The Singaporean employee sits quietly in his office cubicle, hoping his boss will leave early today so he can escape the office at a decent hour. He dreams of looking for a job overseas, but can’t imagine why anybody would hire him, so he toils on.
While working abroad isn’t for everyone, it’s safe to say there are many Singaporeans who would consider making the move to another developed country if only they knew how. I have friends who uprooted their lives and flew overseas in search of work and never looked back, and others who’ve been sitting on their arses in Singapore and complaining since 2007.
Sure, people might slam Singaporean employees for not being creative enough or having poor communication skills. But here are some factors that might actually provide a competitive advantage when looking for work elsewhere.
Singaporeans speak at least one Asian language in addition to English
You might have hated being forced to take lessons in a language the system insisted was your “mother tongue” but that your mother herself couldn’t speak. But being fluent in an Asian language in addition to English might actually turn out to be an advantage when you’re looking for work abroad.
Cheryl, a Singaporean lawyer in Sydney, Australia, says her knowledge of Mandarin made it easier for her to secure a job after graduating from the University of New South Wales. She started out her career in immigration law, and being able to converse in Mandarin helped her to interact with the many Chinese clients who sought help at her firm.
Tip: If you passed O level or A level Chinese/Malay/Tamil/Hindi/Gujarati/Urdi/etc by the skin of your teeth but struggle to read a newspaper, it’s not too late. Make use of the numerous resources online and at the library to boost your standard. The fact that we’ve got easy access to newspapers and books in the “mother tongue” languages makes learning a lot easier.
Students should take advantage of opportunities to take up a third language at school. If you qualify to take a third language in secondary school, jump at the chance—more languages are now offered than were available back in my time, including Arabic, Spanish and Bahasa Indonesia. Tertiary students also have some foreign language options—for instance, NUS offers 13 languages including Korean, Hindi, Thai and Vietnamese.
Work experience at big multinationals is easier to come by in Singapore
You might not have noticed when it happened, but seemingly overnight, Singapore went from a place primarily populated by the three main “races” to one that’s filled with people from all over the world. Workplaces are becoming increasingly international, and having had to deal with all sorts of people can work to your advantage when you search for a job overseas.
In addition, thanks to the huge number of MNCs that set up shop on our shores, overseas work stints are not out of reach, and these can make you more employable elsewhere.
Marissa, a 31-year-old bank executive based in Hong Kong, started her career in a European bank in Singapore. Being part of a team that dealt with the China market led to her being transferred to the bank’s Hong Kong office.
“There are so many big international companies in Singapore that offer work experience on a regional scale. The exposure and contacts you get from these companies make it much easier to find a position abroad, as opposed to what you get working in a small local company,” says Marissa.
Tip: If you intend to eventually work overseas, it’s a good idea to apply for jobs in companies that deal with your region of choice, or that at least have overseas offices.
Singapore is also a great place to network if you know how, thanks to the large numbers of expats here. I have a Vietnamese friend with a general degree who managed to get three job offers within two months at salaries that were even higher than those of his Singaporean peers—all through guys he had met at bars. If you want to work abroad, it’s a lot easier if you have international contacts.
What other advantages do Singaporeans have in the global marketplace? Tell us in the comments!