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Because There Are No Textbooks On Planning Your Future, They Want To Show Fresh Graduates How

I remember when I first graduated from university in 2013.

While relieved that I was finally free from the stress that came with tests and exams, the working world, while exciting, was a mystery to me. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t have an idea of a dream career, it was that I didn’t know where to begin looking.

Sure, there were job portals I could apply to, but being someone who doesn’t like to waste time, I wanted a job that would kickstart my career, pronto.

I am also a hopeless idealist – I wanted to do a job I truly loved for the rest of my life, AND get paid for it.

Just like most modern day fairytales, though, reality soon hit me because I was simply lost on how to go about that – What constitutes a ‘good’ starting job? Why do the jobs I want to do pay so little?

After holding three jobs so far, I think I can finally say that I learnt how to balance reality and idealism, as well as the soft skills needed to navigate the very tricky corporate world.

However, I was recently reminded how many fresh graduates are simply lost when it comes to looking for a job – one that not only pays, but rewards you emotionally as well.

Image Credit: SMU

A younger friend of mine recently came to me for advice on how she should go about incorporating her passion, a possibly academic-tracked career and at the same time, surviving well in Singapore – which has a notoriously high standard of living.

With whatever I knew about the job market and working life, I gave her some advice, which she was very happy to receive.

“It’s been hard with no one to talk to. None are interested or know so…thank you. I really appreciate it.”

I then realised that she’s not the only young adult undergoing the same dilemma – which is why I found my invitation to sit in Young NTUC’s new career mentor initiative very, very timely.

Young NTUC’s Youth Career Network

I was once again kindly invited by NTUC to sit in on a briefing by their youth-centric branch, Young NTUC, for the career mentors and coaches for their new programme, the Youth Career Network.

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The Youth Career Network is a programme that aims to give a more personalised approach to NTUC’s engagement with youths by having experienced working adults guide and advise these young working adults as they move towards their own employment and career paths.

Whilst there are already coaches to help working people in institutes such as e2i and WDA, those coaches are typically professional coaches.

Young NTUC’s Youth Career Network differentiates itself by connecting youths to working adults who have been working in the youths’ preferred industries or jobs.

This means that if the youths have specific questions about a certain industry or a certain job, they can then find out from these coaches who are actually working in those industries or jobs. So as compared to being competitor to current career coaching programmes, these coaches can actually complement the work of those already existing.

This is in line with NTUC’s mission to help working people stay employable and extending a helpline lest any retrenchments happen.

Young NTUC wants to reach out to the workers of the next generation – in-school youths, fresh graduates and youths on their second jobs.

Said Mr Desmond Choo, Executive Secretary of Young NTUC and also a Labour MP on the Network:

“Youths want to take charge of their own future and fulfil their career aspirations. They understand the need to foster their own career identity. This improves their employability in the long term. They too recognise the benefits of mentorship at work and beyond workplaces.

To help young workers, especially the in-school youths and PMEs to capitalise on the job opportunities of the future, Young NTUC has been actively working together with our partners to deliver work-related programmes to equip young workers with skills and knowledge to stay relevant.

With the Youth Career Network, we are able to bring in youths who are experienced industry professionals to help other youths in need of career guidance. This essentially will grow into an ecosystem of networks where youths come together to share their skills, knowledge and expertise.

19 Mentors, 1 Common Goal

As introductions were made around the table, I was surprised by how diverse in terms of industry and background these mentors come from. They also had very varied years of working experience (from 3 to 15 years).

A commonality between them, though, was their enthusiasm towards the programme.

As I found out later, these mentors have actually been screened and handpicked by Young NTUC, and the number of participants present that day was not the full strength of the mentor team. A few could not make it, unfortunately.

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As an observer, I am heartened by the enthusiasm and warmth that the mentors demonstrated towards helping youth make better decisions for their career.

What’s even greater is that this is a volunteers-only programme, and these individuals are actually taking time out of their busy schedules to help their juniors without any material incentives.

