June’s the time of the year when fresh graduates leave their universities and begin their journey in adulting (AKA searching for their first job and becoming a full-time working adult).
Adulting can be tough so we approached Jeraldine Phneah, who entered the working world 4 years ago, to share her advice on how fresh graduates in Singapore can transit from university to working life.
In this Q&A format, Jeraldine answers frequently asked questions by millennials in this stage of their life. So whether you’re a penultimate student, fresh graduate, or just kickstarted your career, these answers would definitely be useful for you!
1. My peers talk about building their portfolio and resume while in university. Is this really necessary? Where can I get started?
Jeraldine Phneah: Recent statistics showed that one in five students from autonomous universities did not secure a full-time role within 6 months from graduation.
The numbers are more dismal for students from private universities where 50% did not secure a full-time job within 6 months from graduating. Clearly, having a degree is no longer a differentiator.
For our generation, the bar has been raised higher. Graduates are increasingly expected to possess not just a degree but internships, leadership roles, volunteer work, overseas experience and other credentials.
To get started, you may wish to check out these resources:
- Your school newsletters: Schools often send out emails with the latest opportunities. Do read all of them so that you are aware of what is available
- Youth Opportunities: An amazing platform updated weekly with opportunities for youths globally such as conferences, internships and awards.
2. My peers have already decided what they wanted to do. I am feeling lost and anxious as I am not sure what is the right career path for me after graduation? How can I get a better idea of what to do?
Jeraldine Phneah: It is common to go through a period of self-doubt and insecurity about your career path after graduation. In fact, it was recently reported that 4 in 5 young adults in Singapore experience quarter-life crisis. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Here is what worked for me in my journey of self-discovery.
First of all, I did a few internships and I felt that these really helped me to understand what I wanted or did not want to do. During which, I learnt what type of management styles and company cultures suited me best as well as what type of work I was good at.
I also took personality tests. I took the MBTI and Big Five Personality test. I feel that there is no personality test that is 100 percent accurate but they are a good start in helping you understand basic inclinations about yourself. However, I felt they pointed me in the right direction.
I understand that there is a lot of talk about “Following your passion”. However, my perspective is that a day job does not necessarily have to be one that is entirely aligned with your passion and to give you meaning in life. There is no such thing as a perfect job.
As author Cal Newport observes, career satisfaction can come from a combination of the following traits: autonomy, respect, competence, creativity, and/or a sense of impact.
3. What can you do with an arts and social science degree? Will I become irrelevant if I don’t choose to work in technology or learn coding?
Jeraldine Phneah: Based on what I’ve observed, non-technical majors are usually treated equally. People who took economics, sociology and psychology are able to pursue careers in fields such as media, tourism and human resource. I myself studied journalism and public policy but went into the technology and data analytics sector.
As for coding, if your interest is in this area, do pursue it. However, I don’t think it is an absolute necessity to survive in our new economy. The technology industry isn’t just about coding. There are many other skills and roles in-demand such as B2B Marketing, Technology Sales, Product Management or UX/UI.
I hope that Singaporean youths would not jump on the bandwagon to pursue the ‘hot job’ of the moment. When I was in secondary school, life science was the in-thing. Then, it became engineering and accounting. And now, computer science is the in-thing.
Instead of following the trend, I would encourage youths to instead try to pick up the skills and opportunities that would make them future-ready.
For instance, if you want to be in marketing, ask yourself which would give you more opportunities and ensure you don’t become obsolete – television, print or digital?
4. How can I deal with rejection and failure?
Jeraldine Phneah: I’ve known of an outstanding first class honours graduate or those with solid internship experience who have experienced multiple rejections. So, don’t worry, you’re not alone!
First of all, be receptive to constructive feedback. In life, you’d always receive criticism. What matters is how you can filter out the well-meaning and constructive ones that can help you become a better version of yourself.
I was told by an interviewer that I was coming on as “too strong”. While I felt sad to receive such feedback, I decided to make the most out of it and made a conscious effort to be more cheerful and conversational during my interviews. This change helped me to get two job offers later on.
Another important factor is to remain optimistic during your job search. Everything happens for a reason. I once applied to two companies that I really wanted to work in but did not get the role. After a few years, one of them close down and for the other, I learnt from some ladies in the industry that the manager was ‘ham sup’. Sometimes, it is a blessing in disguise when you don’t get a certain role.
5. An interview is a two-way street. How to assess your interviewer and the company?
Jeraldine Phneah: When assessing someone as a person or company, I seldom focus on what they say but observe what they do. Some companies call themselves ‘technology companies’ but their processes are still outdated such as asking for O level and A level results.
Others claim they want people with an entrepreneurial spirit but does their company culture or structure really facilitate that? Only through actions can you find out the true culture and values of an organization.
You could also observe your direct manager or boss to be: Is he/she interested in helping others grow? Does he/she have strong knowledge about their field or industry?
6. Will I be disadvantaged if I am from a private university?
Jeraldine Phneah: I guess the biggest disadvantage is being viewed as less diligent and competent than students from autonomous universities. Some employers perceive private university students as wealthy kids who did not study hard so they could not make it to NTU/SMU/NUS but at the same time had rich parents who helped secure them a place at university through private universities.
I’d be the first to admit that I myself once had these misperceptions. However, it was after interacting first hand with some of these students when I realized that there were also hardworking people who come from middle and lower-middle class families. Their lives were not easy at all and they had to take student loans, borrow money from relatives and work part time just to get their degree.
How can one overcome these negative stereotypes? I feel that it would be good to prove yourself by firstly, focusing on doing well in school and secondly, build your resume.
Yes, there are some industries which care a lot about academic competence such as research; management consulting; actuarial science; policy etc. The top firms in these industries tend to care a lot about factors like your GPA and where you studied.
However, there are many other industries out there that do not care so much about grades and tend to treat graduates from both types of university equally. Hence, by ensuring you do well in school and have a strong portfolio, you can still stand an excellent chance and debunk these myths.
7. How long should I stay in my first job?
Jeraldine Phneah: As shared in my previous article on 5 Financial Mistakes Fresh Graduates Should Avoid Making, one advice I got from seniors was not to stay in my first job for too long to avoid your income from stagnating. In fact, research has shown that employees who stay in a company for longer than two years get paid 50 per cent less.
For instance, let’s say your starting salary as a graduate is around $2,800. Assuming that you get a 5 per cent increment per year, your salary after two years is $3,087. However, if you join a different company with two years of experience, you might get a starting pay of $3,600. That is almost 20 per cent more than if you stayed with the same company.
Of course, don’t only look at annual income when planning your career. Do think about other factors that are important to you, such as your long-term career goals (knowing which industry you want to explore, skills you want to hone); working environment; career progression and learning opportunities.