What University Grads Must Understand About Building a Career in This Crappy Economy

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To all the fresh faced university students who’ll be graduating next year, we’ve got bad news. Finding a job is going to be a struggle. Yup, if you’re in the class of 2016 or 2017, you’re the unluckiest batch to graduate since the recession in 2008-2009.

The unemployment rate amongst degree holders is at its highest since 2009, and employers are complaining that graduate applicants do not have the skills they’re looking for. If you haven’t graduated yet and have therefore not contributed to the unemployment rate yet, here are three things you need to understand in order to prepare yourself for the job market.

 

It’s not your qualifications that matter, but your actual skills, which you’re probably not going to pick up at school

Given the intensity of the paper chase in Singapore, it’s clear that many people think a degree from a prestigious school with a good class of honours is all you need to get a decent job.

That may have been the case in the days when there were fewer university graduates and more jobs to go around. But these days, everyone and their pet hamster has an NUS degree.

So unfortunately for job hunters, employers can now afford to be pickier about who they hire. And often, they’re choosing to hire graduates with the right skills, rather than getting all PSLE-style and picking one grad over another just because he’s got slightly better grades.

Now that multiple internships have become the norm for university students, there’s a bigger gap between those who have relevant skills and those who only have that degree and nothing else. You must already have realised that most university courses are very theoretical or academic in nature, and do not equip students with the skills actually needed in an entry level job.

For instance, while digital marketing is one of the fastest growing areas these days and many fresh grads are vying for jobs in this domain, there are many practical skills required which are not covered in typical business courses at university. Employers look for candidates who know how to interpret information from Google Analytics, run Pay Per Click campaigns and manage social media accounts.

Even in so-called technical fields, the gap between what you learn at school and what you need to know at work can be very wide. For instance, computer engineering students will find that while they learn about a wide variety of sciences and technologies at school, they are going to end up using very precise ones at work, some of which they might not even have heard of.

While computer engineering students might learn about language programming at school, the actual programmes they are required to use at work may be different from those taught to them in their courses, and they’ll have to master these programmes on their own to succeed. Companies also use a variety of processes for reporting, such as software for project finance reports, most of which students will not have learnt how to use at school.

Students need to be aware that in order to obtain skills that will help them get hired, they’ll have to learn outside of the classroom. Depending on the field they hope to enter, this knowledge can be gained through internships, independent learning or taking courses elsewhere.

 

There are many pathways to the same career outcomes and more viable career outcomes than before

Back in the day when jobs were aplenty, most fresh grads had the same objectives—get hired by a big MNC, and then work your way up to a cushy future.

But since the pool of jobs vis-a-vis the number of applicants appears to be shrinking, it’s going to be a lot harder for the average graduate to get their foot in the door.

For instance, in the years before the last recession, everyone and their mother was getting hired by foreign banks in Singapore. These days, banks are cutting their Singapore teams and even those with jobs are afraid of getting retrenched.

Does that mean fresh grads should just give up on their dreams and be content with working for the rest of their lives in some ah pek’s SME that’s still stuck in the 90s?

Of course not. But it means that the path to your ideal career may not be quite so straightforward. Graduates should be prepared to work harder to land that full-time job. Some might even have to take on post-graduate internships on undergo courses to improve their skills before they manage to land a job in their desired field.

There is one bright spot though. There are more alternative career paths than ever for graduates today than there were ten years ago.

Some graduates might find that they don’t want to work for other people, and decide to join the growing number of Singaporeans working as freelancers. Thanks to the internet, some young people are finding that they earn a lot more money working as freelance graphic designers, web designers or programmers than they would doing the same thing as an employee.

More fresh grads are also choosing to work in start-ups (or even creating their own), preferring the more informal culture and collaborative environment.

There’s also the option of working overseas. If that’s your goal, you’ll want to choose employers or jobs that will make you more mobile or could lead to a transfer.

Graduates are no longer all hankering after that cushy senior position in banking. The economy may be doing badly, but the game has also changed.

Even if you can’t get that prestigious MNC job you’ve been dreaming of, there are other ways to pick up valuable skills, boost your employability and build your portfolio. Don’t let them pass you just because you’re moping about getting rejected from that one job you were counting on.

What are the biggest challenges fresh grads face these days? Share your thoughts in the comments!

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.

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