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The mentors have yet to be trained fully for the programme, but we got in touch with them to find out their own working experiences and how they hope to help their mentees when the mentorship gets going.

Zuhaina Ahmad, Director Of Business Operations & Office Management

Zuhaina Ahmad

First full-time job after graduation?

Customer Service & Sales, Employment Agency.

What were some of the problems you faced because of your inexperience back then?

Not being productive and being inefficient due to lack of skills, knowledge and training/coach. Termination due to zero sales closure.

If you had a mentor/coach, what would you have done differently?

I probably would be making fewer costly mistakes on the job and learn the ropes of the job faster, thus performing better. Much more motivated and driven to fit into  the role as there is a trail left for me by my mentor / coach allowing me to navigate better when challenges arise.

What drives you to pay-it-forward with the Youth Career Network by Young NTUC?

My termination. It resulted in a low self-esteem and loss of confidence. It took me a long time and many more failures to rebuild myself again. There were lots of efforts to sharpen my skills, build my confidence, overcome my fears, accept my weaknesses, identify and work on my strengths and turn my mess into my message for people I cross paths with.

What is that one piece of advice you want to give to your future mentees/youth in general?

Actually, I have a few things to tell my younger self:

  1. Always zero yourself and be willing and open to learn and accept new knowledge. Learn anything from anyone. No matter how much you have studied or learnt in school, life always have new lessons.
  2. Add Value – No matter how little you think you know or have, always strive to add value, at home, at work, anywhere. Think of how you can be of service, be of help, be of anything that adds value to someone’s situation or life.
  3. Share Knowledge – Never be afraid to share your skills, experience or knowledge with the fear of someone taking your job or replacing you. Because at some point, YOU need it yourself.

Chen Hui Xin, Market Analyst

Hui Xin

First full-time job after graduation?

Trader.

What were some of the problems you faced because of your inexperience back then?

Managing boss’s expectations and line of communication.

If you had a mentor/coach, what would you have done differently?

Nothing, as I am fortunate enough to have a mentor.

What drives you to pay-it-forward with the Youth Career Network by Young NTUC?

As I am fortunate enough to have a mentor / coach at my various career stage, I saw the values and rewards of have one, as compared to others who don’t and struggle in their careers. I believe that is something I can contribute and share.

What is that one piece of advice you want to give to your future mentees/youth in general?

YOLO has its consequences and repercussions. Think before you leap.

Ernie Chen, Founding Director at Code for Asia Society Ltd. and Managing Partner at Gray Matter Global Pte. Ltd.

Ernie

First full-time job after graduation?

I started my own company with other people and functioned as the Chief Executive Officer.

What were some of the problems you faced because of your inexperience back then?

I was not very smart about finding the best talents and failed to prioritise different customers and channels. My skin was also (and still is, I think) quite thin when it comes to making sales.

If you had a mentor/coach, what would you have done differently?

I would start my own business way earlier, ideally while I was still schooling and have no bills to pay, haha.

What drives you to pay-it-forward with the Youth Career Network by Young NTUC?

I would like to help other people the way that I have been helped. In my line of work I come into first-hand contact with young people a lot and it seems like most people have difficulty figuring out what it is that they want to do or perhaps even who they are – so I think it would be a net benefit to the world if I am able to help other people gain greater clarity just by volunteering some spare capacity.

That aside, I think that the employment landscape is witnessing a lot of seismic changes and it is exciting to be able to play a little role in this.

What is that one piece of advice you want to give to your future mentees/youth in general?

Know thyself.

Cheng Yi Chiao, Consultant

Cheng Yi Chiao

First full-time job after graduation?

Design engineer at STATS ChipPAC.

What were some of the problems you faced because of your inexperience back then?

It was difficult to maneuverer and understand how to grow and who to turn to for career advice.

If you had a mentor/coach, what would you have done differently?

Probably not. It’s sometimes good to fail and learn from mistakes.

What drives you to pay-it-forward with the Youth Career Network by Young NTUC?

