Four Key Differences Between School and Work

At the end of the conveyor belt of education lies employment. However, our schooling has at best only been an approximation of the working world. In this article, I’ll break down four key differences that I’ve learnt over my short career that you will hopefully find useful as you embark on yours!

Lesson 1: The Problem Has a Context!

School teaches you to solve the problem in front of you, but your employer is looking to resolve issues beyond the immediate problem. Therefore, before embarking on any problem-solving endeavour at work, it is always useful to take a step back and ask who you are solving this problem for and why they want it solved. This helps you to contextualise the problem and provide more meaningful solutions. It’s not something that comes naturally to us and especially not so after more than a decade of indoctrination in schools, but it is something vitally important to working life!

Lesson 2: There Are No Method Marks!

Ahh… method marks, the saving grace of many a student in science and maths exams. Schools are focused on training students to imbibe thinking frameworks and processes and thus reward following the method. Employers however, are after results. Of course, there are still processes and frameworks to follow with regards to compliance and quality assurance but apart from these, it’s really open season on how to solve the problem. Remember the time you forgot how to solve that maths problem in an exam and lost all the method marks because you used trial and error instead? Well, in work, you’ll still get the credit for the result – though you might have been working a lot less efficiently than you could have. So, in work, don’t be too focused on the process and lose sight of the result. The rewards just aren’t dished out the same way as in school.

Lesson 3: The Boss Doesn’t Have the Answer

The teacher calls your name. All eyes are on you as you walk to the whiteboard to write your answer to the question on the board. You don’t have the right answer, but your teacher certainly does! We’re all used to the trope of the teacher knowing all the answers in class, and it is mostly true since teachers do a lot of hard work preparing for lessons and setting questions. At work however, we are paid to answer questions that haven’t been answered yet.

Your boss certainly hasn’t already worked through the problem before you and most definitely isn’t trying to test if you’ll get the right answer. Employers pay you to make things easier around the work place by taking some of the load. If someone could already solve the problem that you’re trying to solve without you, you might want to start looking for another job as you’re probably redundant. Of course, some work environments which require a high degree of precision may have employees checking each other’s work, but by and large, your boss isn’t your teacher and most of the time he or she won’t have the answers to the problems set to you – it’s your job to work that out and convince him that your answers are correct!

Lesson 4: Your Career is in Your Own Hands

Teaching is truly a noble profession, teachers and education professionals invest a lot in helping their charges to grow as individuals and to reach success in their later lives. Employers and bosses on the other hand, are a different bunch with different objectives and priorities. In school, we may be used to teachers nagging you to study, arranging remedial classes for you or guiding you through your projects. We might also remember heart-warming stories of teachers going the extra mile for wayward students to bring them back to the right path.

At work however, the boss is typically much less invested in your success. You are hired to perform a role, and your own professional and career development is typically secondary. The sooner you accept this fact, the faster you’ll get to doing something about it. As Singaporeans, we often find it difficult to ask for things or to make our aspirations known since we’re worried about coming off as arrogant pricks. However, we have to realise that this is a very important action that we’re going to have to take if we want to exert some control over our careers and get to where we want to be! Performing your role well is one thing, but it is equally important to let your boss or HR know where you hope to be and to ask for feedback and assistance in charting your path towards that.

Press on folks! The road ahead is long and full of challenges and we’re only at the start!

And that’s it! The four lessons that I’ve learnt about the key differences between school life and working life. I hope that you’ll find them useful. All the best as you embark on your careers and keep on learning! Till next time folks!

Buy Car or Grab Car – A Cost-Benefit Analysis

A perennial question of the newly employed in Singapore for the past 30 years, buying a car is indeed a significant decision in any young person’s life. Singapore is infamous as the world’s most expensive place to own and operate a car and is clearly a depreciating asset to hold. So is the decision so clear cut? In this article, I’ll share some of my thinking on this issue. In full disclosure, I must admit that I bought a car with my wife two years after I started working.

In the US, you could probably get this for the price of a Toyota Corolla Altis in Singapore!

