Months ago I was invited to speak at a “careers fireside chat” with postgraduate students from the University of Birmingham, here in Singapore. Tonight was the night and I was relieved that it wasn't an actual fireside chat, cause Singapore is hot and humid and that would be kind of unpleasant.
I have been reflecting on what they want me to talk about. Things like my personal career journey, current hot skills and competencies I’ve hired for in the last 6 months, advice for graduates seeking jobs and securing a job in Singapore when you are a foreigner. Whoa! I hope they were not looking for inspiration because my advice was more common sense and most likely sobering. And a little bit born out of the frustration of recently trying to recruit millennials. And I don’t buy too much into the stereotypes of the various generations.
Despite all the talk and carry on about millennials being different and wanting different things unfortunately organisations have really not changed that much in the last 20-30 years. The same hierarchies and structures still rule. The gender pay gap exists and is showing no signs of improving (despite a wanker middle aged white man recently telling me he didn’t think it did.) And while there are some companies leading the way with new and innovative ways of working, most are not. Sorry to burst your bubble.
And what do Millennials want? According to this article they want full-time stability with flexibility. Umm….don’t we all? Flexibility is one of the things that consistently comes up as a key factor in retaining women in the workforce and helping men share the load in the home. I’m currently working 4 days a week and it’s wonderful (though I know it won’t last forever). Apparently, Millennials have a preference for plain talking and inclusiveness and want to work for employers where they can make a difference. Well me too!! And they are concerned about uncertainty in markets and not optimistic about their future. Ah huh. I think my Gen X advice I gave went down just fine. Here it is......
Work really hard, particularly in the early to mid-parts of your career.
I swear! The next person who says we need to work smarter not harder, I’m going to slap! This is when you need to put in the long hours and perhaps keep studying (depending on your chosen profession). Not that you don’t need to put in the long hours in senior roles, you do, but the style and type of work is different. Early on it’s about delivery and implementation. Getting shit done. As you get more senior this shifts to using your capability, knowledge and experience for business decisions and getting shit done through others.
See stuff through. Stick it out.
Recently I have been interviewing candidates for entry level and mid-level roles. Many of the resumes I have reviewed have very short periods of service with companies and large gaps between roles. And these are candidates who are still in their 20’s or early 30’s. Now some may argue that the market is tough for young people (actually for anyone) but the lengths of service and gaps are not explained by redundancies and general market toughness. No, they are explained by low levels of unemployment (currently at around 2.3% in Singapore) and lack of resilience, or as one of my Singaporean colleague puts it, they are pampered!
Basically, if you are young and not happy in your job you just resign. You don’t need to find another job first. The way families and real estate is in Singapore means you are still living with your parents and it’s easy to get another job because there are more jobs than people looking. You could even have some time off!
I also think creativity is an issue because when I have asked a particular candidate why she left a job, she told me because she needed a career break. When I asked what she did during her six month (!!) career break, she told me she relaxed. When I asked what she did to relax, she told me she did a few exercise classes. By this point I had already asked two more questions than I should have! She was 33 and had been working for 6 years. Give. Me. Strength.
Here’s the thing. A career break could be a great thing. Maybe you could travel or volunteer or something. Whatever! But come up with an explanation better than relaxing!!
These experiences could exist in any country), and I have worked with, and am working now with amazing Singaporean people who work hard and have a great attitude.
Work stuff out for yourself
I worked with a CEO who only wanted to employ people who had degrees. Not so much for what they knew but more for how they could research and think critically about an issue. When interviewing young candidates more recently there has been a thread of wanting to work with people who could develop them. You know what? I want that too, but there are not many good managers and leaders out there and to be honest the times when I have learnt the most is when I have had to work stuff out for myself. It’s great to want to work with people who will guide, develop and teach you. It’s also great to realise that you will learn by doing, by experiencing and by messing stuff up.
It’s not all about you. It’s about what you can do for the organisation as well.
Another candidate I recently interviewed was very keen on working in the oil and gas industry. She told me all the reasons why that kind of experience would be just what she needed. I began to feel like the interview was all about her. When I reflected back to her that it was great that she knew what the company would do for her and her career (with only a hint of sarcasm) but what did she think she would do for the company? She really had to think. I didn’t. She didn’t get the job.
Advice for foreigners getting a job in Singapore
This is a tricky one, for a few reasons. To start with Singapore has been affected by the drop in oil and commodity prices, like a number of countries and has had a general slowdown in the economy. Also like other countries it has become more nationalistic and is encouraging employers to hire locals and has put programs in place to help Singaporeans retrain and find jobs. Anecdotally it has been harder for foreigners to get employment passes approved and the criteria for approvals are tougher.
It’s not impossible for foreigners to get jobs in Singapore but it is harder than it has been. For millennials entering the market my advice is similar to all job seekers. Networking is possibly still the best way to find a role and gaining some work experience in the market using Singapore’s work holiday pass and work holiday pass for Australians are good options to get a foot hold in the market. Work hard and prove yourself and your employer may be willing to sponsor a longer-term work pass for you.
Also your first job doesn’t have to be your ultimate job. It’s kind of like getting your first car. Most of us don’t start out driving the latest Mercedes Benz coupe. You might start with a second-hand vehicle born in the same decade as you were. That only runs on 3 cylinders and had 40,000km on the odometer when you sold it because you “clocked” it. But you still loved and appreciated that old car because it gave you independence and experience!
Your first job is about showing what you can do, getting stuff done and sticking it out.
What else would you add to my advice?