October 2016 marks two years of my formal work experience (excluding internships and part-time jobs). Thinking about it makes me quite happy because I guess with every year of experience I accumulate, my market value goes up. This is especially so in Singapore’s context where people greatly value the number of “years of experience”.
I don’t really understand this because “years of experience” alone isn’t necessary the best indicator of a person’s competency. As Founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman wrote in his book The Startup of You:
“For many people ‘twenty years of experience’ is really one year of experience repeated twenty times.”
To me, what you’ve learnt and the mastery of soft and hard skills is definitely way more important than the number of years you spend doing so.
During my first two years of work, I have personally have benefited greatly from the free advice by contributors on Business Insider; Forbes; Undercover Recruiter and The Muse. Hence, I decided to write this post to share more about five useful lessons I’ve learnt in my first two years of work.
1) Prioritize and allocate more time to ‘higher value’ activities
A few months ago, I spent a huge proportion of my time on a deal but failed to win it. I was chasing the client for many weeks and giving them almost instant replies to their questions. They were super nice people but it just wasn’t the right time for them.
After reflecting upon my failure, I felt it wasn’t very smart of me to spend such a disproportionate amount of time on this deal. The value wasn’t as high compared to the other deals I were chasing and they did not commit a specific time period with us.
I asked my boss how I could better manage my time. I had 8 hours per day and had to make the most out of it to generate as much revenue as possible. He advised me to spend a greater proportion of my time on the opportunities with higher value and potential for growth and which were coming in during a specific month.
I think this is pretty good advice and applies in any organization you are in. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the workload you have, take a step back and evaluate – How much would this activity benefit the organization and yourself?
If your performance isn’t measured by revenue then think about the KPIs you have to meet; the network you get to form; the skills you would learn and the visibility you would get. Does the activity you’re investing the most effort and time into contribute to that?
2) To convince someone, explain how it would benefit them
In one of my previous jobs, I used Uber to get to a client meeting and wanted to claim my trip as part of my transport expenses. Back then, Uber was pretty ‘new’ in Singapore and most people who used this service were expats and youths.
The office admin staff, a Singaporean auntie, was against this idea. In her view, Uber was always more expensive than taking the taxi. I think this is a mindset that many members of the older generation have as they are not so good with technology. Some even think that it is dangerous.
Feeling rather unhappy, I told her how she should keep up with the times and adapt to new technology. I highlighted how using Uber would benefit the end user. Needless to say, this was unsuccessful. My boss also asked me to comply with the auntie’s request and not take Uber anymore.
I complained about this situation to an older colleague of mine. He explained that the method I used was wrong and won’t convince the auntie. Instead, he suggested that I should explain to her how using Uber will benefit job and make things easier for her.
So, I listed some benefits about how allowing the staff to use Uber could benefit her by making her job easier. For instance, how she could track the exact location we boarded the car and alighted from; ensure the receipts same from us as the names were printed on the receipt and how it could save the company money (since Uber was cheaper than Taxi at that time).
After that explanation, I was able to claim expenses for taking Uber and subsequently, all the newcomers were able to benefit from this change by using third party transport apps.
From then on, I decided to make it a habit of explaining to people how doing certain things would benefit them has made my life in general a lot easier.
Applying this lesson has helped me convince the senior management to give the local office more days of annual leave and staggered hours. Instead of just focusing on how it was unfair that the offices in Australia, Dubai, Brazil and London were getting more vacation leave, I talked about how implementing these changes would appeal to the millennial workforce; improve productivity and retention. This helped every employee in the Singapore office get 2 extra days of annual leave.
3) Don’t be afraid to challenge others (politely)
I feel that growing up in the Singaporean education system sometimes makes you more submissive and afraid of authority. It also trains you to take things at face value and not really question. This is due to the over emphasis on obedience and trust in authority in our society.
When I entered the working world, I initially was rather intimated by clients who demanded a discount; criticised our product or wanted special treatment even if they weren’t paying very much. In response, I would try to give in as much as possible. My mindset then was wrong because I kept seeing these people as ‘authority’ and ‘always correct’ and hence bended over backwards to cater to their requests.
Over time, due to the mentorship of others, things have been different and I am much better equipped than before to deal with this kind of situations calmly, take control of the situation and create a mutually respectful relationship.
I believe that I still have quite a bit of room for improvement in this area and am trying to learn as much as I can from my more senior and capable colleagues on how to handle difficult and angry people.
To me, it is an act of balance between assertiveness, mutual respect and showing that you’re understanding to the other person.
4) You get what you’re willing to settle for
I think as member of Generation Y, we’re often labelled as having more demands and being less competent than the older generation. When you share about some expectation you have be it worklife balance or a capable boss, you’re definitely going to get some form of shaming about how entitled you are.
Having been in this position, my advice is not to take it personally. Many of such critics are suffering from this whole inferiority complex towards their peers who have surpassed them. Others have this sense of entitlement about how everything should be extremely cheap but good. Some are also facing job insecurities as many people in their late 30s to 50s have been retrenched. It is often more about them than you.
Earlier this year, I told myself that I wanted to join a company with a good boss; good salary; good work life balance; tons of learning opportunities; amazing company culture and good benefits. Because I had this expectation in the first place, I was able to actively look out for such a company during my interviews with them. I managed to find one which surpassed all my requirements. Now, I am happy to come to work every single day.
If you have to settle, which is pretty common during one’s first job, do it to get experience and jump ship later. In life, you get what you aim for, what you negotiate for. Your success will not come from just being hardworking but your strategy; how well you market yourself; your network and how ambitious you are. So aim high and be hungry.
5) Don’t be too impressed by titles
In school, we’re often taught the concept of meritocracy and that only the most hardworking and competent people can make it to the top. Naturally, when fresh graduates enter the workforce, they expect every single person with the title of ‘director’ or ‘manager’ to be mature, responsible, competent and to have great leadership skills.
I quickly learnt that wasn’t the case. There are many explanations why on how they could get where they are. Some are promoted because they are sycophants. Some have stayed for such a long time that they were the only ones left to promote. Some got promoted because they were sleeping with their boss. In summary, the title doesn’t equate to true merit or character.
For instance, a few months into one of my older jobs. A director from a South Korean firm wrote a long email complaining about me and my views about Lee Kuan Yew. She added her personal problems in the email and told all of us about how her father just died and that she had four pitches to work on that week. She also cc-ed our CEO and Director who she never met and spoken to before but took the trouble to source their contact on LinkedIn. That didn’t reflect too well on her because many people judged her as emotionally unstable, unprofessional and having poor EQ. I still keep the email till today as a reminder of who I would not want to become.
I am not the only one who has encountered this type of political discrimination. During the General Elections 2015, one of my friends who was an opposition party supporter was working in an MNC. This company received an email from someone claiming he/she no longer wanted to do business with the company because my friend supported one a party he did not like. How crazy is that? This type of things will never be accepted in more progressive countries where there is legislation to protect people from political discrimination.
I think in the course of your working lives, you will encounter tons of strange people. I find that it always helps to not take it personally and use these encounters to remind yourself of the type of person you should not be like. I feel that people should strive to treat others at all levels with equal respect including the younger ones. After all, everybody has their ‘prime’ and one day they may be the people hiring you when you are laid off or retrenched.
Ultimately, the best indicator of a person’s character is how they treat someone. As this common but really true saying goes “Never trust anyone who is rude to a waiter .”
What other learning points do you have in your career? Share your thoughts with me below.
This article should not be reproduced without the author’s permission. The views expressed here are my own and do not reflect the opinions of any organization I am part of.