The exam period just ended for university students in Singapore and many of the fresh graduates are currently looking for a job.
It is indeed a challenging time to be a fresh graduate. Based on the latest statistics by the Ministry of Education, one out of five fresh graduates from NTU/NUS/SMU was unable to find a permanent full-time job within six months of graduation. That is 20 percent of the graduates.
If that is the case for our top three universities, it is probable that the situation may be worse for those from private universities in Singapore. In fact, other East Asian countries are facing the same problem such as South Korea, Taiwan, and even Mainland China.
As I’ve been writing on many issues that are relevant to young adults such as how to figure out what you want to do after graduation and what are the best job portals in Singapore, some of my younger friends have confided in me about the problems which they have faced during this transition period.
To address these commonly asked questions, I decided to do an FAQ to address these queries. I only graduated less than three years ago and certainly do not claim to be some kind of expert. What is written here is mostly based on my own experience and also what some of my peers have taught me.
1) I want to a job that is meaningful. However, it is so hard to find one like that in Singapore
I studied social science and economics in university and learned about concepts like surplus value and how wages of the middle class was stagnating even though the workforce got more productive while the CEOs got richer.
This gave me a rather poor impression of the corporate world. It seemed to me that if I were to join a company, the only purpose I would fulfill is to make the senior management in my company rich.
Hence, I thought that I would like to work for a think-tank, NGO or for the government instead. However, it was not as easy as I thought it would be because of I didn’t like the idea of scholars being fast tracked over me; the idea of my potential being measured by my college grades and few NGOs focused on research and advocacy which was my area of interest.
Eventually, I entered the private sector and over time, I realized a few things:
Many other factors that contribute to job happiness and you can be happy even if your full-time job doesn’t involve serving a specific cause: Good culture; awesome boss; amazing culture; good salary; good prospects and work-life balance – all of which determine your satisfaction in your job.
You could always make your life meaningful outside of work and during the weekends. For instance, I am volunteering for weekly house visits and monthly food distributions at East Coast and Fengshan District and it has contributed to making my life meaningful.
You can still get a fairer share of the revenue you generate for the company if you work in a commission-based role.
Furthermore, the ambition to grow oneself and to change the world is not mutually exclusive. I would need to build myself up first so that I could make a larger impact on the world. For instance, being able to achieve my own goals of having enough money to live in the central area of Singapore; settling down and starting a family. Then, I would be able to have more resources and capability to contribute more to society.
2) How can I tell if a company is really a good place to work in?
Singapore society is one which emphasizes diligence; respect for authority and obedience. Hence, whenever I tell people that an interview is a two-way street, they find it difficult to accept the idea.
However, it really is. An interview is a process where you and the employer figure out whether you’re a good fit for one another. Here are some tips on how you can find out if a company is a right place for you.
The best indicator of a company culture is your future boss. The boss tends to determine the culture because he or she would usually hire those they perceive to be similar to them or have qualities that they like. Do your best to read this person during the interview. What is he/she like? Are they ‘hao lian’? Is your job interview at 8PM on a weekday? Are they late for the interview? These things would tell you a lot about the person you’d be working for and more importantly, what type of people does this company hire and promote?
Another indicator you would be the office environment: Are they still using those traditional type of thick laptops? Then it could be a sign that they are not very innovative. Are people friendly, warm and driven? If they are not, it could be a sign of poor company culture.
Finally, you might also wish to check out resources such as Glassdoor; LinkedIn and even Instagram photos of the company by employees (usually they will tag the office location). Bear in mind that sometimes Glassdoor may be biased or may not represent a local market. Hence, it is best to use a combination of methods to really determine if a place is right for you or not.
3) I have a offers that are not that great but been jobless for three months. Should I just settle or wait for the ideal one?
My suggestion would be to take up the offer and try it out. Once you get experience, your value in the market will increase. You can then leverage on your first job to get the second one by highlighting transferable skills you’ve learned.
I understand some fresh graduates might worry about being judged as a job hopper. The thing is, I believe that most people would not judge you if you’re in your first job for only one year. Of course, if you have changed 8 jobs in 10 years then perhaps that could be perceived as a sign of a bigger problem. However, if you’re a fresh graduate, I feel that it is okay. Everyone was young before and knew that at the age of 23, you probably don’t know exactly what you want at that point in time. As for me, I only figured out what I wanted to do in my career when I was 25 years old!
Another advantage of job hopping is that you get a pay raise. I remember that after one year in my first job, some new hires who graduated at the same time as I did, joined my company. They were drawing about $500 more than I was on a monthly basis.
This upset me and I thought it was really unfair because all of us worked hard and had the same level of experience. Then, I realized it was not anything personal but simply the way the corporate world works and decided to play according to the rules so I could get a pay raise like them.
4) I have many interests. How do I know what I really like?
This was a problem I encountered when I graduated – I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My degree was in communications and public policy so there were various options I considered.
I briefly considered journalism because I really enjoyed my journalism internship in Hong Kong. Then I thought about my options in Singapore and realized that it went against my personal values and what journalism was about. Furthermore, I wasn’t really a detail-oriented type of person. If you are a long-time reader, you probably know I make lots of typo and grammar mistakes.
I also considered public policy research because it was something I was passionate about and would read up on my own free time. Furthermore, the job had a certain level of prestige to it. However, there were very few openings during the time of my graduation.
Eventually, I decided on business development and ended up in the market research industry. Then I realized this industry had little room for growth and hopped into the digital analytics sector instead. I feel that I would stay in the technology sector as long as it is booming and is doing well.
My journey to figure out what I wanted was not easy but here is how you can get more clarity on your goals.
- Attend interviews: Don’t stick to preconceived notions about a certain role or industry. Get to know people who work in the industry firsthand, ask questions and evaluate from there. The more information you have, the better.
- Think about what are your priorities: Everyone has different priorities in a job and there is no wrong or right answer. For me, I wanted a role with international exposure, a certain level of prestige and that would give me a comfortable life. It might not be the same for you and that is fine. As long as you know what you want and don’t want.
- Discover yourself: Take personality tests, I don’t mean inaccurate ones made by random fans like “Which Harry Potter house do you belong to?” or “Which GoT or Lord of the Rings character are you?” but the scientific kind like Big Five Personality Traits Test or the type that the corporate world tends to use like MBTI. They are not a stand-alone tool to tell you everything about yourself but in my personal experience, they have been helpful in helping me know what I want.
I covered this topic in greater detail in one of my older entries: How to figure out what you want to do after graduation?
5) Do I have to fit the JD exactly?
A lot of people, especially women, do not apply for roles unless they feel that they are 100% qualified. They believe that the qualities listed on these roles are all basic requirements. The truth is very often, job descriptions are a hiring manager’s wish list for the ideal candidate, not as a list of non-negotiable requirements.
For instance, when I graduated in 2014, I noticed that the job description of some jobs required someone to have 15 years of social media experience in using tools like Facebook and Instagram. Hello? Facebook was founded in 2004, and Instagram in 2010. Who are they going to hire for this role? Mark Zuckerberg?
So if you’re a fresh graduate and you see a role which requires 1 – 2 years of experience, don’t be afraid to apply. As long as you fit around 70% of the JD then I think that is okay.
I hope that the things I’ve shared here have been useful for you. If you wish to learn more you can check out my other entries such as:
- What are the best job portals in Singapore for Millennials?
- What can youths learn from the retrenchment of older PMETs?
- Why is LinkedIn so important for young adults in Singapore?
Should you have more questions, feel free to write in and let me know. Otherwise, if this entry has been useful for you, please like and share this with your peers 🙂
Let’s stay in touch!