SINGAPORE: He was the final candidate for the night, the last of 13 people who had been given three minutes each to make a personal pitch in front of some top executives from Uber, Spotify, Netflix and Chope in the hope of a job interview opportunity.
But unlike his fellow competitors who made full use of the time to talk about their relevant experiences, 24-year-old Benjamin Lee centred his presentation on an unlikely topic: Failure.
"I was in one of the top secondary schools in Singapore... but unlike my peers, I took six years to finish secondary school," he said at a recruitment event Pitch Perfect organised by local start-up Venn last Thursday (Aug 18).
Distracted by problems at home, Mr Lee repeated Secondary 3 twice at Catholic High School before being transferred to Bishan Park Secondary School where he spent another year going through the Secondary 3 syllabus. Then, he decided it was time to pick himself up and eventually completed his O-levels a year later before going on to obtain a Diploma in Mass Communication from Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
"If there is one thing I want you to remember from this pitch, remember that I'm the guy who took six years to finish secondary school," Mr Lee said. "I'm not your typical Singaporean but I dream big and work hard. And I hope to be given an opportunity."
This honest, bare-it-all presentation eventually earned the Singaporean an "open door" opportunity: A job interview with at least one of the four tech companies present.
Online restaurant reservation start-up Chope's chief operating office Dinesh Balasingam was one of the judges who gave Mr Lee's pitch a thumbs up: "People can say cliché things like 'You can pull through' but it really is more difficult than it seems, so I love Benjamin's confidence in being able to share his story and he is definitely someone I'll speak to."
"WE DON'T WANT TO BE JUST CV-SCREENERS"
Held at co-working space The Co, the recruitment event - the first of its kind being organised by Venn - wanted to give job seekers a rare platform to "showcase their personality and talents, most of which don't come across on a resume," founder Candice Aw said. Selected candidates were given no more than three minutes to present themselves to recruiters from the four tech firms, followed by a three-minute-long question and answer session.
Four candidates, including Mr Lee, were given an "open door" opportunity while three best pitch awards were also handed out that night.
While it was an extraordinary event for job seekers, the organiser also hoped that it would be a fruitful one for the businesses involved. "From this event, participating companies can also see straight away if a candidate is a good cultural fit for them," Ms Aw added.
Chope's Mr Balasingam described the event as an "exciting platform" to sieve out talent, given that hiring remains a perennial problem for local start-ups on the back of a talent gap in key areas such as engineering and digital media marketing, as well as a preference among Singaporeans to work for bigger corporates instead of start-ups.
"Now that we have grown, we certainly have more choices to choose from but that doesn't necessarily mean better quality," he told Channel NewsAsia, adding that sales and marketing positions remain the hardest to fill. For Chope, the most common recruitment method at the moment remains the word of mouth.
"When I look at my company and how the team gels together, a lot of that is about personality and drive. I've interviewed many people; there are those who are fresh out of the university and want to make a difference but at the same time, there are some who are not willing to roll up their sleeves. They want to work in a start-up but still want a corporate environment of working just 9 to 5 and have certain salary expectations," Mr Balasingam added.
(L to R) Drake Ong, Uber's APAC recruiter; Dinesh Balasingam, COO of Chope; Aki Taha, talent acquisition director of Netflix; Sunita Kaur, managing director for Asia at Spotify. (Photo: Venn/Joel Tay)
Ride hailing app Uber's APAC recruiter Drake Ong agreed, noting that talents for areas such as digital media marketing are among the hardest to find. "The positions that start-ups are now looking for haven't been around for very long. Take digital media marketing for example, you are talking about a trend that started 3 to 4 years ago.
"And everybody such as Spotify and Netflix who are moving into Asia, is looking for the same talent, and the fact that things are moving so fast makes it even more challenging," Mr Ong said.
To hasten the hiring process, Uber has rolled out its own recruitment and networking event called "Happy Hour", where individuals are invited to attend and mingle with executives from the firm. "At least once a month, we invite people whom we think are a good fit for this happy hour session and we think it's good to gather a bunch of people together and have a good question and answer session. We actually make a lot of hires this way," said Mr Ong.
Uber also extended an invitation to aspiring job-seekers for a tour of its new office at Tanjong Pagar.
And events such as these help the talent seeking process even more, Mr Ong said.
“We have always been trying to find new ways of getting out there. We don’t want to be just CV-screeners,” he said. “An event like this brings like-minded people together. 30 seconds with someone face-to-face means so much more than me sitting down before a CV for 2 minutes. I hope this can become a trend in hiring in future.”
TALENT-SEEKING BEYOND RESUMES
Mr Lee, who has been on the lookout for a sales job since finishing his National Service (NS) not too long ago, is stoked about the upcoming opportunity. "I understand my limitations and the position I'm in but I still hope to get into a company, either through this event or other means, which can give me a fair chance to prove my worth."
Apart from Mr Lee, Ms Sonia Tan was visibly exhilarated after learning that she was one of the four who scored an interview opportunity.
The 22-year-old had previously applied for several positions in marketing but received no replies, something that she attributed to her lack of experience. She has since taken on a job as a retail sales associate, but is still not giving up on her ambitions in the marketing space.
Hence, she spent five days crafting her presentation and delivered her first ever “marketing pitch” at the event last week. "I had no expectations before coming here and when I saw everyone's presentation, I thought I should leave but I was glad that Drake (Ong from Uber) said he liked my pitch."
Ms Sonia Tan, 22, wants to work in the marketing field but has been unsuccessful in her job hunt thus far. (Photo: Venn/Joel Tay)
While not all participants succeeded at scoring an interview for their dream job, some said they were not leaving empty handed either.
A telecommunications marketer, who preferred to remain anonymous, signed up for the pitch event after being "dared" by a friend. She described the session as an enriching one: "For me, the most valuable feedback I received during the question-and-answer segment was to be confident no matter what."
Even for 35-year-old Misha Vaswani, who spent approximately S$1,500 on air tickets to fly in from London for last week's session, the trip was still worthwhile. The Briton, who previously studied in Singapore for a year, drew loud applause for his succinct presentation from the audience of nearly 80 people but failed to make the cut in the end.
"I'm still happy. Even though I'm now back in London, I am still open to working in Singapore and so I decided to fly back here for this. When you look at how other people make their pitches, there is always something to learn from… and it's good to get to know decision-making people from these great companies," Mr Vaswani said.
Around 80 people attended the recruitment event Pitch Perfect held at co-working space The Co. last Thursday (Aug 18). (Photo: Venn/Joel Tay)
The atmosphere seemed to rub off on the audience as well.
Ms Nadiah Mahad, who was piqued by the event's "interesting concept", said she may consider applying for a spot to go on stage in the event of a similar session down the road.
"It's something different from the traditional way of finding a job and it is an opportunity for people to give a voice to their accomplishments and the things that they've done."
According to the organiser, a follow-up to last week’s session is in the works, with the next event likely to involve online marketplace Carousell and e-grocer RedMart.
Follow See Kit on Twitter @SeeKitCNA