Banker, Consultant to Diplomat — 4 Pieces of Advice for Securing Your Dream Job.

I was fortunate enough to be offered unbelievable opportunities across sectors such as Investment Banking, Consulting and Public Services. However, the journey was not easy as I had as many failures as I had successes along the way. Thus, to aid those that aspire to pursue their passion in a company/place of their choice, I have decided to pool together some of the seniors that have gone through it all and extract their experience to formulate this article. We currently work with the likes of Goldman Sachs, JPM, Accenture, McKinsey, Deloitte, Dow, MFA, MOE, Unilever etc. This article is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather a sharing of beliefs in what makes a successful candidate in a very competitive job market. I was blessed to be given opportunities and advice from good people. Thus, this article is an attempt to pass it forward.

1. Know Yourself — Your Strength, Your Interest, Your Weaknesses

What is your top strength? If you can answer that, how about your top 5 strengths? Most of us in our undergraduate years do not know what is our passion. If you are certain about your interest, please skip this section and move on. I am certainly one of those with vague ideas of what I want in life when I was younger. However, through knowing your own strength and character, you can figure out what you might be interested in. I suggest strongly for all to complete a Clifton Strength Test (This is not a paid advertisement…) in conjunction with a Myers-Briggs Assessment. It really gives a clear picture of who you are. (It is really who you are, even if you try to deny it — personal experience)

The clear reason for doing so is because you must narrow your choices based on your strength and interest. There is a whole world of industries and companies out there (Yo, you know fortune 500? That is already 5–0–0…), and the choices available can be paralyzing. This is without considering the time you need to spend on the application. Eg. Jardine Executive Program and Merck requires a VIDEO INTRODUCTION of yourself. You have to make a “Girl with Dragon Tattoo” to get past the first round. Banks and consulting interviews requires extensive preparation as well. (The IQ tests and Case Interviews totally deserve another article just on them). You would not have time to apply to all, thus, please focus and strike, based on your knowledge of yourself and your interest. What you study really comes second to your interest and passion. One should not be blinded by your major.

2. Results

This is the hard truth. The magic number you are looking for is CAP 4.0 (2:1 equivalent, GPA 3.3). I know for a fact that many MNC HR uses this as the cutting criteria for resume filtering. (JPM application process is the most straightforward in this case. You type your email and register. In the next page, they ask you for your cap, if it is under 4, the next page will direct you out of the system with a thank you for applying) What you study matters to a certain extent, but a cap 5.0 and the right experience will make companies give you interviews anyhow.

Results are not everything of course, but they provide the most direct indication of your ability to be disciplined enough to ace a course in comparison to others. If your cap is under 4, you must be exceptional in the areas that I am going to mention below. If you are above 4.0, please keep in mind that you are fighting with another few thousand candidates with cap 4.0s and 5.0s and thus, you must have those below as well.

3. Focused Experiences

Internships. Internships. Internships. This is something that the business faculty kids do exceptionally well while engineers like me tend to falter. The internship experience is not only a great learning and networking opportunity, it is basically the stepping stone to top companies. Let me highlight some experiences.

In year one summer, I was busy organizing orientation camps while Friend A got a data entry internship at OCBC. I was confounded. What is the value-add for data entry? You can’t get hired for anything better in year one. Year two, friend A got a summer internship as an analyst in DBS. Year three, Credit Suisse. He is now a JPM analyst.
I have a close Friend B. His result is not very good at all (below 3 if I recall?), but he is one hell of a hustler. He founded his own company in the army. He actively seeks internships with banks and tech firms through his connections. Leveraging on his extensive network and internships, now he is a graduate program candidate in a top tech firm with a barely digestible cap.
Friend C is the smartest, most passionate person I know. C graduated from Oxford with top distinction but no internship experience. C struggled to find employment for about a year.

These stories sum up one thing — Experiences matter, a lot. Actively expand your experience and increase your selling points through focused internships. Of course, you have to perform well and build a lasting relationship while you are at it.

4. Network

This is probably the most underestimated factor in a job application. There is a research somewhere that says 50% of the job opportunities out there is not posted openly. I believe the figure is about accurate.

Knowing and having a good relationship with the right people gives you a tremendous advantage in a job application, sometimes even to the extent of skipping resume filtering rounds. (mind you, resume filtering is the HARDEST round contrary to popular belief). You must be proactive. Practice your small talk skill sets and reach out whenever there is a networking event or roadshows. It is hard but necessary. I struggled with networking a lot initially but it is something that is inevitable. In the end, I was able to skip the resume vetting round of a top firm because of network recommendations.

Use tools such as LinkedIn. It allows you to expand your network. You can see and add 2nd-degree personnel (your friends’ network basically) without sending them a personalized message. So please, make your profile all-star level and add those with vast networks to increase your visibility. You can add me if you can find me haha.

Lastly, PLEASE BE GENUINE when you network. Yes, you have an agenda but please don’t bootlick or try-hard to get it. Be candid, be yourself and just take it naturally.

PS. A University name card is extremely useful.

Conclusion

In conclusion, getting the right job requires you to know yourself, have good results to show after 4 years, good experiences and a great network. It is incredibly competitive to secure a very sought-after role. (Don’t even get me started on Unilever) You are basically competing with the very best on the island and those returning overseas. One thing that struck me though, was how few of us know exactly what we want. We fought for the few places in top firms without knowing what drives us inside.

In the end, with the bevy of choices, I chose to follow my heart. I hope you will be as fortunate as I am and pursue your passion.

The writer currently works in a ministry that deals with international relations.