Cost

Many people have written articles on the financial implications of owning and operating a car. Here’s a pretty detailed assessment from moneysmart that’s worth a read. It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that owning a car is going to cost much more than the other options available in Singapore, namely – bus-mrt-walk (BMW), taxi/ride hailing and car-sharing. The additional cost is usually to the tune of at least $500 – $1000 dollars a month for a basic car vs the other options. Therefore, from the onset, we should be framing this issue as one of an expense rather than considering any possibility of it being an investment. In other words, treat it like buying food, or paying rent. As with all expenses, the benefits you get in return must justify the cost. So what benefits are there?

At around $30/day of additional expenditure, owning a car had better give you as much happiness as that fat, juicy burger that you could otherwise have bought

Benefit

Convenience

This is the most commonly held benefit of owning a car. The convenience has two components: one is the ease of travelling with large amounts of baggage – this is particularly pertinent if you have kids, and the other is the ability to reach inaccessible places in and around Singapore like Sungei Buloh, the Zoo, JB, etc. While this all sounds enticing, don’t forget to add some discount here for the hassle of finding parking – this is especially annoying in the city areas!

Time Savings

Next is time savings. For some people though, this will matter more than others. Imagine if you live in Pioneer but work at Changi for example. The daily to and fro commute by public transport would take around four hours a day! A car would probably allow you to cut it to a quarter of that – a sizeable amount of time savings! Or if you have to work in multiple locations islandwide (e.g. as a insurance or property agent). Of course, this benefit will not be the same if you live and work in convenient or nearby locations.   

Comfort and Enjoyment

I think it is undeniable that being cocooned in your personal air-conditioned space is more comfortable than taking public transport. Additionally, if you are like me and like driving, then you will also derive pleasure from partaking in an enjoyable activity! Think of it like paying for a paintball game or to rent a badminton court – except you don’t get any exercise.

Status and Signalling

Now for the general population, this might not be such an important point – myself included. But I think an often-overlooked point is how status symbols and signalling of success is actually quite important in certain industries, particularly in sales or client facing roles like selling property. There therefore should be some awareness of the utility of a car from this perspective in those situations.

Analysis

Now that we know the components of cost and benefits, the next step is to perform our analysis. The first step here is to determine how much cash you can spare. A useful guide to basic financial planning can be found here. If your financial situation doesn’t allow you to spare enough cash for a car, then either you will have to re-evaluate your financial goals or forego owning a car altogether. After all, you can’t have your cake and eat it too! But let’s say you are able to spare the cash for a car. Then it becomes a matter of cost vs benefit and we can go through each in turn.

In my case, I was never going to drive to work since I start work at 9am and both live and work near MRT stations. My wife on the other hand starts work very early and gets rotated to different locations across the island, some very far from any MRT station. Furthermore, we make frequent trips (at least once or twice a month) to JB to see my in-laws. So, on the convenience part, we gained quite a bit. Time savings wise, however, there was not much of a gain since public transport was not always significantly longer than driving during peak hours. As for comfort and enjoyment, I gave this segment high marks since I love to drive and it was definitely more comfortable to have your own space when travelling. The last point on status and signalling had not been very relevant to us as my wife and I were both not in client-facing roles and didn’t have anyone to impress.

Despite my own personal analysis coming down on the side of the benefits, it was difficulty to part with such a large sum of money. Arguably, you could meet the convenience and comfort to a large extent with taxis or car-sharing. What eventually tilted the balance for me was my previous car rental and taxi hailing experiences. I recalled numerous instances of having to rush to work but not being able to find any taxi to take me. When overseas, I had also rented cars with high damage excesses as some companies were not willing to reduce the excess amount and returning cars were always a stressful experience.

Conclusion

We eventually decided to go for a second hand car that we have now been driving for almost four years. Looking back, it has been an expensive purchase but I’d say that it’s been worth it for us and even more so in the last one year with the birth of our little girl. I’ll leave you with this parting thought: owning a car is certainly an expensive endeavour, but if it brings you enough value, then surely it would be money well spent.

3 Things You Should Do to Clinch that Job Interview

Becoming Auncle

3 Things You Should Do to Clinch That Job Interview

Applied to hundreds of job postings, only to miss out on the roles that you’ve always wanted? Maybe this article could be what changes your game.

by your friendly neighbourhood

Uncle Liang

I am here to teach you the ways of the uncle.