I want to give back to the society.

What is that one piece of advice you want to give to your future mentees/youth in general?

Embrace failure. It sucks at first but you become better because of it.

Aaron Chia, Co-founder/Director at OHMYEVENT Pte Ltd

Aaron Chia

First full-time job after graduation?

Co-founder/Director at OHMYEVENT Pte Ltd.

What were some of the problems you faced because of your inexperience back then?

Due to the lack of knowledge of the industry, the start-up idea that we had initially failed. We did not understand our customers well, therefore, in order to convince them is tougher than we thought. However, we are glad to have mentors around to guide us and transform just in time. We rebrand ourselves and now, we are no longer a start-up and is considered a SME.

If you had a mentor/coach, what would you have done differently?

Nothing, really.

What drives you to pay-it-forward with the Youth Career Network by Young NTUC?

I hope to share my experience with more people in order to prevent them from committing the same mistake. Some of the mistakes are good experiences, some of the mistakes are costly.

What is that one piece of advice you want to give to your future mentees/youth in general?

Networking is the key. People is the reason why you will successful, they can not only share their knowledge but also their network.

Teefenson Chua, Vice President, Global Markets, Business Solutions Group at Deutsche Bank

First full-time job after graduation?

Deutsche Bank, Associate.

If you had a mentor/coach, what would you have done differently?

Not that applicable to myself as I have been very proactive in seeking feedback from both formal and informal mentors throughout my career.

What drives you to pay-it-forward with the Youth Career Network by Young NTUC?

We need to be careful about saying that volunteering in this programme is a form of paying-it-forward. On the contrary, I believe I stand to gain handsomely in terms of broadening my insights from listening to the participants and their concerns. At the same, I am keen to share my views molded by years of working in the industry and in different countries

What is that one piece of advice you want to give to your future mentees/youth in general?

I have 2:

1) The idea that we can do all our education at the start of your career is no longer valid. We must put in effort to reinvent and keep collecting skills/experiences

2) Finding a mentor is largely about leveraging on our existing working or personal relationships. The key to having more meaningful learning experiences from the people we work with is by observing them, understanding them, and by flexing ourselves with the intention of make our engagements with them more effective

Phyllis Hui, Client Servicing at a Marketing agency

Phyllis Hui

First full-time job after graduation?

Community Outreach Officer at Agri- Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore.

What were some of the problems you faced because of your inexperience back then?

Understanding the workplace culture and synergy. Books teach you skills but it doesn’t prepare you well to deal with people.

If you had a mentor/coach, what would you have done differently?

I recalled my learning experiences through making mistakes. At AVA, I wasn’t well guided with advice before proceeding to do a task. A lot of the time, I learnt through making mistakes. It’s dangerous because sometimes some mistakes can’t be rectified.

What drives you to pay-it-forward with the Youth Career Network by Young NTUC?

To share my experience with fresh graduates, in particular poly grads, to let them know good grades doesn’t teach or enable you to maneuver around the culture easily in a workplace. Soft skills is something schools lack focus.

What is that one piece of advice you want to give to your future mentees/youth in general?

Try out different jobs, don’t conform to societal norms. For example stay at a job for about 2 years to justify why you decide to move on. Singapore is very pragmatic, we work hard for bread and butter needs. But let’s identify your passion, you may not work for your passion now, but don’t ever give your passion away for anyone else.

Shirley Ke, Project Manager at a supply chain industry

Shirley Ke

First full-time job after graduation?

Store Manager.

What were some of the problems you faced because of your inexperience back then?

I faced some knowledge and administrative/Operational procedures

If you had a mentor/coach, what would you have done differently?

I would be able to do it better and perhaps would have succeeded earlier in supply chain industries and made many achievements.

What drives you to pay-it-forward with the Youth Career Network by Young NTUC?

There are many youths out there require assistance and advices but they could not find one to be their mentor or coach. I managed about 28 interns and FYP students over these years, came across quite a number of them do not know if they are on the right track and require guidance and mentoring. There were friends around who are lost as they do not know what to do for their future after graduation.

