4 Simple Things People Ignore That Could Have an Immediate Boost To Your Work


Joanne Poh



On the list of Singaporean tactics to get ahead at work is job hopping incessantly, learning how to wayang and making it look like you’re in the office 24/7. However, guess what—actually getting good at your job and improving your effectiveness as an employee also help, even if you’re not exactly kowtowing to your boss each time he steps into the office or offering to babysit his kids. Here are four ways every Singaporean can improve their performance at work.


Read up on your job or industry

Singaporeans aren’t exactly known for being voracious readers, but even if you’re more likely to be seen devouring sharks’ fin soup than Shakespeare, heading to the library (or this thing they call the Internet) and checking out a few tomes on your job or industry might actually help you do better at work.

You see, we live in an age where division of labour is so complicated that many of us really have no idea what we’re doing beyond the minutiae of our every day tasks. For instance, people who do operations work in banks often find it hard to see how their work fits in in the grand scheme of how the bank functions.

Reading up about your specific job or your industry will help you to sound more informed at job interviews and enable you to engage in dialogue with your colleagues and superiors that goes beyond complaints about the daily grind. It may not yield a job offer or a promotion right away, but it will position you as someone who’s knowledgeable and engaged with your field of work.

Here are some books to check out:

  • For those who work in HR: First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
  • For those who work in PR: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • For those who work in sales: The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation by Brent Adamson


Market yourself well

Employers often complain that non-SMU local graduates have trouble marketing themselves well. They might have all the technical know-how a job requires of them. But their presentation skills during an interview are lacking, and they’re often too paiseh to take the credit that’s due to them. In fact, they’re often as charismatic in the boardroom as an over-acting Channel 8 rookie.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that plugging away diligently at your job every day is necessarily going to win you the recognition you deserve. You would feel cheated if you paid top dollar for a fancy item only to have it handed to you in a plastic bag à la NTUC. Don’t be that guy in the plastic bag.

Other than investing in clothing that’s appropriate to your job and industry (that means suits for most corporate jobs), you’ll also want to brush up on business etiquette and boost your people skills, about which there are tons of resources both online and at the library.

Finally, you’ll also want to improve your online presence, as headhunters and employers are increasingly taking to the internet to find their next big candidate. A LinkedIn profile is mandatory, and you’ll need to optimise it for maximum impact. If you maintain a portfolio, create a simple website on WordPress to showcase your work and keep it updated regularly. If you’re a designer, writer or photographer, it should be a crime not to showcase your work online.


Learn to anticipate your boss’s needs

Singaporeans are famous for brushing off a client with a curt “That’s not within my job scope.” But what they don’t realise is that they’re being hired to make their boss’s lives easier, and if that means doing something that’s not strictly within their job scope, so be it. Of course, if your boss asks you to wipe his ass you should take a polite step back. But otherwise, don’t get too hung up on what you can and cannot do.

The best employees are the ones who don’t simply mechanically go about their daily tasks, but are actually able to anticipate their boss’s needs. And those who know what their bosses need even before the latter open their mouths are the ones who get promoted.

Doing so requires honing your EQ and understanding human psychology. For instance, if your boss is horribly disorganised and often shows up for meetings without a pen and paper, even if you’ve been hired as a high-level associate you’ll get brownie points for coming to meetings prepared with well-organised minutes and all the necessary equipment and stationery.


Identify skills you need to improve

When you’re floundering at the bottom of the learning curve and just can’t seem to do anything right, it’s tempting to just throw in the towel and declare that the job isn’t for you. The good news it that few jobs are rocket science. They might be physically demanding, involve long hours and require you to work with difficult people, but rocket science they are not, unless you actually are a rocket scientist.

This means that if you’re able to identify the difficulties you’re facing at work, slowly working to build the skills you lack is completely within reach.

For instance, when I was a trainee lawyer, I kept screwing up during the first few months at work because of one very simple problem—I was too impatient to check my work and often made typos and careless mistakes. My boss would scream her head off whenever I made a typo. Improving simply meant forcing myself to read through every document slowly at least twice, and slowing down the pace of my work so as to avoid errors. Certainly wasn’t rocket science.

If you’re unable to identify your own problems, enlist the help of a friend or colleague. For instance, a friend of mine wasn’t doing too well when he first started out as an insurance salesman. He got a bunch of us to spy on him during his insurance meetings, and received valuable feedback on his body language and lack of confidence, which he couldn’t otherwise have picked up on.

How have you improved your performance at work in the past? Tell us 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.