Land a Job
31 Jan 2019

5 Working S’poreans Share How They Landed Their First Jobs When They Were Still Young And Inexperienced

Securing that first job after graduation can be a daunting prospect for many.

As a fresh graduate, it can be easy to feel like you don’t have much to offer with zero, or limited, working experience.

This is very tricky, considering that you won’t be able to ‘level up’ in your skills if an employer won’t hire you because of your lack of experience in the first place.

Then comes the dreaded question: Should you then settle for a low-paying job just to get a foot in the door?

While embarking on your first job hunt can feel a bit like you’re free-falling into an uncertain future, it’s an unavoidable transition into the real world. 

Knowing how difficult entering the job market for the first time is, we asked five working Singaporeans to share their experience on how they scored their first full-time job. 

Deborah Lee, 23, Video Producer 

How long have you been in the working world, and how did you land your first job? 

Almost a year now. I started working about 2 months after I graduated university. 

I used to intern under my current boss back in 2016 and I had such a good experience, so I wanted to work full-time under him again at his new company. 

What sort of criteria(s) did you look out for in a job?

Besides the positive work environment, I also weighed in other factors like the job scope, office location, salary and working hours. The salary honestly fell short below my expectations, but securing other job offers was difficult, so I decided to just accept the job first and hope for a pay raise later. 

What do you think about your first working experience, and how do you think it will help in your future job searches? 

This job is great! I managed to learn a lot over the past year about the media industry. The company’s work environment is very casual so it was easy for me to adapt. Overall, this job is a good starting point for me to gain exposure to the general media landscape and learn more about how different clients work. 

It has also helped me realise what I want and not want in a job, which will definitely serve as a benchmark for me in my future job searches. 

Muhammad Farhan Ismail, 30, Facility Engineer

How long have you been in the working world, and how did you land your first job? 

I’ve been working for almost 4 years now. After I graduated university, I worked part-time as a barista for about 8 months. 

My aunt’s friend then recommended me a site engineering job in the construction industry. The only catch is that I will be posted to Thailand. I was hesitant about working and living abroad at age 25, but I did it anyway because I felt like it will be a good chance for me to learn to be independent. 

What sort of criteria(s) did you look out for in a job?

My priority is the working hours. Work-life balance is extremely important to me, so I wanted to secure a 9-to-5 job. There are times when I get called to go onsite after hours, but it’s a very rare occasion. 

What do you think about your first working experience, and how do you think it will help in your future job searches? 

It was tough, but definitely a good starting point. I’ve since moved on to a new job, but the engineering basics that I learnt in my previous job still comes in handy.

While garnering a solid work experience is fundamental in securing a job, I think luck also plays a huge role. After my 3-year project ended in Thailand, I returned to Singapore to find another engineering job that doesn’t require me to be based overseas. 

Although I had years of relevant experience, I had a tough time finding a job for a year so I think it all boils down to a matter of timing. 

Don’t quit when the job market is doing poorly, or else you will have difficulty finding a new job even if you’ve the necessary qualifications, skills and experience. 

Chia Noi Kheng, 37, Head Of Video Post-Production

How long have you been in the working world, and how did you land your first job? 

I’ve been working for almost two decades. I’ve taken on four full-time jobs so far, with some freelance work in between. 

Shortly after my graduation, I worked as a video editor. I was only 19 or 20 then. 

I knew I wanted to be a video editor so naturally, I hoped I could find work in a company that was able to offer me a full-time position in that role. A good friend of mine had already started working in the company and she offered me a role. 

What are some criteria(s) that you looked out for in your first job?

The role itself is important, it has to be something that I’m passionate about. But I was also lucky to be able to work with some of my good friends in the same company. 

What do you think about your first working experience, and how do you think it will help in your future job searches? 

Internship while studying definitely helped build my confidence as I got to work side by side with seniors in the industry. They have since become my first network of professionals that I go to for feedback and advice. 

That working experience was pivotal as it’s a first of many stepping stones in my career. I’d say that I was very lucky to be given a lot of trust and opportunities. [The job has also helped me] build a substantial portfolio and credibility, which has landed me my subsequent jobs. 

Salim Nawer, 59, Customer Service Manager 

How long have you been in the working world, and how did you land your first job? 

It has been a good 41 years, and I’ve only worked two different jobs to date. After I graduated high school, I worked as a sales assistant at a department store but quit after a year because I realised that there was no real career progression opportunities. 

Since employers value skills and experience, I applied for apprenticeship schemes at various companies. One company got back to me and said they will sponsor my studies for 4 years while working under them, after which I’ll be bonded to their company for 2 years. 

The pay was lower than the market rate, but it was too good an opportunity for me to pass on, especially considering the fact that they’re a renowned automotive MNC. I accepted the offer and I’ve since worked for the company for over 38 years. 

What are some criteria(s) that you looked out for in your first job?

I wanted a job that lets me acquire a valuable and lifelong skill. I started off as a technician, and the skills that I learnt in that role has carried me through to my current role as a customer service manager. 

Moreover, the motor vehicle industry was, and is, in demand so it’s definitely not a dying trade. The idea of job security is there. Working in an MNC is also beneficial because it has great employee benefits. 

What do you think about your first working experience, and how do you think it will help in your future job searches? 

Honestly, it didn’t do me much good because it was just a job that I took up while I hunted for a full-time job. I didn’t think much of it, but it did let me have a taste of the working life. 

The sales skill that I acquired then also helped me in my current role as a customer service manager, where I need to always upsell products and services to the customers. 

Jared Alex Tan, 28, Content Creator 

How long have you been in the working world, and how did you land your first job? 

I recently started working about 5 months ago and this is my first full-time job which I secured right after graduating from university.

Despite going for career fairs and using job search websites, I had pretty much zero success on those platforms. Applying for my first and current job was actually a shot in the dark — I sent an email not really expecting a reply, but they invited me down for an interview and I was offered the job a few weeks later.

What are some criteria(s) that you looked out for in your first job?

When I first started looking for a job, salary was the main, if not only, criteria. In fact, the first job I was really gunning for was not related to my field of study at all. 

When that didn’t work out, I decided to go back to the media industry and started to prioritise other things — mainly good colleagues (though that’s impossible to tell until you’re actually inside the company), and whether I could do my work competently. 

What do you think about your first working experience, and how do you think it will help in your future job searches? 

I don’t think I could ask for a better first working experience. I get along with my colleagues, feel comfortable doing my work, and there’s a good work-life balance too. Most of my colleagues are earning more than me, but I think I might be the most content among them all.

If I do look for another job, the work that I’ve done here will definitely make it easier to find one because I’ve proven that I can perform in a real-world working environment and not just in a classroom. I think getting your first job is the hardest, but it only gets easier from there. 

Experience Valued More Than Education

Educational qualifications were once a priority in securing a good job, but in this day and age, employers have openly expressed that they value experience more than a degree certificate. 

To increase your chances of getting your foot in the door, you should take up every opportunity to beef up your portfolio and gain experience with internships. 

However, there are some recruiters who prefer fresh graduates because they find them dynamic, comfortable with new technologies, and has up-to-date market knowledge. 

First jobs are hardly a perfect match, but they often help you kickstart your career on the right foot. The best compensation is the experience, and that’s a currency that matters most to employers.

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