Picture this: It was an ordinary day at the office. As you hit ‘send’ on an email you just completed, you receive a call from your human resource manager. They want you in their office immediately. Unsuspectingly, you make your way to the HR management department. Your heart drops when they inform you that you have been fired for failing to meet your monthly targets for the past few months. You are to leave the office premises immediately. You are crestfallen as you solemnly head back to your table to pack your belongings.
Getting the axe is never easy to deal with – emotionally and financially. On one hand, you struggle to acknowledge the fact that you have been let go without any prior warning. On the other, now, you have to start thinking about how you are going to find employment at such short notice.
However, all hope is not lost yet.
With a positive mindset, retrenchment can be an opportunity to reflect on your career and possibly explore new ones. In fact, getting retrenched might just open up more opportunities in the job market. It also gives you some breathing space to find yourself again and take a breath of fresh air.
For 45-year-old Chu Seng Chou, it was a time for reflection and exploration. Read about his experience from getting retrenched (twice!) and finding his confidence again.
Mr Chu worked as a quality control technician. With numerous years of experience in the field, he was confused by why he was let go during the Asian Financial Crisis. He recalls, “I was hit hard by the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 and the economic recession of 2007. In both downturns, I was a QC Technician and when both companies I worked with ceased their operations in Singapore, I was retrenched.”
#1 Pick Up the Pieces with the Right Attitude
The first instinct for many who are experiencing retrenchment is to worry over their financial stability. It is natural to just grab any opportunity and accept the first job that comes your way.
Mr Chu shares this sentiment, “After each retrenchment exercise, my life became one demoralising short-lived job after another.” For a few months following his retrenchment, Mr Chu began frantically applying for jobs. He managed to nail some roles at first, but he bounced from job to job during the first few months following his retrenchment. He was unable to secure a job in a relevant industry that paid his preferred salary. Mr Chu felt disheartened at first, but he refused to give up. He told himself that mourning over his retrenchment would amount to no benefits.
He gradually came to terms with his retrenchment and started to evaluate his career choices. He asked himself what he wanted in the long-term and told himself that rejections should not define or confine his capabilities. He rationalised that changing his perspective would be a strategic move in his favour since he could not change his own circumstances. “The first rule of positivity is your attitude. With a positive attitude and a willingness to learn, believe that there is a job out there for you. Have faith that you’ll get that job.”
With a positive attitude and a willingness to experiment, Mr Chu embarked on his job hunt. However, all was not a bed of roses. He eventually learned that he had to do a bit more than just adopt a positive mindset.
#2 Identify Your Interests and Get Paid For a Job You Love
As the Confucian saying goes, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life”. Mr Chu was finally able to take a breather and ask himself some big life questions. These included questions like where he wanted to see himself in 10 years and what long-term objectives he wanted to achieve. He also did several personality tests to find out what types of work and industries suited his personality and interest.
See retrenchment as an opportunity to find out what your strengths are. Take an online test such as a Briggs Meyers test or an Enneagram test. You may also discover more about your unique talents and abilities, by having a session with a Career Coach.
For Mr Chu, he had a keen interest in computers since he was a young boy and that led to his early career choices in electronics manufacturing. Over the years, however, he realised that he also enjoyed interacting with people. In fact, Mr Chu looked forward to working with people more than computers! He knew he had a sociable personality and easily made friends at work. Despite his lack of industry experience, he could see himself in the Customer Service or Retail industry. He pondered over this dilemma for a while, but his decision was later encouraged when he met his career coach. Mr Chu’s career coach imparted key career advice that convinced him to take a bold step by stepping out of his comfort zone by finding a job in the retail and customer service sector.
#3 Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone and Upgrade Your Skills
Mr Chu’s NTC-2 in Mechanical Engineering was relevant in the electronics manufacturing industry but he needed more skills to prepare for his career switch into the Retail sector. Apprehensive but eager to learn, Mr Chu sought to learn more about key skills that would be helpful to him in his retail career.
“I knew it was going to be different from the backend job roles that I was used to in electronics manufacturing, but I had to give it a try. In September 2009, I took up a course in WSQ Communication and Relationship Management – Operations. A year later, I went on to get my WSQ Certified Service Professional at the Singapore Institute of Retail Studies.”
