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In 2017, Ivy (not her real name) left her role as VP of Equities at a large multi-national investment firm. Dissatisfied with her role after organisational restructures, she took the opportunity for a sabbatical. A year later, Ivy prepared to re-enter the finance industry. However, the process of getting rehired for an asset management role was more challenging than she had anticipated – even with over 15 years’ experience as an analyst. She was being passed on by big banks and smaller investment companies alike.
Ivy’s is not an isolated case – an increasing number of PMETs in Singapore are facing difficulties re-entering the workforce after leaving their jobs. One of the reasons is because employers are often on the lookout for digital and technology skills as well as creativity and curiosity traits in their employees, which millennials tend to have an edge.
Today, in her 40s, Ivy is re-establishing her career in a non-finance-related industry – she is a HR executive at a local architectural start-up, working with creatives half her age and picking up new skills to adapt to the ever-evolving labour market.
How did she succeed in her job search, and how can you do it too? Here are the key lessons mid-career professionals can learn from Ivy.
Singapore’s financial industry is evolving. With digital disruption, jobs in the financial sector will be significantly augmented by technology and automation. While some roles may be replaced, new roles are also being created – but the labour market is facing a skills gap when it comes to finding the right candidates who are able to handle the needs of a new digital economy.
Government-backed schemes like IBF’s Professional Conversion Programme (PCP) are established to help mid-career PMETs re-skill for new or emerging job functions, and support the companies who hire them.
“I think [the government] are doing their fair share to help PMETs and mature workers get back into the market with subsidies, and many schemes and programmes,” shares Ivy.
In her case, reaching out to IBF’s Careers Connect led to her being matched to her career adviser. IBF career advisers help job seekers open more doors by submitting their resumes to a wider pool of companies; identifying programmes that enhance employability; uncovering competencies and skills in line with labour market trends; and connecting them with other financial institutions.
One key programme was a two-day workshop on resume writing and interview skills. This was a timely experience for someone like Ivy, who hadn’t attended an interview for years and confessed that she was a bit “rusty” in that area.
“Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know, or we don’t know what our mistakes are,” she reflects. “The workshop was a very good eye opener.” And it paid off – with her new skills, she successfully found employment as an HR Executive within a month, after feeling stuck for over half a year.
Ivy initially wanted to stay in finance because she believed that her only valuable skills – markets analysis, portfolio management, and investment skills – were finance-specific.
But after consulting with her career adviser, she realised that she had other strengths as well: interpersonal and analytical skills that were transferable to a multitude of roles in various industries, not just finance.
So, while Ivy may not have had any HR-related working experience, her numbers-crunching, problem-solving and analytical skills from her days in finance made it easier for her to handle her HR role and responsibilities.
Speaking to a career adviser could be that crucial step in helping mid-career switchers realise that they do not have to pigeonhole themselves into their previous role or industry, opening doors to new and unexplored opportunities.
Prior to landing her current role in HR, Ivy had also looked at jobs related to the medical field, forensic science, and pre-school education. Sparked by personal interest, a willingness to learn and armed with her transferable skills, Ivy remained optimistic and open to new and emerging roles in these industries.
But she also acknowledges that mental and emotional resilience were important supporting factors in her prolonged quest for employment. As someone who had never been out of work in her life, it was her first time handling so many rejections – an experience that was understandably demoralising.
“I would be submitting a lot of resumes, but only getting a handful of replies. I went for a few interviews but none of them were successful… I had never felt so dejected, and my sense of self-worth really went down,” she shares candidly about her initial job search experience.
Luckily, she could turn to her career adviser, who was well-trained, understanding, and comforting. “I really appreciated her help and support,” Ivy said.
It has been many years since Ivy last updated her resume and attended an interview, and being unable to secure a job has led her to feel outdated and obsolete.
With encouragement from her career adviser, Ivy attended a practical resume writing and interview skills workshop where she learned valuable new tips on how to promote her unique skills and experience to prospective employers in today’s competitive job market.
She also attended a two-day career workshop which gave Ivy the opportunity to network and meet others who were in the same situation as her, and were empathetic to her struggles.
“It’s nice to know you’re not alone facing these challenges,” she laughs. “So yes, [it inspires] you to keep on trying.”
Getting knocked down is only one part of her story – the other is about getting back up, better and stronger than before.
It quickly became evident to Ivy that the key to success in changing industries is not in knowing everything off the bat – it’s in having the willingness and hunger to learn something out of your comfort zone.
Working in a smaller, more youthful company has showed her how pervasive technology is in our everyday lives. Not just in finance-related fields, most industries are undergoing digital transformation to increase efficiency, and digital platforms are becoming the norm in the workplace. Being open to picking up new skills and learning from your colleagues are key to Ivy’s success.
“In my new [work]place now, I am one of the oldest there. I think when I joined, I pulled up the average age,” Ivy laughs. “The people there are mostly creative people in their late 20s, early 30s. And it’s very millennial – the way they do things is all different. Everything is digital, everything is about how you create your online presence, personal branding. It’s a different world.”
While most jobs may not explicitly ask for digital skills, Ivy acknowledges having them would definitely be a bonus, adding value to yourself as a potential employee.
Her advice to other mature PMETs who may be feeling stuck? Stay humble and never stop learning.
“Humility is very important,” she emphasises. “You may need to start from the bottom and report to someone younger than you. You’re no longer in a senior role… you must be able to accept that fact and put on a different hat.”
Change is inevitable – constant upskilling and a learning mindset are your greatest assets to riding the wave of change and achieve lifelong employability.
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