As a fresh grad, you might think you have an advantage over older workers by virtue of the fact that you’re younger, strong and cheaper to hire.
But then you realise that while employers do like to hire young, cheap job candidates, you’re just a tad too young and inexperienced. Trying to find an entry level job is hard when your only work experience involves scooping ice cream or tutoring your 9-year-old cousin.
Your employability rises dramatically after a year or two of relevant work experience, but that’s cold comfort when you’re sending out a CV that’s got nothing on it but your grades and CCA involvement. Here are the three biggest hurdles fresh grads face when applying jobs, and how to get over them.
1. Lack of experience
Trawl through job ads online and you’ll realise that most junior roles require at least 1-3 years of work experience. The only jobs that seem to welcome fresh grads all sound super dodgy or are for roles that don’t require a diploma/degree.
Most Singaporean students already know the importance of amassing internship experience during their school days. The bad news is that because so many students are interning so aggressively, employers are usually not that impressed by the fact that you’ve been interning every holiday since you were in Sec 2. That’s not to discount the value of interning though, mainly because a good internship can snag you a job offer before you graduate, or at least some valuable contacts.
If you do take on internships, make sure you’re getting practical work experience instead of just twiddling your thumbs or following your boss to meetings.
Other than interning, something that can be useful is part-time work in a relevant field. The advantage of part-time positions is that you can often take them on on a long-time basis, make some real dough instead of receiving intern’s pay, and often get more hands-on experience.
If you’re planning to work on any kind of portfolio-based work in the communications, tech or design fields, start building your portfolio early on when you’re in university and can afford to devote more time to building work experience without needing to rely on a steady paycheck. I know people who became full-time web designers or developers directly after graduating thanks to portfolios from freelance work they did while at school.
There are some other jobs where you can get a head start while at school. For instance, if you’re intending to become an insurance agent when you graduate, you should definitely enter the field as a part-time agent when you’re still a student like this guy did.
For those who really can’t find any suitable part-time work in their field of choice, you might also want to consider volunteering in a relevant area. For instance, if you’re looking to become a community manager, lots of charity organisations in Singapore would jump at the chance to grow their online presence and have volunteer positions for those who want to manage their social media accounts.
2. No contacts
You might have studied your brains out at school, but the hard truth is that you could well end up doing the same job in the same company as that mediocre student whose parents know all the hotshots in the banking industry.
While a good degree will definitely open up opportunities for you, so will having good contacts. This is especially so in bad economic times when jobs are harder to come by. Your parents might be proud of your second upper degree, but unless it’s from Harvard or Hogwarts, you can expect it to look painfully ordinary in a sea of other newly-obtained degrees.
If you just graduated and still have no jobs on the horizon, now is not the time to curse your parents for not joining a country club and getting to know more rich people. Building a social and professional network is a lifelong activity that never really ends. Even if you’re getting a late start, it’s not the end of the world.
Networking isn’t easy and can feel forced when you’re new to the game, but persist and you’ll find it gets easier. Join your university’s alumni network, meet up with old friends, seniors and internship supervisors, and never turn down the opportunity to meet somebody new or strengthen an existing connection.
The idea is to become a more open person who’s good at making connections with anyone. You never know where you might find a new career opportunity—I know someone who got her first job at a European bank through their mother’s mahjong kaki.
3. Low pay
So you’ve been offered a job in a field that’s more or less in line with your career aspirations. The only problem is that the pay is so low, you’ll need to start borrowing from loan sharks in order to fund your MRT rides to work.
Unfortunately, unless you’re a degree holder in a high paying profession like medicine, or you’re entering a lucrative field like banking, get used to receiving less-than-stellar salary offers while you’re still a rookie.
For instance, according to PayScale, an entry-level marketing executive in Singapore earns a median salary $32,842 year, which works out to $2,737 a month. After CPF cuts, you take home $2,190 a month. An entry-level registered nurse earns a median salary of $32,010 a year or $2,668 per month—that’s $2,134 after CPF cuts. Meanwhile, the median entry-level civil engineer’s salary is $37,243 a year or $3,104—in other words, $2,483 after CPF deductions. While you won’t starve, if you have aged parents to support/want to get married/have rent to pay, you’ll be on a tight budget.
Now, it’s one thing to receive a market rate starting salary and have to work your way up to raise your earning capacity. It’s quite another to get shortchanged and be paid dramatically lower than the market rate. This employee who got assaulted by his boss worked for $500 a month for a few years—you definitely don’t want to end up like that.
It’s mind boggling how clueless some fresh grads are about typical starting salaries in their chosen fields. Some expect way too much and then wonder why their employers are not willing to pay “what they’re worth”, while others are a total flop at salary negotiation because they have no idea how much they should be receiving in the first place.
In addition, many fresh grads end up settling for less than stellar salaries because they have no idea where to apply to. Their list of companies to apply to ends up looking a bit like this: 1) Facebook, 2) Google, 3) Ah Tiong SME Pte Ltd. No prizes for guessing which company they end up getting a job offer from.
Others just trawl randomly through JobsDB until they find ads calling for applicants with zero work experience. These people really can’t complain if they end up getting paid below market rate.
After doing research on the salary range in your field, you want to compile a list of companies you can apply to. If you think that sounds like work, well, yes it is. Speak to your former professors, seniors and friends in your desired fields and ask them to suggest companies or point you to online resources that can help you to build a list of reputable (or at least decent) employers. Then you can go about your job hunt in a targeted and intelligent manner, applying to companies who aren’t out there to rip you off.
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