While he struggled to adapt to new terminologies and skills in retail studies, Mr Chu’s hard work and dedication paid off. However, he still needed some guidance on how to get started. This prompted him to make an appointment with a professional career coach.
#4 See a Career Coach and Discover More About Yourself
In gearing up to re-enter the workforce, career preparation is important. Getting help from a professional career coach allows you to seek career development and advice you need to be job-ready. At Workforce Singapore, career coaches at Careers Connect provide customised career guidance for individuals at all career life stages. Careers Connect career coaches are able to suggest improvements on your resume and share valuable tips on how to prepare for interviews. Trained and equipped with personality and strength finder tools, career coaches can help you discover what are your strengths and weaknesses, interests and dislikes. For example, career coaches are trained in various tools to assess jobseekers skills and career preferences. Armed also with industry knowledge, they will also be able to steer you in your career path towards the industry of your choice based on your personality, work experience and qualifications.
In 2011, despite going through the various skills training courses, Mr Chu was not getting the interviews he wanted. He was confused about why things weren’t going the way he wanted them to in his career. Looking for more guidance, he found out about WSG’s Careers Connect on the Internet. He called to make an appointment and that was how he met his career coach, Mr Wilson Ng.
Wilson gave Mr Chu a thorough look through his resume. He also found out about the latter’s job hunting strategies. After getting a clear idea of what Mr Chu wanted for his career, Wilson provided some key pieces of advice which eventually helped Mr Chu nail a job in the retail industry.
#5 Create a Resume That Stands Out
A. State your career objectives right at the top.
One of the things that Wilson did, as Mr Chu’s career coach, was to assist in reviewing and reformatting his resume. Like most career coaches, Wilson believed that a resume had to be in tip-top condition before being sent out – this included having the relevant work experiences, keywords and neat formatting. Wilson focused on Mr Chu’s newfound career objectives of wanting to be in the customer service line and made sure the resume highlighted his passionate interest in interacting with people. He advised Mr Chu to also incorporate keywords that recruiters in retail would look out for.
B. Next, list your personal strengths.
While an applicant may not have the relevant work experience, it would be advantageous to be aware of his personal strengths. This way, an applicant would be able to market and sell himself in a more effective manner in his resume and cover letter and also during interviews.
Mr Chu observed, “He reworked the sequence of my resume and placed my career objectives and interests just second to my personal details so that focus is placed on it. Then he listed my personal strengths in brief bullet points, where he highlighted my 19 years of working experience in retail, manufacturing, engineering and shipping industries.” This format made it easy for hiring managers to recognise Mr Chu’s working experience without having to go through all of his employment details. Wilson also encouraged Mr Chu to be aware of his shortcomings and flaws to avoid sounding arrogant or aloof in his job applications.
C. Move your weaker points to the last page.
Mr Chu also noticed that Wilson moved his education background to the last page. “Wilson explained that employers have many resumes to go through and we needed to capture their attention within the first page. That meant all my strengths had to be summed up in the first few seconds of reading.”
Within a month of career coaching sessions with Wilson, Mr Chu landed a job at MUJI Singapore as a Retail Associate. Less than two years later, he rose through the ranks in the sector and became a Team Leader at one of Singapore’s biggest supermarket chains. He has now made a career switch and is a Desktop Engineer at BusinessIT Pte Ltd.
Happier than Ever
Mr Chu has never been more jubilant to go to work. He looks forward to serving his customers with a smile and providing top-notched customer services. While he struggled to adapt to the new systems and livelihood of the retail sector, Mr Chu eventually found his confidence and adjusted to the retail culture.
Even now, Mr Chu still reflects on his retrenchment from his previous workplace. He was taken aback by how much his life had changed and how hard he had to work get himself out of rock bottom. Looking back, Mr Chu is thankful for the experience as it taught him about how empowerment can arise out of strife and ill feelings.
If Mr Chu’s retrenchment experience can teach readers anything, it is this: retrenchment and rejections may be part and parcel of life. While they may be painful to deal with at the start, don’t give up hope! When one door closes, another door will always open.
Be open-minded and receptive to new opportunities that come your way. Always be adaptable, willing to learn and brave in the face of hard work and challenges.
A positive mindset, some guidance and a willingness to explore would go a long way.