A Singapore fresh graduate guide in applying for a job (part 2)

Part 2 — Deciding on the companies to apply, when to apply and choosing between multiple offers

Deciding on the companies to apply

So, you have identified the available opportunities, your interest, and the type of work you want to do. If you have narrowed down specific companies and roles to apply, that would be even better.

In part 1, we talked about finding out what you want, circle on the left. In part 2, I will elaborate on what you can get and from there decide on the companies you should apply. I will define what you can get as the companies that are available to you (circle on the right), ie the companies that will grant you an interview slot. When we can identify correctly the right circle, would we then be able to find the overlap between these 2 circles. This should be the aim and focus of your efforts.

Companies will grant interviews to candidates with the relevant degrees and skillsets. Sometimes they look beyond these criteria if you know someone from the company. Hence, getting the interview depends on 1) your resume and 2) your networking skills. I will talk about each of them separately.

Resume

Crafting a good resume and cover letter is honestly worth another article on its own. I will focus on honing hard skills as it is a key component of your resume. In this day and age where getting a degree is more common, a key differentiator is developing the required skillset needed.

Classic example is if you wish to work as a software engineer, build up your portfolio to show that you are well versed in the required APIs or frameworks. Take these projects, upload it on the web and put a link of your project on your resume for hiring managers to look at. These projects can be work that you did during your school term, holidays or even internships (just be mindful of IP rights and confidentiality clauses).

For myself, I was interested in a role in data analytics. Hence, on my resume I included a link that documented the data analytic process for my thesis. The thesis demonstrated my skills in data processing and analysis using R. I also have a strong interest in valuation and included in my resume one of the valuation models I did for a school project.

I believe these were the things that got me my current job, as my hiring manager asked me about my thesis during the interview and I was given the valuation portfolio after I got hired. Hence, for the roles you are interested in, showcase instances where you have demonstrated your proficiency in the required skillset.

If you realise that you do not have have the required skillsets or projects to show your proficiency, use the term break and unrestricted electives to pick up the skills to execute a project. If you are graduating or have graduated, you can learn these skills from online courses like Coursera or Edx (Pro tip: NUS students have free access to these platforms and NLB members have free access to Udemy courses).

If you have no experience with the skills required in your desired job, I encourage you to learn bits of it online or in school. This will not only hone your competency, but give you a preview of the work required in your desired role. You will have a more objective view, and better understand if your interest is in the job or the idea of the job.

Networking

Hiring is a highly complex problem. There is no one predictor for success and even if someone is skilled technically, he may not get along well with the team. This is where networking comes in.

Networking is where the person who refers you are willing to put their credibility on the line for your work performance and/or attitude. This gives you one foot in the door and at least show recruiters that you can get along with one person in the company. Getting hired is ultimately up to the hiring manager, but networking gives you an opportunity for an interview to get a shot.

After analysing your resume and your own network, you would be able to shortlist companies that are likely to grant you interviews. Hopefully most of these companies also fall under the category of companies you are interested in. The stronger your resume, the bigger this overlap will be and the more opportunities you have. It is in this overlap that you should focus your efforts during job application.

With the factors of interest and matching skillset, this categories your jobs into 4 zones. A diagram of these 4 zones can be seen below.

You should prepare yourself for jobs in zones A, B and D but with varying priority levels. Zone B jobs will have the highest priority as they are jobs that you desire the most and have a high chance of securing. Second priority will either be zone A or D, dependening on your personal financial situation. If you are more financially stressed, Zone A will take priority and vice versa. For Zone D jobs, I will either put in a lot more effort on the cover letter (to make up for my lack of skills) or I will put in minimal effort because it is likely my efforts will not be reciprocated with an interview. I will ignore zone C jobs.

After you know what you are going to apply for, let’s talk about when do you apply and what you should do when get an offer or multiple offers.

When to apply

One important term to understand is ‘opportunity window’. The opportunity window is the window of time the HR gives you to accept or reject an offer. The ideal scenario is that your offers’ opportunity windows are in the same timeframe. That is probably impossible because every HR agency takes a different amount of time to get back to you. However, while we cannot align the windows perfectly, we can strategise to make sure they overlap as much as possible.

You can do this by finding out how long the HR usually takes to get back to their candidates, and then adjusting your job application date. For example, applying late for a job application that opens early and applying early for a job application that opens late. Below Is an example of one possible plan to ensure that job offers overlap as much as possible.

Do note that while you can align and plan for these factors, as you finish interviews and wait for results, there will be other job openings that may entice you but will likely be out of the opportunity window if you apply. My tip is to just apply! Who knows, their HR may get back to you really fast or worst-case scenario, the jobs you applied before had all rejected your application. So do keep applying!

Offer

Congratz! You finally got your offer(s). In this segment I will talk about choosing offers and negotiation.

If you are fortunate enough to get multiple offers within the same window, you have a happy dilemma. If you got your first choice, fantastic, take it and go. But if you didn’t, then you have to decide between picking what has been offered or applying again. If you are unsure, relook at the factors you identified on what makes a job important. This will help locate your ‘must-have’ in a job and the ‘good to have’. If you have an offer that meets your ‘must-have’, then it would make a strong case for you to take the job.

You should also consider the economic climate and opportunity windows of fresh graduate applications. A negative economic outlook would mean that it may be wiser to take the current offer and vice versa for positive economic outlooks. The opportunity window for fresh graduates also must be considered. The current window is usually earlier rather than later as there is a talent war, and most established MNCs secure their fresh hires early in the hiring window.

