Career

The 3 Biggest Reasons Singaporeans Make Major Career Changes

career change

Joanne Poh

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We all know that guy who left banking to open a café or the engineer who became a real estate agent. While people change their careers all the time, even in Singapore, it’s still poo-pooed as a risky move. Presumably, people who make mid-career changes are either loaded, foolish, just married someone rich or got retrenched.

You might hence be surprised to find that a significant number of people who’ve changed careers in Singapore have successfully done so without having to move into a tent at East Coast Park. We spoke to some Singaporeans who’ve made major career switches to suss out what their main motivations were.

 

1. Not being able to survive on their current salary

The stereotypical career changer is a lawyer or banker who, fed up with a meaningless job torturing little kittens so big corporations could get richer, decided to dedicate their lives to doing charity work or making performance art.

But in Singapore, people are often not aware of the fact that many career changes happen out of need. While the cost of living has been rising astronomically, the salaries of low-wage earners are stagnating, eroding their purchasing power as the years go by. And that’s just according to official rhetoric. Some workers in Singapore have actually had to take a pay cut as their real wages have fallen.

Hazlinda began her career as a pre-school teacher, armed with a degree in early childhood education, but soon found that she was struggling on a $1,800 salary. Her take home pay after CPF contributions was $1,440. After four years on the job a friend offered her a job as a recruitment consultant and she jumped ship. Today she earns more than $3,000 every month.

“I didn’t go into this line for the money but because I really love working with kids. But on this kind of salary, it’s really tough to survive in Singapore,” says the 29-year-old, who is married with two kids. “I feel like I sold out sometimes, taking a job just for the money.”

 

2. Burning hatred for their previous job

More often than not, Singaporeans change their careers mid-stream not because they have a burning desire to do something else, but simply because their current jobs are not right for them.

Amber, now a 30-year-old secondary school teacher, began her career in a multinational bank, where she was earning $3,300 as a fresh-faced 22-year-old after graduating with a degree in sociology. After two years, she quit to enroll at the National Institute of Education in a move that alienated her parents and friends.

“Back then, $3,300 was considered quite a high starting salary. My parents tried to dissuade me and most of my friends thought I was doing something I would regret. I actually didn’t have a huge desire to go into teaching, but my bank job was really meaningless and stressful, and I was desperate to get out.”

Veronica, a 29-year-old PR executive, shares a similar story. After 6 years as a graphic designer, she was sick and tired of her job and working environment. A friend recommended her for a PR post and she decided to try her hand at it.

“My motivation was most definitely to get out of my previous job,” she says.

 

3. Daring to chase their dreams

Then, there are the lucky few who had a burning desire to do something special, and finally plucked up the courage to leave their jobs and go for it. After all, there’s a reason Selena Tan of Dim Sum Dollies fame and filmmaker/cartoonist Colin Goh left their jobs as lawyers.

But you don’t need to be an actor, painter or writer willing to suffer for your art to quit your job in search of fulfillment. Brian, 32, quit his job as a Forex trader six years ago to start a car-wash business. Not exactly the most glamorous of jobs. But he had always dreamt of being his own boss, and after one failed business attempt he managed to make it work.

“Some people think it’s crazy that I gave up a well paid job and let my finance degree ‘go to waste’. But my dream has always been to have a company of my own, so who cares about what they think?” he says.

Have you ever changed your career completely? Tell us why you did it in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

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.