TL;DR – Buckle up, it’s going to be hell of a ride. But, there is hope.
Dear Class of 2020, I’m sorry you’re graduating in a world that even adults still can’t make sense of. I know it can be nerve-wrecking. Many of you might have dreamt of a fancy graduation trip that is now almost impossible with a world on lockdown. And then there are others who might have been looking forward to their first pay checks – to step in to help with family expenses, to clear off student debts or start saving for their first BTO with their significant other. Yet while today’s crisis is in a league of its own, it’s but one of the many recessions Singapore has experienced!
There is hope. Allow me to share my two cents from the perspective of someone who graduated into a post-SARS economy.
I was plunged right into a post-SARs economy.
In 2004, I graduated with a double major in English and Sociology, right into a post-SARs economy. To be honest, I had thought that offers would come my way not long after graduation. For a hopeful young graduate – the world can only be your oyster. Or so we thought. I heard horror stories of how my peers sent out hundreds of applications with no replies. It was somewhat demoralising because I was really looking forward to starting work!
Fortunately, within a short period of time, I landed myself a full-time job with one of the top publishing companies. At that time, I had thought it to be sheer luck. But hey, looking back, it wasn’t.
It wasn’t luck.
I always knew I wanted to write. Before I graduated, I was already doing freelance (mostly unpaid) work and contributing to various community magazines.
I wrote in, rather thick-skinnedly to request for an internship with a fashion magazine. I told them I’m happy to intern for free. They took me in! On Day One, I was assigned one feature to work on and was sent to some kind of fruit launch party. Not all that fancy. Still, I was thrilled. At lunchtime, I was sent on errands with the classic IKEA blue bag. Take the train at your own expense. So I spent the afternoon running from designer stores to designer stores, getting chidings by sales assistants for returning the clothes late.
I didn’t last long, but that experience on my CV was helpful for my next interview – another internship with one of the biggest publishing houses in Singapore. Hey this internship PAYS, and I was converted to a permanent position after 3 months. That said, my starting salary was $1,800. Oh wells, it took me years to get up to par with my peers, but save for the stress from deadlines, some annoying colleagues and bouts of Monday blues, I have to say that looking back, I enjoyed almost every moment of that 7-year experience.
Every piece of experience counts.
While my experience with the fashion magazine was not what I imagined, I learnt so many things, expanded my network by much, and that set me up for my first job at a publishing house. For the next seven years, I covered various regional markets doing content creation work. A career I really enjoyed.
There is support for you.
This crisis will end some time. I know the uncertainties can be overwhelming. But know that everything you do now will be worth all your effort. In some ways, it’s easier for the Class of 2020. Hear me out. A whole of nation approach is currently undertaken to help jobseekers, including our graduating youths and there is definitely support for you if you look out!
Resources such as LIT, an initiative by Young NTUC, offer a virtual mentorship where youths can get valuable advice on how they can progress in their career during this time. One of the speakers at a LIT career symposium, Ms Gan Siow Huang, deputy chief executive of the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) advised jobseekers to be “hungry, adaptable and curious” so they can snag opportunities when they come along.
As part of the Fortitude Budget, DPM Heng Swee Keat unveiled plans to roll out 21,000 traineeships for first-time jobseekers. Under the SGUnited Traineeships Programme, S$100 million has been set aside to help fresh graduates build up relevant experience. A skills training scheme called the SGUnited Skills programme that will provide training opportunities for about 30,000 jobseekers this year will also be rolled out.
Apart from the Government, universities and polytechnics have also pushed out resources to help their fresh graduates find jobs.
Learning never gets old.
Learning can’t stop. Where do I even begin? You may ask. For a start, you can pick up in-demand skills with thousands of business, creative, and tech online courses taught by real-world professionals on LinkedIn Learning. Well, the first month of subscription is free last I checked!
Embrace the learning mindset and it will allow you to adapt to any change you will encounter in your career, or even personal life. Useful webinars, panel discussions, virtual job fairs and employability coaching will also go a long way to kickstart your job search!
Knock, knock and knock again
You never know which doors will open for you, so don’t let setbacks hold you back. Just keep knocking. I once direct messaged a hiring manager on LinkedIn, congratulating her on the company’s new division and requesting for a chat to see if there are any opportunities. Well, she directed me to her colleague for a potential role. While I didn’t land that job eventually, I got one foot in the door, and enjoyed a great networking session and built a new connection.
Consider offers you might not have considered in a pre-Covid world
In tough market conditions where companies are hard-hit, it is more important than ever to be flexible. Reluctant as you are, you might need to consider offers you wouldn’t have before. There is something one can learn something from any experience. All these will take you somewhere, or connect you to people who can open up more doors for you.
Remember, limited opportunities in the job market are NEVER a reflection of your capabilities. Read about Andy Wong? Recognising that the fallout from the pandemic would be rather severe, this 26-year-old moved on to become a container prime mover driver, a job he found on MyCareersFuture – while working on his freelance writing on the side!
This pandemic is like no other, but it’s not the first crisis Singapore has gone through. Since 1965, we have gone through many economic crises and emerged stronger. Have faith that Singapore can do it again.
Chin up, Class of 2020. Compared to your seniors in the cohorts prior, your path to your dream company might be more grueling. But hey, we all find strength in adversity!
Know anyone who will be graduating in the heat of this pandemic? Do share this with them!