For most, June brings to mind thoughts of summer: weddings, holidays, and festivals. But for the latest crop of fresh graduates, it marks the beginning of the gruelling and disheartening process of their first full-time job search.
It is common to hear “so what do you do?” as an icebreaker at social gatherings. We are inexorably defined by what we spend most of our time on, and for most people this is their primary occupation.
Little wonder, then, that for wide-eyed graduates, their first job search is a process that is financially and socially significant.
Some graduates, specifically 90.2% of them, are lucky to find full-time employment within six months of completing their final examinations in May, while others continue to struggle with the song-and-dance of applications, interviews, tests, and rejections for months after graduation.
“Did I really waste my time studying science in university?”
When I speak to Oscar (name changed for privacy), a self-confessed member of the 9.8%, I am struck by how familiar his story is.
Having graduated from NUS with a Bachelor of Science with honours and a second major in the humanities, Oscar seemed, like the thousands of other graduates in 2018, well-placed to ease into a career without much fuss.
Yet, he took nearly eight months to land a full-time position.
It was certainly not for lack of trying. When Oscar first started his job-search in April 2018, he applied to all kinds of jobs, including technical writing, translating, science research, and various internships through company websites, job-listing websites and even recruitment agencies.
“I basically tried everything,” he says.
“I think it was especially hard for me because I really wanted to enter the Japanese gaming industry, which is notoriously hard to break into, even with the requisite skills and proficiency in Japanese.”
Oscar’s predicament is a common one that highlights the discrepancy between academic interest and employment. While it is not unheard of for graduates to enter fields dissimilar from the ones they were educated in, choosing to do so presents significant challenges.
As a science major looking to break into the selective gaming industry, Oscar felt even more disadvantaged by the fact that although he excelled in science research, his portfolio was too academically focused for his industry of choice.
“At times, I wondered if I really did waste my time pursuing my love for science at university,” he confesses.
Job search and radio silences
For Oscar, his experience and academic background was not the only blocker he faced. He also felt constantly stymied by the notoriously opaque and complicated job application processes common to various companies and industries.
“As a job-seeker, the uncertainty of the outcome coupled with the rigour required by companies and industries frustrated me to no end,” says Oscar.
“For example, certain entry-level positions in the field of science research required my professors to submit three referral letters on my behalf. Logistically, applying to more than one of these was not a viable option.”
A piece of advice often bandied around to job-seekers in today’s competitive job market is to apply to as many relevant positions as possible.
A single opening in certain companies can net hundreds of applicants. Many job postings thus caution would-be applicants that “only shortlisted candidates will be contacted”.
Yet, this silence was a major source of frustration for Oscar. “I would rather be told straight up that I was rejected, instead of radio silence and wondering if my application went into the void.”
“I just wanted to move on with life.”
An unexpected opportunity
When Oscar landed a full-time job eight months after graduation, it was in a field that had thus far been out of his job-search radar: marketing and advertising. Introduced to the position by a friend, he found the job scope interesting and challenging and promptly sent in his application.
Within weeks, he was offered the position, which he took up in early 2019 and remains there today.
“It was definitely not something that I saw myself doing or even considered before I graduated. But I’m really enjoying my work, which matches my interests in narrative and messaging. I also like that I get to use my Japanese language skills, something that I had hoped to hone with a position in the game industry.”
While Oscar’s story has a happy ending, he is well aware that there remain many out there who may not be as lucky. His advice to current students and fresh graduates? Beef up their portfolios.
“If I could do it over again, I would have tried to get more internships or attachments. These places might have also yielded connections who could have advised me on my job search,” says Oscar.
“But for anyone in the same position as I was, I’d say it’s normal to take a year to find a full-time position, but definitely spend your time doing something other than applying to jobs – get a graduate internship or improve your skills. I worked a part-time job in that time, which kept me motivated in a very stressful period of time.”
The job search process can be a tedious and defeating one, but as Oscar’s story shows, with perseverance, a positive attitude and a little bit of luck, it is possible to secure a good opportunity.
Fresh graduates, congratulations, and hang in there – we’re rooting for you!