I studied Psychology & applied Psychometric Assessment and with the all-rounded experience I had, I shared my experience and assisted them to find their route as much as possible.

With this experience, I decided to be a Volunteer Career Coach/Mentor to help the youths out, regardless of which educational level they are in.

What is that one piece of advice you want to give to your future mentees/youth in general?

Create value with passion & determination in life.

Arielle Kow, Management Trainee at CMM Marketing Management Pte Ltd / Sheng Siong Group

Arielle Kow

First full-time job after graduation?

Management Trainee (Purchasing) at CMM Marketing Management Pte Ltd / Sheng Siong Group.

What were some of the problems you faced because of your inexperience back then?

Due to the lack of experience, I wasn’t able to make the “right” decisions based on the situation. I wasn’t taken seriously by my co-workers due to my age.

If you had a mentor/coach, what would you have done differently?

I actually do have a mentor to guide me throughout.

What drives you to pay-it-forward with the Youth Career Network by Young NTUC?

Sharing valuable job experiences to educate others so that it can be of help to their first jobs.

What is that one piece of advice you want to give to your future mentees/youth in general?

Work hard, play hard, don’t be too stressed out!

Carel Low, Centre Principal

First full-time job after graduation?

Preschool Educator

What were some of the problems you faced because of your inexperience back then?

I faced stressful problems such as managing children’s inappropriate behaviour, establishing classroom rules and communicating with parents as I was inexperienced. Basically, I did not how know to teach children and I felt awkward even though they are young children. Besides, I did not even know how to write lesson plans and plan the procedures and content of it.

If you had a mentor/coach, what would you have done differently?

I would have asked my mentor on how to go about doing things and establishing the confidence and skills to become a better Preschool Educator instead of discovering things independently and inventing my own style of teaching and educating.

What drives you to pay-it-forward with the Youth Career Network by Young NTUC?

My passion for the Early Childhood industry and sharing that passion with youths.

What is that one piece of advice you want to give to your future mentees/youth in general?

Discover what your passion and interests are before you select a job and you’ll understand and appreciate the joy of working even when there are challenges along the way.

Jason Peh, Analyst at DBS Bank

Jason Peh

First full-time job after graduation?

Analyst, DBS Bank.

What were some of the problems you faced because of your inexperience back then?

I was not sure on the kind of jobs that you will be expecting, and was not sure on where to look for jobs that is suitable for fresh graduates without much experience. I also lacked the skills and experiences required to enter the job market.

If you had a mentor/coach, what would you have done differently?

I would seek for advice on the industry that I am interested in, establish relevant connections with industry members and work towards succeeding a career in that industry.

What drives you to pay-it-forward with the Youth Career Network by Young NTUC?

To help youths prepare early for the job market so that they would not be lost when they have graduated from school. Students who seek out opportunities to develop and prepare themselves are also more likely to learn new skills for future work. This will put them in a strong position when entering the graduate jobs market.

What is that one piece of advice you want to give to your future mentees/youth in general?

Get yourself prepared early to get ahead in the race. It is really important to set career goals as early as possible. Students should also commit to putting their plans into action because this will prepare them for the tough graduate job market ahead as the economy goes into a downturn.

Swe, Data Analyst at APL Logistics

Swe9

First full-time job after graduation?

Facilities Coordinator with Jones Lang Lasalle positioned at the Google APAC office.

What were some of the problems you faced because of your inexperience back then?

E-mail etiquette, business etiquette. The little unspoken rules that apply when interacting with people in a corporate environment. Dress code is a big challenge as a woman too. Women’s dress codes are more arbitrary then the dress shirt and pants combination that men have.

If you had a mentor/coach, what would you have done differently?

If I had a mentor I was very comfortable with, I would’ve asked more questions about business/corporate etiquette that might’ve made me sound ignorant/dumb.

What drives you to pay-it-forward with the Youth Career Network by Young NTUC?