Salary Negotiation

Firstly, do understand the the Singapore market is quite traditional and typically don’t accord a lot of bargaining power to fresh graduates. They believe that you have not proven yourself and any increase from their usual pay is hard to justify. However, things are changing.

The tight labour market and the increasing need for employees with digital skills has turned the tide in favour of fresh graduates. The GES in 2022 recorded higher full-time employment and median salary than pre-covid days. Hence negotiation is still possible, but do be tactful. Though I have not heard of anyone negotiating so poorly that their offer was revoked, I think you would also not want the HR to think you are obnoxious if you plan to be a full time staff there.

There are three main strategies. They are (1) arming yourself with knowledge, (2) have an internal salary range that you are willing to accept and (3) get a competing offer.

Firstly, arm yourself with knowledge about the industry and yourself. Find out how much the industry is paying for someone with a similar skill. This can be seen in GES or salary guides. This is important because it helps you to back up your quoted salary range with facts. When you do that, they know that you have done your research and are not just smoking them. This pressures them to match the salary you quote as they know you would be able to just as easily move to another company. Additionally, find out how much they want you. If you find that you have built good rapport with the hiring manager, and you are equipped with the skillsets needed in the job, then it is more likely that they want you. Do be conservative about your judgment though.You do not know your competitors, and they may have also established good rapport and have similar skills. Sooo at your own risk.

Secondly, get a gauge on a salary range you are willing to accept. The HR will ask for a salary range and most negotiation guides will say never give them a number. They argue that if you give them a number first you automatically start off on the losing side because you limit your upside. As a fresh graduate, I tried to follow such practices but I often inevitable caved in when pressed. Hence, it will be good to get a salary range first, so you don’t end up lost when you have to quote a number. Don’t be afraid to quote an upper bound that you feel maybe ‘too good’ for you. There could be imposter syndrome at play. In the worst case, they can always offer you your lower bound if the role you are applying for is extremely competitive.

Thirdly, get a competing offer. When you have a competing offer, it gives you more bargaining power. If the competing offer is of an equal value, it will give you confidence to stand firm on the salary you counter-propose, as you have an alternative option. Even if the offer of the other company is not as attractive in terms of intangible job considerations (culture, skills development etc), HR doesn’t know. They are pressured to match or beat the offer you got if they value you highly.

Here is an anecdote of a friend to back the story. My friend, let’s call him Jim, studied computer science and graduated with a stellar CAP. Jim was selective of the companies he applied as he had an industry scholarship which tied him to his first job for 3 years. Eventually he got an offer from an established company he wanted, and he was more than happy to work with them. However, as he got to the offer stage, he felt the compensation package was not similar to friends from the same company and role. He tried to negotiate for a higher offer, but HR refused and only kept asking if he had another offer. Jim didn’t and could only actively avoid the question while pressing for a higher offer. HR didn’t give in, and Jim eventually decided to take what the HR first offered.

One can only speculate what the HR was thinking, but from the story, it seemed that getting a competing offer could have helped Jim’s case. The IT industry is competitive and since the firm is quite established, it is likely they had room to increase Jim’s initial offer to hire him. However, for Jim’s case, HR didn’t increase the offer when pressed, but instead asked if there was a competing offer. My speculation would be that they are trying to understand Jim’s negotiation position and only from there, establish if there is a need to increase his offer. Since Jim didn’t had a competing offer, HR established that their negotiation position was better and hence choose to stick what they gave originally.

There is a lot more to say about salary negotiation which I won’t cover here. But if you want to find out more, I have placed a few links below. You can start with this one. But as mentioned, fresh graduates typically don’t have much bargaining power so the three things I mentioned above should be more than sufficient to help you as you negotiate (or try too).

Summary

So that’s it! That is my complete guide to a fresh graduate finding a job in Singapore. I caveat that whatever I wrote came from my own personal experience and I am not trained in HR. Do take whatever I wrote with a pinch of salt. Nevertheless, if you found some of these things useful, I appreciate a clap and do feel free to share what resonated with you in the comments below. If you found things that you didn’t quite agree, also share them in the comments. This is my own personal experience and may not be applicable to all.

Lastly, I want to comment that my guide serves to maximise the opportunities you have when finding a job. Hence, my articles talk about comparing with other job offers or doing research on market rates. Comparison is a good metric to maximize what you can obtain materially but does little to one individual’s happiness. At the end of the day, after you get your job offer, you may talk to another friend that has an even better offer and you may get upset that you didn’t search hard enough for this better job.

My advice is, please don’t get upset.

At the end of the day when you take and commit to a job, please reverse your mindset and stop comparing. It will only make you very unhappy. There is always going to be a better offer. Instead, learn to appreciate what you have such as the various strengths of your job (culture, compensation, development etc). Any offers that slipped is part of life, you are after all not a robot in a game, but a human in an imperfect market situation.

Happy searching and happy to answer questions: )

P.S I found these links helpful as I thought about my own career choice and trajectory.

1. https://lethain.com/forty-year-career/

2. https://blog.interviewing.io/exactly-what-to-say-when-recruiters-ask-you-to-name-the-first-number/

3. https://www.kalzumeus.com/2012/01/23/salary-negotiation/

4. https://thewokesalaryman.com/2022/03/09/i-dont-have-a-calling-is-that-okay/

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store