Career

3 Things Fresh Grads in Singapore Should Remember Before Signing On to Their First Job

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Joanne Poh

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School’s out for most of Singapore’s university students, and soon Raffles Place will receive an injection of fresh-faced graduates in spanking new G2000 office wear.

If you’re still on the hunt for your very first grown-up job (internships don’t count), here are some tips to ensure you don’t end up going missing after a few days on the job thanks to the realisation that it just “wasn’t for you”.

 

Don’t think only of the pay

Okay fine, for many university grads in Singapore, the main reason they chose their course of study was the promise of a generous salary upon graduation. But try not to let the moolah be the only thing guiding your choice.

No, this is not going to be a lecture on choosing passion over pay. Rather, it’s a reminder that at this early point in your career, you’ve got lots of room to grow, and so does your salary. The job that pays you the most right now may not always offer the best career pathway.

And don’t forget that you’re probably going to change jobs in a few years’ time. A job that pays well today may not necessarily lead to the biggest salary hike when you jump ship.

For example, if you’re a graphic designer, working for a big company like SPH will ensure you get paid more at the start, but the kind of work experience you get will be very different (and probably less exciting) than what you’ll have access to if you work for an agency.

If you’re a lawyer, you might get paid more as an in-house counsel at an SME than you would as an associate at a small firm. But the latter might enjoy more generous annual increments and also have more potential to jump to a higher paying firm. Which leads us to our next point….

 

Your first job should be a stepping stone to the next one

You might not exactly have landed your dream job, but seriously, it’s not a big deal. Because let’s face it, Singaporeans just don’t stay that long in their jobs anyway, and job hopping is pretty much the norm.

That means that you’re probably not going to be with your first employer forever, unless you call him Dad. The value of that job, therefore, lies in how good of a stepping stone it is to your next job.

A job that seems crappy isn’t all that bad if you manage to parlay it into a better job a few years down the road. Even if your employer is a real Scrooge or your company simply can’t afford to pay you more, if you’re picking up valuable work experience, you’ll be able to jump ship and join a company that will pay you what you’re worth.

For example, many budding consultants, accountants or lawyers who don’t make it into the big firms straight out of school have to be content with working for smaller companies that pay less. Some get paid even less than their peers who are doing jobs like insurance sales or recruitment.

But there is a reason they don’t all go off and sell insurance or become headhunters—because after a few years on the job, making the leap to a big firm is much easier, and they will see their salaries rise much faster.

 

Your first job should contribute to the achievement of your long-term plans

It’s safe to say that most of us have no idea where we’re going to wind up 20 years’ down the road when we’re still trying to navigate the intricacies of wearing office attire without it looking like it’s Halloween.

Even so, don’t let that hold you back from always trying to suss out what you really want for your career in the long-term. There are many clues to be found early on in your career. The trouble is that it takes some time for us to become aware of them, and even longer to know what to do with them.

I have many friends who’ve been enjoying highly paid careers in banking for years, but still don’t know if they should continue, quit to start businesses, ask to be transferred to a different department or try something else. There are many overworked MOE teachers who constantly toy with the idea of quitting to give tuition.

Even if you’re within the right industry, your career path is seldom linear. You’ll need to focus on achieving the self-awareness to be able to make the right decisions as to which area or skills you wish to specialise in.

Your first job may not be ideal, but unless you’re really desperate for the cash, it should be in line with your long-term plans. If you your long-term goal is to set up your own marketing agency, you might be better off starting off as an employee of a full-fledged marketing agency instead of doing corporate communications at a bank, since the exposure you’ll get in the latter will be limited.

Remember, even the crappiest job with the most horrible boss is not completely meaningless if it helps you get to where you want to be.

As a fresh grad, have you already received your first job offer? Tell us about 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.