I want to be the kind of mentor I wish I had when I first entered the working world.

What is that one piece of advice you want to give to your future mentees/youth in general?

Don’t throw anyone under the bus for your mistakes. Admit to them and fix them, and don’t try to pass off yoga pants as dress pants. Everybody can tell.

Tan Feiyan, Assistant HR Officer

First full-time job after graduation?

HR Assistant.

What were some of the problems you faced because of your inexperience back then?

Not familiar with the workplace, dealing with people and lack of career direction.

If you had a mentor/coach, what would you have done differently?

None.

What drives you to pay-it-forward with the Youth Career Network by Young NTUC?

To give back what I had received when I was a newcomer and hopefully be able to offer advice to those who is lost in their career path.

What is that one piece of advice you want to give to your future mentees/youth in general?

Do not be afraid to do things differently. Ask for help and be vocal.

Tan Zheng Wei, Structurer at OCBC Global Treasury

Tan Zheng Wei

First full-time job after graduation?

Management Associate at Citi.

What were some of the problems you faced because of your inexperience back then?

Understanding the working environment and culture, not knowing how to position myself for a promotion or a role, and an inability to negotiate for a comparable/equitable salary and benefits.

If you had a mentor/coach, what would you have done differently?

Progressively plan my career path, and set mini-goals to achieve them.

What drives you to pay-it-forward with the Youth Career Network by Young NTUC?

I benefited a lot from a particular mentor when I was at Citi. By sharing my experiences and providing some guidance, I hope it will benefit future jobseekers.

What is that one piece of advice you want to give to your future mentees/youth in general?

Stay foolish, be open-minded about new challenges and opportunities, and never stop learning.

Juliana Tay, Senior Manager for Digital Initiatives Implementation in the Finance industry

Juliana Tay

First full-time job after graduation?

I graduated from College with an ‘A’ level cert and started my first corporate job as a bank teller.

What were some of the problems you faced because of your inexperience back then?

More often than not, you will come across situations where you have totally no idea what needs to be done, what should be done or what could have been done. In essence, I think my greatest challenge was managing expectations when you’re inexperienced.

If you had a mentor/coach, what would you have done differently?

Well, I’d consider myself lucky to have been able to build mentorships over the years with outstanding leaders, who not only inspires me, but helped me accelerate my career success. I would probably have tried to build more mentorships with mentors of different expertise!

What drives you to pay-it-forward with the Youth Career Network by Young NTUC?

In the past few years of my career where I held leadership positions, I was working with more and more young people – it kind of reminded me of my “rookie” days in the corporate field. I’m a big fan of mentorship and I truly believe that they will benefit from such a Programme.

It does gives me a weird sense of satisfaction when I see them grow and achieve more than they ever thought possible!

What is that one piece of advice you want to give to your future mentees/youth in general?

Be Ambitious! Take a chance, Make a choice, Live your Life!

Tomithy Too, Seeker / Investment Manager for ST Telemedia

Tomithy

First full-time job after graduation?

Technology Analyst for Impact Investment Exchange & Shujog (A Social Enterprise).

What were some of the problems you faced because of your inexperience back then?

Operating in unfamiliar terrorities means that I don’t understand and don’t  prepare for the full complexity of a problem. Being junior means that people are more skeptical of my suggestions and work.

If you had a mentor/coach, what would you have done differently?

A mentor might have told me to spend more time on my own growth rather than play computer games – if that was earlier in Life. Perhaps have more clarity on how I can contribute.

What drives you to pay-it-forward with the Youth Career Network by Young NTUC?

I am very grateful that I have been given a lot of opportunities in Life. And I would like to start giving more back as a person, and since I am kind of a Life-hacker myself, my thoughts & questions might be invaluable for accelerating the growth of others. Furthermore, I would like to spend my time to meaningfully support people in their growth and contribution.

What is that one piece of advice you want to give to your future mentees/youth in general?