You’re qualified for that job you’ve applied for. Every single line in the CV that you have painstakingly made is exactly what is written in that job description. Feeling hopeful, you send an application in, and wait for a response… That never comes.

It’s super frustrating, and I know exactly how you feel. Uncle Liang was interviewing for more than 6 months starting from November 2019, up to July 2020! In between, I sent over 600 applications to various positions both within and outside of my comfort zone. But after 6 months? Only some random offers that didn’t even match what I wanted!

So Uncle Liang did a lot of thinking, and asked around his recruiter friends etc. for advice. What you are about to read is the crystallization of those 6 months of blood, sweat, tears and frustration… and the eventual moment of light that comes from actually having learnt something useful from the grueling unemployment experience.

Don’t give up – you’ll get there! I really hope that these tips will help in your job search!

Tip 1: Make (and use!) your connections

A lot of people talk about the value of networking (including our own Uncle Teo – read his amazingly useful commentary here)!

I won’t say too much about networking here, but let’s just say that your connections could be one of the most valuable factors in determining whether or not you could land that next role. Especially if you’ve been around – making connections in the industry not only helps you get a referral into the role you want (not to mention referral incentives for your contact), but it could also be the edge you need to get to the top of the list for highly competitive roles or popular job listings.

An added perk is that having industry connections would mean that you might be able to get intel about less-publicized roles, or maybe even submitting your application in way before other qualified candidates catch wind of the role.

I have friends who – when looking for a role – literally just comb LinkedIn for their University alumni in prominent positions, and then send them InMail or even connection requests, indicating that they are seeking career advice. For a more targeted approach, find online communities that focus on your industry, and then begin to network from there. Of course, the best way would be to start from the networks that you (should) already have!

Even your ex-classmates might be able to introduce you to a relevant role – never underestimate the power of human connections!

Tip 2: Create a Bespoke Resume

You’ve done all the layouts, cleaned up your resume, and your resume is all ready for battle. But is it?

Imagine you’re a recruiter who has just received 200 resumes for the same Marketing Manager role – most of them are formatted in a similar way, and mention generic achievements that have not been tailored to the role. How would your resume break through to the recruiter?

1. Design

Canva has a good collection of resume templates, and I would recommend the ones here. I mean look at these minimalist beauties:

2. Customization

Now that you have your recruiter’s attention, the next step would be to impress them with something customized to the role they’re looking for.

I don’t think I need to say much here – if you’re looking to hire a digital marketing person, just imagine the difference between receiving a resume that says:

I handled an account base of digital marketing clients, and ran campaigns for the business.

VS

I handled an account base of 25 clients and increased it to 45 within 6 months, generating average of $200,000 revenue per month through digital marketing.

3. Cover Letter

Needless to say, always submitting a cover letter could be the difference between going 1 month without an interview, and actually getting 5 interviews in a month. Make sure to customize the cover letter’s comments to each role, and what you think they’re looking for!

Please note that this much customization means that you will end up with what others would call “wasted” resumes and cover letters. It’s true, because often the job listings that you see are just for show (e.g. they already have a candidate in mind and were just trying to hit an interview quota). Don’t give up and believe that it will all be worth it!

Tip 3: Make sure you are applying to the right jobs!

It might be quite an obvious tip from us, but I personally feel that the importance of aiming for the right role is often overlooked in the job search. Whether it is your dream job, or something to aspire to, you need to aim for something that is ‘within your reach’ – and by that I mean a role that you can do well in, with fair remuneration. 

I have applied to so many roles where it seemed like a perfect fit from the JD, only to find that I never get called up to interview. Of course this might be a factor of the job’s popularity and the number of resumes received by the recruiter (I have heard of recruiters who, when they receive too many CVs, cuts the stack in half and throws the rest away). Expect this to happen, and often. Just make sure that you’ve done all that you can do to catch their attention, and don’t get yourself down.

However there are also situations where you are overqualified for the role. My experience is that if you are overqualified, recruiters would often put you through but the hiring managers would be unlikely to hire you under fair terms, leading to a ‘wasted’ interview. I know, because I have had many of these interviews. They either end with, “keep in touch! We’ll need somebody like you down the line” or “We’re pleased to offer you $X” (where X is exactly half of your previous salary). Unless you are going into a new industry/role altogether, or if you are absolutely destitute and need the cash… Never rank yourself downwards!

