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Chat With Jeraldine Phneah: How Millennials Can Increase Their Salary In Their 20s? 

Getting a raise is already difficult when the economy is doing well. In 2020, it’s going to be even tougher.


Jeraldine Phneah is a blogger who cares about the challenges and aspirations of her generation. She writes about topics relevant to millennials in Singapore, such as how they can cope with the high cost of living and build rewarding careers.

Recently, Jeraldine wrote an article about how young people can increase their take-home salary in their 20s and 30s.

In her article, Jeraldine shared some interesting statistics by the Ministry of Manpower, including how the age of 20s and 30s is the stage in life where people can raise their salaries most quickly, and how they can do so.

Those who graduate in a recession risk earning less than their peers and may have to accept a lower starting salary.

To find out more about this topic, our editor Timothy had a chat with Jeraldine.

Timothy Ho (TH): Thanks for doing this interview with us Jeraldine. In your article, you wrote about how it’s easier to increase your salary between the ages of 25 and 34. What prompted your interest in this topic, and were you surprised by what you found out?

Jeraldine Phneah (JP): Like many in my generation, I entered a job market and an economy that was being disrupted by technology, where there was discrimination against Singaporean workers by some companies, and where starting salaries did not grow as fast as our cost of living.

I felt anxious to see many PMETs in their 40s and 50s getting retrenched each year, which was what used to be the prime of one’s career. Many of them were university graduates like myself. I felt sad to see how they were struggling to balance taking care of their younger children, ageing parents and saving for their own retirement at the same time.

If things did not change, this would happen to us millennials too. We may not fit into this profile now, but in a few years, we would.

I felt that part of the solution would be to build up our income and savings from a young age. This is to protect ourselves and our loved ones in the future if such an unfortunate thing would happen to us too.

I did my research on the Ministry of Manpower’s website and found that the age of 25 to 34 is one of the best times to grow one’s income.

TH: What do you think is the reason for this? Is it because younger people are starting from a lower salary base, and hence, the increment is higher in percentage term?

Yes, it is true that starting from a lower base means that the increment is higher in percentage terms. Say, your starting salary is $2800, and you increase it to $3500 – that is already a 25 percent increase.

However, it is during this time you gain valuable skills, experiences, achievements and network in the working world.

This leads to better opportunities and contributes to the income increase, when one is able to find an organisation that values these assets.

TH: I know of many people who feel like they are not enjoying the same level of increment that they think they deserve. Some of them could be in the wrong industry, or perhaps the wrong company. Any advice you can share with these people?

I feel that joining the right industry is important.

If you join a cyclical industry, you can’t expect to always enjoy job stability.

If you join a sunset industry, what would be your career prospects in the next 10 years or 20 years? Are you truly able to future proof yourself?

Joining the right company is important too. After all, if a company cannot grow 20 percent year-on-year, how would they be able to give you a 20 percent pay raise? Perhaps, it might be too much to ask.

Before joining an organization, one could also examine how the organisation values and rewards talent. From there, you can determine if you are suitable for the company and can thrive in its environment.

If you are a 2nd lower honours graduate without a scholarship, you will be disadvantaged in an organisation that pays and promotes based on GPA, degree classification and whether or not you are a scholar.

The last thing you want is to have spent the entire year putting in extra hours, meeting KPIs and going the extra mile but only to be told, “We can’t give you a pay raise because of *some rules internally*”.

TH: You mention that in the past five years, you grew your annual income. Did changing job helped with this? Do you think employees need to change jobs to get the raise that we want?

In my early years, changing industries helped a lot. Moving to data and analytics helped me as this industry had higher profit margins and growth.

Research has shown that staying in one’s job for too long could mean getting paid 50 percent less. However, changing companies is not the only way to increase your income.

One could aim for a promotion. Throughout my first few years at work, I am thankful to have been given a chance to be promoted twice in two organisations. When I took on bigger responsibilities, an increment came along with it.

Another method is to negotiate whenever you feel that you are low balled. For the past few weeks, I have been doing a weekly Ask-Me-Anything session (AMA) on Instagram to support Millennials in their career planning and job search through this Covid-19 Pandemic.

A fresh graduate recently shared that based on the tips I shared, he was able to increase his offer by $500 a month. This is an additional $6,000 a year for this young man!

TH: Tell us more about your initiatives to lead your generation through this COVID-19 pandemic?

During this Covid-19 pandemic, the class of 2020 would be entering a gloomy labour market filled with hiring freezes, lower starting salaries and much fewer opportunities. Some of us have lost jobs, had job offers rescinded and are uncertain about our prospects.

I feel that this transition from being a university graduate to a working adult is not an easy one. There is a lot of anxiety, unknowns and fears. This journey is made worse by this unprecedented crisis we are in.

To help my generation out, I’ve been creating a lot of content to share my knowledge via Instagram; organising 1-1 resume reviews and conducting a pro bono webinar to teach young adults how to make the most out of LinkedIn.

Up next, I am working on a video tutorial to share with young adults how to grow their industry network.

TH: We are in the midst of the worst recession in recent memory. While some of us are still concerned about increasing our salary, I know there are many people out there who are desperate just to land a job first. What is your advice to readers who might be in this position?

Don’t just rely on applying via job portals. As shared in my recent webinar with Endowus, I got rejected from a job I really wanted 4-5 times and did not even get an interview. What worked for me was writing in to the recruiter directly, asking for a quick call to share what I had to offer to my dream company.

Try to get feedback if you fail interviews. In my early days, a startup founder explained why I was not selected for a job. He said I came on too strong and did not appear like I would be a cultural fit. From there, I decided to adopt a more relaxed disposition in interviews and made a conscious effort to smile more. This simple feedback helped me secure many roles later on in life.

Improve your own market value by picking up new skills. There are a lot of free courses online. For instance, you may want to pick up skills related to CRM or how to use business intelligence tools. You may also want to use this time to improve your soft skills.

Jeraldine Phneah cares about her generation and shares ideas on how we can all cope with the high cost of living, build rewarding careers and lead meaningful lives at her website and on Instagram.

Read Also: Being Laid Off From A Job Is Like A Relationship That Ended. Here’s How You Can Recover From It

(Header Photo Credit: Jeraldine Phneah)

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