For the first 3-5 years, how much you are paid really doesn’t matter at all beyond a low minimum. What more important is for you to develop deep skillsets, grow, do meaningful work, establish creds and mature yourself as a person. Look out for roles that aligns with your meaning and purpose so you may contribute and flourish. With that kind of growth mindset, you are setting yourself up for a larger, longer game.

Ivy Tse, CEO of Halogen Foundation Singapore

Ivy Tse

First full-time job after graduation?

Initiative Operations Leaders, Product Supply, P&G.

What were some of the problems you faced because of your inexperience back then?

Workplace skills were easy to pick up but you definitely learn faster with mentors to point out blind spots to you. Gaining soft skills and working with people can be trickier if without real work exposure

If you had a mentor/coach, what would you have done differently?

I would have started early to look for mentors, before I joined the workforce. It would have allowed me to think more comprehensively and point out areas that I may have wanted to explore before I committed to a full time role

What drives you to pay-it-forward with the Youth Career Network by Young NTUC?

Things I wish someone older told me when I was younger, I hope to also share them with younger people for them to consider.

What is that one piece of advice you want to give to your future mentees/youth in general?

Be open minded to learn from everyone and everything around you, be brave to fail and try to do things out of your comfort zone – sometimes you’ll surprise yourself on what you’re capable of.

Shamantha Yan, Trainer and Consultant at Savoir Asia Consulting

Shamantha Yan

First full-time job after graduation?

I joined Singapore Airlines’ AO program after graduation, and was there for about 6 years.

What were some of the problems you faced because of your inexperience back then?

Managing upwards and downwards, learning how to learn. As with everything new, it involved a lot of trial and error. Not knowing what else I can do.

If you had a mentor/coach, what would you have done differently?

I might have learnt faster, made different choices, stretched myself further.

What drives you to pay-it-forward with the Youth Career Network by Young NTUC?

This stems from a reflection of my personal experiences and also observing that of my peers. It’s the desire to do something meaningful and make a difference in someone’s life.  It’s also about building the spirit of sharing, giving and learning. There’s a great sense of satisfaction in giving; and as we share, there’s also plenty to learn about others and ourselves.

What is that one piece of advice you want to give to your future mentees/youth in general?

There are a lot of things to be shared but I think the most important one is “Do take time to self reflect and understand yourself to ensure alignment. Success means differently to every one so be sure to work towards your own definition of success. Take time to explore, choose your attitude, and live life with no regrets”.

Zhi Yun, Operations Analyst supporting the private banking sector

Zhi Yun

First full-time job after graduation?

Operations Analyst supporting the private banking sector – this is my first and current job.

What were some of the problems you faced because of your inexperience back then?

It was hard to be accepted for a role that matches my interest but which I do not have the skillset or experience in.

If you had a mentor/coach, what would you have done differently?

I would seek a different perspective and brainstorm for different options with them when the path ahead seems unclear or the job search does not go as planned.

What drives you to pay-it-forward with the Youth Career Network by Young NTUC?

Having just graduated not long ago, I understand the difficulties that millennials face in this competitive landscape today. I feel that since we spend most of our lifetime working, it is important to find a fulfilling career as one of the building blocks of a meaningful life.

What is that one piece of advice you want to give to your future mentees/youth in general?

Building a career does not end after getting the first job, it is a continuous process of self-discovery. It is never too late to be what you might have been!

What’s Next For The Network?

The meeting that I had attended was the first session that all the volunteer coaches gathered around to discuss with the Young NTUC team on how to work the programme. It was great to see everyone so enthusiastic and involved and very, very eager to make a difference to our youths.

These volunteer coaches will be sent for training in mentorship and coaching these couple of months, and they can look forward to meeting their first batch of mentees next month! The pioneer batch of mentees would be recruited from current in-school youths.

Personally, I see a lot of merit in this programme and I wish that it takes off successfully, and for more volunteer coaches to step forward and join.

We’ve all been lost once, but it is through these forms of sharing that we can learn to be more successful career men and women, but mostly importantly – even happier individuals.