Passion's important. but don't forget that getting paid is important too. You've gotta take care of you!

And that’s that for now! I wish you luck in your job search and I hope these helped!

Please tell us what you think in the comments below – our resident uncles would love to respond to your comments!

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Networking – Possibly the most underrated skill for an Adult

The understated Importance of Networking

Listening during class, studying hard for exams, doing your part in your groupwork (possibly with pre-assigned-groups) served you well in your school years. Networking, meeting people outside your immediate social circle or class, was more for leisure purposes and was not crucial in helping you get your grades. Hence, it is tempting to think that networking may not be that important for your career either, but you couldn’t be more wrong.

Let’s start with from the very start of your career life – job search. You might think the best way to begin would be to go to the usual job portals and LinkedIn to find available job listings, work hard to research more about the company, prepare a tailored CV and write a one-page cover letter. However, the truth is that the job that was listed might already have been reserved for someone else and the job listing was largely for regulatory purposes. How did these people jump ahead of everyone else, know about the job opportunity and have one foot in the job even before it was listed on the job portals? As you might have guessed by now – these people had friends/acquaintances in their network in the hiring company, referred them for the job before it was listed on the job portal and the hiring manager liked what they saw when he/she saw. If you think this can’t be right and/or shouldn’t be happening that often, think again. Read more in this article, highlighting two often cited statistics related to networking and job search:

  •     At least 70% of jobs are not even listed
  •     Upwards of 85% of open positions are filled through networking

Networking – Building mutually beneficial, long-term relationships

So what exactly is Networking? For me, networking is building mutually beneficial, long-term relationships through the exchange of information and ideas amongst people with a common interest, usually in an informal setting. With the long-term view of the benefits of networking, similar to financial investments, it is hence extremely beneficial to start networking earlier rather than later. There would then be increasing returns for both yourself and the person you are networking with.

 

Besides the above example on job search, networking can also help you in your current job with the strengthening of knowledge and industry opportunities through your business connections, gain new perspectives and ideas in your personal life and may even help you develop long-lasting personal relationships.

My 3 principles for networking

  1. Be sincere and authentic – Authentic networking may sound like an oxymoron, but it shouldn’t be. Find out common interests, have genuine conversations and always remember to think more about what you can give than what you can receive. Authentic networking develops long-term mutually beneficial professional relationships that would bring you rewards when you need it most.

  2. Actively plan to network – Just like any other goal, create your own action plan for networking. Outline the people you would like to build genuine connections with and how you plan to do it. For example, if you are interested in the e-commerce industry, make a list of people and make sure you consider both people you have already met and people you have yet to meet. For the latter, it could be friends of friends, second/third connections on LinkedIn or simply those in a certain job function you are interested in. Once you have this list of people, note down your action plan on how and when to begin networking with them.
  3. Leverage both digital and physical networking options – For me, I personally like to begin with digital options such as LinkedIn and Shapr (Tinder for business networking) to do a quick evaluation if there is potential of a mutually beneficial relationship and follow it up with a personalized message with request for a face-to-face meetup over coffee. However, do also keep a look out for other physical, networking opportunities/events such as industry conferences, school alumni events, etc!

     

My personal networking story

While confident in social settings, I’ve always been more of an introvert and often saw networking as an insincere activity. It was only a couple years after I started working where it became clear to me the tremendous benefits of networking – be it helping you get your work done better and faster, helping you get the next job in your career or even being roped in as a partner for a potential new business idea. With the believe in its importance, I begun planning the people and network I wanted to establish and with the principle of being sincere and authentic during
networking I have tremendously enjoyed each networking opportunity. Being an introvert, I favour one-on-one meet-ups (e.g. lunch with a colleague in another department/division, lunch catch-ups with ex-colleagues, coffee meet-ups with new people on LinkedIn/Shapr) and most, if not all, of these sessions were thoroughly enjoyable, filled with active sharing of ideas and opportunities from both sides. Some of these networking sessions then developed into authentic relationships, with regular sharing of ideas and opportunities and the occasional
catchups. Similarly, if you have not started actively networking, as long as you follow the 3 principles above, I believe you would find it surprisingly enjoyable and tremendously rewarding in time to come.