Commentary: In this post-COVID economy, job seekers have more bargaining power
Whether you’re a first-time job seeker or thinking of a mid-career switch, you have more bargaining power now that employers are trying to fill vacancies. Workforce Singapore career consultant Chris Lau shares how to go about your job search.
SINGAPORE: Job vacancies in the first quarter of 2022 reached a record high, with resident employment 3.9 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels. All signs point to a tight labour market as Singapore continues its economic recovery from the pandemic.
And since Singapore does not expect a recession or stagflation in 2023, job seekers will likely continue to hold considerable bargaining power. It is no surprise employers are competing to fill the vacancies by offering generous salary packages and retention bonuses.
Of course, the financial factor will be an important consideration for many, especially with prices on the rise. But the pandemic has made workers rethink what they want from work.
Whether you are a fresh graduate or are thinking of a mid-career switch, how can you identify opportunities that best match your interests and values?
The workplace and jobs have transformed, perhaps irreversibly so, because of the pandemic. The ability to multi-task in a hybrid environment and take on myriad roles to meet the organisation’s evolving needs is an asset. Retail workers, for instance, no longer just serve customers in a store, but might have to handle e-commerce operations from marketing to logistics.
Besides staying nimble and open-minded, candidates need to assess job suitability based on their own skills and competencies. Here’s how those new to the job market or the industry can go about researching prospective careers.
BE CLEAR ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT FROM YOUR CAREER
Flexibility is one aspect of work that has received much attention since the pandemic. According to a study by HR company ADP, about half of global respondents would take a pay cut if it meant more flexibility to choose where and when they work.
For some, such as those with caregiving responsibilities, flexibility may be a starting point. While more employers are aware of the benefits brought about by remote work and flexible hours, they aren’t obliged to provide them.
But for most, the first step is being clear about what you are looking for. Find out what you want to get out of a job, which can help you narrow down your career path and roles you will find fulfilling.
Take stock of your values, interests, personality and strengths: What do I enjoy doing? What am I passionate about? What are some of my best skillsets and strengths? Would I prefer to specialise in a certain area or do I prefer to wear many hats?
You may see your work aspirations have changed. Drawing on past work experience can be helpful to decide whether pandemic-related changes have affected what you enjoy (or not) about work.
Fresh graduates can reflect on previous group projects, volunteering work, extra-curricular activities, internships – or even newfound passions when academic and social life were disrupted.
Explore careers by visiting job portals and keep a lookout for growth sectors in Singapore, such as fintech and green technology where new jobs draw on diverse skill sets.
UNDERSTAND THE JOB LANDSCAPE
Once you have narrowed your focus to certain sectors or roles, start researching positions and assess whether you have the relevant experience.
Determine what transferable skills you can bring to the role: How much of your know-how forged from work experiences, internships, volunteering and hobbies is relevant to the job description?
Soft skills, such as communication and project management, are transferable across many sectors. Consider expanding your skills repertoire – whether through courses or workshops – to fill gaps. This can show prospective employers that you have the initiative to learn and adapt, an advantage in a tight labour market.
For instance, with footfall shrinking during the pandemic, retailers had to acquire new competencies in digital marketing instead of relying on traditional advertising like handing out flyers. Government-supported training programmes helped them learn more about digital engagement and search engine optimisation to reach larger audiences.
About half (51 per cent) of respondents in an Institute of Policy Studies study felt they had learnt new skills during the pandemic which will help in their careers.
BUILD AND TAP ON YOUR NETWORKS
Of course, there’s a limit to how much research can tell you about job roles. Sniff out opportunities from people you know - work contacts, neighbours, schoolmates or lecturers.
Even if you aren’t close to them, people are often happy to share information about jobs, industries and even give referrals.
If they might have a lead to share, let them know you’re actively seeking employment. They are more likely to help and support you if you’ve been in active contact with them.
But for more dormant connections, be sure to reconnect with them over various stages and platforms to warm up the relationship and establish trust instead of abruptly going into your career aspirations.
Now that in-person gatherings have resumed, look out for networking sessions organised by the trade associations and chambers to understand more about the industry you wish to enter. Prepare a 30-second “elevator pitch” about yourself and some questions to ask during the session. A business card can be useful with a visual resume that summarises your qualities.
Consider questions to industry participants about their role and experience. What is the most challenging or exciting part of their work? What is the company’s mid- and long-term direction? What do they look for in a candidate? The research you would have done earlier about the sector and companies will come in handy to solicit insightful responses.
Ensure your online profile and resume are updated as many employers trawl through platforms like LinkedIn to seek suitable candidates.
It is never too late for job seekers to transit into a new job role or industry, as long as they adopt a growth mindset and stay open to opportunities, including contract roles which help bridge the gap in their resumes.
There is always uncertainty and anxiety when taking the plunge in a new field or a career change. But the pandemic has shown that many have done it successfully. And the best way to do it is jumping in with your eyes and your heart wide open.
Chris Lau is Principal Career Consultant at Workforce Singapore.