone) and get your way, All the time" Please include the costs and expected end results. Heck, probably post up some datuk's/dato's number who's willing to help too. so we all can get a little assistance.

TheMalaysianLife said...

Everyone admits that the ampu bodek culture is prevalent in our professional lives. Most hate it. And some feel that it is bad but difficult to eradicate, so lets do it too. :) I like the different expressions of ampu bodek used by you guys in here. Thanks for the comments. Keep participating. Express yourselves and learn about the views of others. Irene, Aphroditee, Angie, Red Dragon, Adam, redgrave, GTW and the rest, your comments on other posts ? no opinions ? ;)

Anonymous said...

kau tim de fellas. you can kau tim pple will open the way. pandai pandai cari makan mah

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