This article was contributed to us by Julia Chan. Information and views shared in this article are based on her own personal experience.
When I graduated with a degree more than a decade ago, it took me a month to find my first full time job with a salary of $1,800, below the expected salary for a fresh graduate from NUS.
Fast forward to today, it looks like fresh university graduates still find it hard to get jobs, and they are seeing more contract roles offered rather than permanent jobs.
Why Do Fresh Graduates Find It Difficult To Get Jobs?
I heard a radio talk show on 93.8FM about why it is hard for fresh graduates to find jobs. Labour MP Patrick Tay shared on the talk show that while jobs are still available, the key challenge is finding the right job.
Mr Tay cited key insights from a quick straw poll conducted among young fresh graduates that revealed young workers face challenges such as lack of work experience, parents’ expectations, finding the perfect fit and lack of opportunities.
To understand the challenges better, I asked several fresh graduates about the challenges they faced in their job search.
#1 Employers Valuing Experience More Than Grades
Ms Yong (not her real name), who graduated from Social Sciences from NUS in 2018, shared, “Coming out of university, I didn’t realise how much more employers actually valued experience. To some extent (unless you’re applying to Management Trainee Programmes, jobs in Civil Service or top brand names like Goldman Sachs, Samsung, P&G etc), your grades matter less than the experience that you have. Because I graduated with a degree that required us to give up two of our summers to do compulsory internships, I came out into the workforce without other real working experience.”.
Her sentiment is not unique. Mr Mervyn Tay, Class of 18/19 in Mechanical Engineering, NTU, also concurred, “Graduates, like myself, often face harsh starting requirements from companies, like the number of relevant experiences needed in order to be considered. Self-development learning may be thus important for graduates but what if the skills picked up for that job are insufficient and the company applied for rejects the application? The effort is then wasted and may be demoralising for the applicant.”.
What You Can Do About It:
Ms Yong muses, “Had I known then what I know now, I would have taken on part-time jobs/internships during my university days just so that it could beef up my resume and help me to be more employable.”.
“If looking for a job on job portals (e.g. LinkedIn, Indeed, Jobstreet etc.) is not working out for you, there is no shame in looking for a recruitment agency to help link you to work. They have a myriad of opportunities and jobs available, waiting for jobseekers to take. Plus, it’s not like anyone reading your resume would know that you got your job through a recruitment agency.”.
“What matters most is bagging that job and gaining the experience so that you can grow and progress professionally in the future. It also doesn’t look good to be unemployed for too long, so don’t be afraid to take on temp or contract jobs at the beginning. It is completely normal and you won’t look like a job-hopper because HR will understand the nature of temp and contract roles,” she shared.
Mr Mervyn Tay encouraged fresh graduates to prioritise goals. “Many graduates believe they are entitled to a high starting salary upon first employment but my view is to accumulate experiences first in order to be a valued contributor. Only then will pay increment be a subject for consideration,” he advised.
Fresh graduates can tap on resources like e2i’s career coaches and Young NTUC’s LIT: Career Discovery and Mentorship Programme where they can interact with career mentors from various industry backgrounds to gain career insights to the industries and functions, and be matched to a mentor for 4 months.
#2 Expectations And Job (Mis)fit Get In The Way
With Industry 4.0 disrupting the skills and jobs in demand, fresh graduates also face mismatches when it comes to jobs, skills, and expectations.
Charles graduated from NTU with a History degree in 2018. It took him a combination of an unpaid editorial mentorship (~3 months) and a graduate internship (4 months) just to get to the stage of full-time employment (with a CPF contribution) in January 2019.
He recounted, “It was frustrating yet humbling experience. That whole process taught me the importance of building networks and personal contacts, and finding opportunities where you can solve problems others might need a hand in.”.
“Finally, managing my expectations (a.k.a. reality check) of take-home income vis-a-vis my status as a local-grad. It was hard initially to accept lower pay. However, this process has taught me more about how I steward my money, and what skillsets I need to command/be considered for a higher pay.”.
Mr Tan (not his real name), a graduate from SUSS, pointed out the dilemma that fresh graduates face when left with no choice but to accept short term contracts. “Having diverse work experience from various short-term contracts before (was working and studying simultaneously) and after graduation puts me at a disadvantage, as employers perceive it as job hopping and lack of career direction.”.
What You Can Do About It:
Mr Tan advised fresh graduates to work with a career coach to uncover your values, interests, personality and skills before embarking on a job hunt. “It is very tempting to just apply for any job that comes on board but that would be strongly discouraged as employers might think you lack career direction. Be open to unconventional working arrangements (remote working, freelancing) but make sure that it is aligned to personal career goals,” he explained.
To help workers prepare for disruption, Mr Patrick Tay shared how the Labour Movement is pushing for reskilling and retraining of workers, through the setup of Company Training Committees. In CTCs, the union, employer and government representatives work together to identify skills and competencies gaps, even before transformation happens, so that workers can transit into new job roles.
#3 Lack Of Opportunities For Fresh Graduates
According to Mr Mervyn Tay, factors such as the US-China trade war, surge in competition and not having a good honours may contribute to lack of opportunities our fresh graduates face in the job market today.
“Like the recent trade war that started earlier this year, many companies are putting their recruitment on hold and employers become more aware of who they recruit. In today’s context, there are not only an influx of local and private universities being established which has led to a sudden surge of graduates in Singapore, but oversees graduates as well as foreigners are coming back to Singapore to compete for the jobs,” Mr Tay shared.
“Most government organisations do view classes of honours as a priority during the hiring process. This puts a limit on the jobs available for graduates who do not excel above their peers and thus have to resort to contract based jobs or only SMEs/MNCs to hire them, which then again faces stiffer competition as more foreigners and private IHL graduates will tend to apply for. Not that the candidate is not smart or not capable, but university grading is subjected to “bell-curve” standards where you need to excel above your peers, not only your grades,” he explained.
The type of degree also seems to matter when looking at job availability.
Mr Lim (not his real name), a Chemistry graduate from NUS, shared that jobs that require a chemistry degree are scarce as the job market for chemistry graduate is not good. He advised fresh graduates to be less picky when choosing jobs.
Ms Yong shared her frustrations that people had about her Social Work qualification. “Because not many people fully understand what we learn as Social Work undergraduates, the degree seemed rather undervalued in the eyes of the employers that I applied to (especially since I was applying to jobs outside of the sector I went to University for), regardless of what was written on the resume. It was rather sad to see that no one really valued the certification, simply because there was little society-wide understanding of what the study and practice of Social Work is about.”.
What You Can Do About It:
Mr Mervyn Tay advised fresh graduates, “Networking and connections are crucial as a catalyst in search for jobs. Both parties may be equally employable, but if one of them knew the hiring manager, chances of landing a job will be higher for that person. Self-directed learning in order to increase the attractiveness and value of oneself for the job.”.
Charles shared his personal experience,”Learn to be resourceful. I’m personally impacted by Steven Covey’s 7 Habits. Personal leadership is essential. When you soberly recognise that you are charge of your life, you give yourself the personal agency to be responsible. Resourcefulness cannot be taught strictly. You’ll have to experience, observe and adapt to life’s circumstances.”.
“Next, organise your knowledge. Knowledge is only useful if it is organised first, and then applied. How you organise your knowledge will impact into the professional skillsets you wish to provide and pick-up over time. Last, learn to tame your inner cynicism. More recessions, disappointments and failures await us in life, that is inevitable. Your goal is to fight the resistance every single day (Steven Pressfield detailed this best in his classic, The War of Art),” he encouraged fresh graduates.