No jobs for a fresh grad? She discovered it’s not true — if you learn how to tap the opportunities
She didn’t get any responses to her job applications, which made design student Margaret Anthony worry that her skills weren’t ‘good enough’. Then she realised that maybe she just needed to cast her net wider, and take up an unexpected traineeship.
SINGAPORE: When she graduated in May, in the middle of Singapore’s worst recession since independence, Margaret Anthony played it cool at first.
Months earlier, before COVID-19 was a thing, the Arts, Design and Media student at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) had wanted to have a job waiting for her right after graduation. So she started sending out her résumé.
When nothing came of her applications, even after May arrived, she thought it best to “adapt” and “accept” that finding a job would be difficult.
“Just take it slow and take it easy,” she told herself. “Everybody around me is facing the same issues … I think it’s okay.”
The first signs that things were not “okay” came in June when a few friends from school started going for interviews and even landing jobs.
“I was like, ‘Huh? So maybe something’s wrong somewhere.' Is my résumé not good enough?” she wondered. “Was there not enough … experience?”
She soon started to blame herself for being “idle” and not doing internships from her first year at university. “Aiyo, Margaret, why did you just slack off?” she chided herself.
Discouraged, she had a half a mind to give up on the job hunt.
PREPPING FOR THE WORKFORCE
Even before Margaret graduated, she had envisioned working in a creative agency or a company doing “tech-based art work”.
As an undergraduate specialising in interactive media, she did a lot of assignments involving interactive art installations, using technology like sensors and “spatial design”. She had also done an internship in graphic design in her third year.
And to boost her chances of getting into an agency, she took up another internship — in user interface design — last March, three months before graduation, while trying to complete her final-year project.
“I was kind of overwhelmed by schoolwork,” she said. “(But) I decided to take the opportunity to try out something new to build my portfolio in user experience.”
The internship at the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth involved helping to create material to raise public awareness of the COVID-19 situation, she said.
Thus “fully occupied”, she put her job search on the back burner. It did not strike her as significant that the eight job applications she’d submitted at the end of 2019 via just one job portal had met with silence.
By the time she graduated, the job market had shrunk considerably.
WATCH: A fresh grad's job hunt in a recession (7:33)
She took a while to realise there were more job search platforms, like LinkedIn and Indeed.com, that she could try. She continued looking to join companies only in the creative industry. Not casting her net wider was not her only mistake, however.
HITTING THE RESET BUTTON
When Margaret was not getting replies from employers, she checked her résumé again and sought guidance from her friends, NTU’s career and attachment office, and the MyCareersFuture.gov.sg national job portal, which offers customised advice.
She realised she needed to rework her job-hunting strategy. “The biggest mistake I made was applying without customising based on what (employers) required,” she said.
I had just sent the same application to everyone.
She also re-read the requirements for those jobs and saw there were some technical skills she lacked. She could not help feeling that she was “not good enough”.
But that’s when she began to draw on some past life lessons.
A playful student in junior college, she was retained in her first year. She also took her A Levels twice to get better grades.
It was a wake-up call at the time. This “made me realise I had to focus and plan ahead”, she said. “I didn’t want to end up in a situation of not knowing where to go.”
Although she did not get into NTU the first time she applied, she kept working on her portfolio by picking up new skills like calligraphy and creating new artwork. She also enrolled in a communication degree course at the Singapore Institute of Management.
The second time she submitted her portfolio, she impressed the NTU lecturers, and got in.
Looking back on that journey, she now steeled herself for the job search once again. “If there’s anything that’s a shortcoming, I’ll know how to prepare to overcome it,” she told herself.
She also took heart from her father’s advice. “(He) told me, ‘I understand that it’s difficult, but it’s important for you to keep trying, and also try different things because … you’ll learn a lot more,’” she recounted.
The turning point for Margaret came in June, when the SGUnited Traineeships Programme started accepting applications from fresh graduates to boost their employability. “It was quite amazing,” she said. “There were so many jobs available.”
And they were in a range of industries. “I stopped just looking for creative companies and creative agencies, and went beyond that.”
She applied for nearly 90 traineeships, each with a duration of up to 12 months, which would equip her with industry experience. In late August, after a 10-month job search, she had good news at last.
PSA International offered her a traineeship contract for the position of innovation executive, which entailed administering, developing and executing engagement programmes to bring a more innovative culture to the port operator’s 50 locations across 26 countries.
Describing her “relief”, she said: “Finally, there’s someone who thinks that the skills I own can (have) some usefulness or some meaning.
It was during my birthday season, so the job was like a present.
The opportunity also brought back memories: Her maternal grandfather used to be a forklift driver at the port. “My mum used to tell us stories of how he had to be very careful with (the cargo),” she recalled.
STEPPING OUT OF HER COMFORT ZONE
While Margaret wondered if she could adapt to a different industry, she knew that if she was able to, it would prove her versatility.
Her “enthusiasm” was something the company welcomed, said Victor Ang, the regional head of technology and innovation at PSA International, Middle East and South Asia.
“We were looking for somebody who’s … very open to new ideas (and) willing to try things that are different from what they were used to in school,” he said.
Since starting her traineeship in September, Margaret has realised that “creativity isn’t limited to a single industry”. Her team has data scientists, auditors, engineers and more, and “the interesting aspect is that everybody in the team is creative”.
“As a fresh grad going into an industry that’s completely different from what I’ve studied, I thought that I wouldn’t be able to contribute to the best of my skills,” she said. “(But) my colleagues/supervisors … gave me confidence.”
When her traineeship ends, PSA will review its operational needs and her performance to decide whether to offer her a full-time job. Even if that does not happen, she is optimistic that the stint will benefit her.
“I’ve learnt a lot about communication (and) teamwork,” she said. “These are the things that would help me a lot in other jobs to come.”
Her struggle to find a job as a fresh graduate also affirmed to her the importance of perseverance.
“Had I given up some time back, I wouldn’t have ended up here,” she said. “If you keep trying, somehow somebody will feel that your skills are meaningful and that you can contribute.”
This story by CNA Insider was done in collaboration with Gov.sg. For more jobs and training opportunities, visit https://go.gov.sg/jobsgohere-cnai