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4 Strategic Ways to Energize Your Career Without Committing Financial Suicide

4 ways to energize your career

Joanne Poh

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If you’re Singaporean, there’s a 46% chance you hate your job, and a 75% chance you view your job only as a necessary evil that exists so you can keep yourself from starving, according to this recent survey. Add to the mix some of the world’s longest working hours and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

So why is it that so many people continue to toil in jobs that make them suicidal?

I sometimes have to make cold calls for one of my businesses, and often even before I can say a word, an angry receptionist or secretary murderously spits out, “Yes?!” Based on the number of such encounters I’ve had, there are lots of people who seethe their way through the working day.

If you start each day by beginning the countdown to 6pm and it’s been that way with every job you’ve had, it might be time to engineer a career change. Here’s how.

1. Find a mentor or a community

Except when it comes to showing off their new purchases, Singaporeans generally like to keep their heads down. Your colleague might be plotting to leave the company to become a zookeeper, but you wouldn’t know because he never mentioned he could communicate with monkeys using the power of his eyes.

When you plan to plunge into a new industry or career, it’s a lot easier if you get in touch with someone who’s done it before you, whether in the form of a mentor or a community.

The trouble is, these people aren’t going to be sliding down your chimney like Santa Claus just to offer a helping hand. You need to make it known that you’re interested in making a switch and want to speak to someone who can help.

Here are some ways you can connect with people in a non-creepy way.

  • Drop an email to existing contacts or ask your friends if they know anyone working in a job similar to the one you’re planning to switch to, and see if they can hook you up for a quick coffee.
  • If you’re planning to freelance or start a business, join a community on a platform like Meetup, which organises get-togethers.

Talking to people who know more than you do will go a long way towards preparing you for what to expect when you do make the switch and helping you get up to speed in your new career. And with any luck, you might get some job leads too.

2. Get experience and hone your skills on the sly

If you’re stepping into a completely new industry, you’re going to need all the experience you can get or risk spending a year living in a tent until someone finally takes you off the streets.

Remember the closet muggers at school? While they were generally considered dishonourable cads, you might have to employ the kind of stealth they did when you’re trying to build your portfolio in a new area.

At one of my previous jobs, whenever some of the partners discovered that one of the associates had found a new boyfriend or girlfriend, they would say “Wah, still got time to date? That means we’re not giving him/her enough work.”

So while you should try to get some experience in your new field, it’s not a good idea to let your bosses get wind of it, as they might question your loyalty.

An exception to the rule is if your new skills benefit the company in any way, such as if you can design brochures or host events for them.

Getting experience doesn’t necessarily mean getting another job on the sly. It can mean taking on freelance assignments cheaply or for free to build up your portfolio.

A year before I left my job to become fully self-employed, I spent hours learning and practising SEO techniques, beefing up my HTML and CSS skills and writing a lot, sometimes for demoralising amounts of money.

Was it easy? No. Could I have waited till I quit my job? Sure. But building a potential client base early on made the transition much easier. When you go for interviews, you’ll also be able to avoid sounding like you just stepped off another planet and are still trying to get your bearings, since you’ll already have a bit of knowledge and experience.

Here are some steps you can take:

  • Volunteer to help people and organisations for free. If you’re considering a career in marketing or PR, offer to help a voluntary organisation write press releases or maintain its Facebook page.
  • Compile a reading and resource list based on recommendations from others in the industry. For instance, if you plan to try a career in stockbroking, books on technical analysis should be on your list.

3. Save up your salary

If the main reason you haven’t made your big career switch is the quintessential Singaporean fear of not having enough money, then saving up every penny you earn in your current job will help to give you a bit of financial security.

Although most Singaporeans say they remain in their jobs just for the money, discretionary spending continues to rise, and Singaporeans are already the Asia Pacific’s top spenders on dining after Hong Kong.

When you’re miserable in your job, you tend to look for ways to treat yourself, like having five glasses of wine after a bad day at work or signing up for dodgy spa packages.

But you, my friend, now have a plan, so think of every cent you save as a contribution to your end goal.

It can be tough, especially when you’re coming from an industry traditionally filled with big spenders, like law or finance. But if you envision your life in a new career, you’ll soon realise how little you should let your present job define you.

In my last six months on the job I was packing lunch to work every day and ordering only the cheapest beer while my friends got fancy cocktails. But when I finally quit I knew I had time to build a new career at my own pace, and that basically stopped me from freaking out completely.

4. Get qualified 

If you’re going to need any qualifications in your new vocation, start getting certified before you quit your job so you can start working right away.

If you’re eyeing a spot in human resources, you might want to consider a Graduate Diploma in Human Resource Management at SIM.

If you’re looking to become a real estate agent, pass the RES Exam before you quit your job so you can apply for a licence from the Council of Estate Agencies the moment you leave.

You get the drill. Basically, think of your current job as just something you do in the day so you can get to where you eventually want to be. Your time after work is yours, so don’t spend it all on Facebook.

Have you ever made a career switch? Tell us all 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.