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What does it take to find a job in Singapore today? The answer may not be as straightforward as you might expect, even for those with in-demand skill sets like data science
Li Ting holds a Master's degree in Data Science, and is a scholar under the Monetary Authority of Singapore's (MAS) Financial Scholarship Programme (currently known as the Financial Specialist Scholarship (FSS)). Under the terms of her scholarship, she needed to find employment in the financial industry within six months upon graduation, and stay in the industry for at least two years.
But months after graduating, Li Ting was still without a job, and beginning to get anxious.
"Immediately after graduation, which was in September 2019, I started actively applying for jobs," Li Ting shares. "Even though I sent almost 40 resumes to different companies, I only got one or two replies, which was actually very demoralising. Because I had a timeline to meet, the anxiety started to build up."
When MAS learnt about Li Ting's difficulties in securing a role after graduation, they referred her to IBF Careers Connect, where she was matched to a career adviser.
IBF Careers Connect offers personalised career advisory services to inpiduals in the financial industry. The service helps everyone from fresh grads to mid-career PMETs improve their job search skills through workshops, networking events, and 1-on-1 coaching.
And with her career adviser's guidance, Li Ting has recently started work in a Swiss private bank, and is loving the innovative and experimental culture of her new company. Here are three important things everyone can take away from her journey.
We tend to internalise rejection and take it as a sign of personal incompetence, becoming dejected and demoralised when we fail to meet our own expectations. But it's important to remember that job search troubles are not a reflection of your professional competency, and to stay resilient and seek help when needed.
Reflecting back on her job search, Li Ting realises that "anxiety is something you need to overcome yourself". But she also credits her career adviser at IBF for helping to relieve her anxiety by opening her up to new employment options and giving her actionable support when she was feeling most stressed and demoralised.
For Li Ting, a bright, enthusiastic, and capable professional, her job search woes stemmed from a few different factors, including the timing of her entry and the needs of the market.
"There were a lot of openings for data science roles, but somehow I didn't get many replies. When I spoke to a few headhunters, they told me that most of the job openings were seeking qualified candidates who already had a lot of industry experience," she shares. "These companies were looking for senior data science professionals who could advise or lead a newly built team."
"For me, I had zero industry experience in data science. But I had more than seven years' experience in the banking sector, which made it very hard for me to accept a completely junior role. So I was sort of caught in between."
Her job search also started toward the end of the calendar year, when most banks would traditionally freeze headcounts and turnover rates tended to be lower.
She advises others not to give up even after facing disappointments in their job search, and to continue applying to as many jobs as possible—because a lot of times, it's a matter of timing.
"Just because [companies] are not responding to your application doesn't mean that they are not taking your resume into account. They may keep your resume in their system for future use, in case somebody leaves and there is a vacancy or for when a new opening comes up," she shares. "For example, I applied for a risk-related role, but the team that ended up contacting me was the Corporate Real Estates department that does office space planning. When I asked how they got my resume, the hiring manager said it was kept by the bank's HR and he thought I would be a good fit for the Corporate Real Estates team since they were looking for a data translator."
"So I would say not to give up, and not to be dismayed if you don't have any replies yet. Continue to send out your resume. And also, reach out to IBF!"
Because of the initial feedback she received from head-hunters, Li Ting became very conscious of her lack of industry experience in data science.
"I felt that I was not a qualified data scientist because I didn't have much industry experience, and that was a very big minus point on my resume," she shares. "But my career adviser gave me tips on how I should bring this point across to the interviewer, how I should phrase it. She also advised me on what are some of the things I shouldn't focus too much on, and what I should focus more on instead."
For example, when addressing her lack of data science experience in interviews, Li Ting's career adviser guided her on how to spotlight the experience she does have from her seven years in banking and credit risk instead.
"My career adviser taught me to leverage my past banking experience to show how my previous role in credit risk gives me a unique understanding of how data science can be used to solve a lot of the problems faced in banking and risk management," says Li Ting.
"She suggested how I could use examples from my past experiences as ways to show how I can apply my new data science knowledge to add further value to the team."
For any job seeker, it's important to communicate what you bring to the table beyond your technical skills, especially if you worry that your technical skills may be lacking. IBF's career advisers are trained in helping candidates identify personal core competencies and transferable skills, and can even send candidates for targeted workshops that hone resume-writing and interviewing techniques to better highlight these skills.
By February 2020, Li Ting's many applications over the past months had begun to bear fruit. She had received multiple responses for interviews. There was one dilemma, however, which offer should she accept?
"After Chinese New Year, I went for quite a few interviews and got a few offers, but I didn't know which one was best for me." Li Ting recalls. "I spoke with my career adviser and discussed this with her. She prompted me with some questions to help me make the decision that I really wanted. She asked me things like, 'What are your priorities? What are you looking for in a job?' Slowly, through asking these questions, she helped me realise which role would best meet my personal career goals and I finally made a decision to accept one of the offers."
In addition to steering her towards the role she truly wanted, Li Ting's career adviser always had her best interests at heart, even going the extra mile to help her clarify some terms and conditions regarding her scholarship—the role that Li Ting eventually chose was a one-year contract position, and she worried that this would not fulfil the MAS requirement of two-year-minimum employment in the finance industry.
"My career adviser supported my decision fully and she told me that if this contract position is what I really wanted, I should go for it. She was really thinking from my perspective and wanted what was best for me," she recounts.
After months of intense job applications, overcoming anxiety, and sorting out her priorities for her career, Li Ting is now in a role that she finds exciting and fulfilling, where she is able to put her newly acquired data science skills to good use and practice out-of-the-box thinking every day.
And she intends to keep in touch with her career adviser to continue making the most of IBF's services in the future. In particular, she looks forward to attending industry networking events.
"And interacting with more people in your industry would definitely contribute to improving your interview skills," Li Ting says.
If you are a finance professional looking to take the next step in your career, or a mid-career PMET looking to make a career switch, why not reach out to IBF Careers Connect to find out how you could improve your job search? It never hurts to have additional support and expertise to help you reach your career goals.
This article is part of a series of stories on PMETs who have gone through an upskilling or reskilling transformation journey within the banking and finance industry.
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