To have and to hold from this day forward

… an extra qualification.

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It is difficult to work, but it’s even harder to work and study at the same time.

Some of you may wonder why I stopped blogging so regularly. Yes, there were the usual episodes of laziness and a lack of inspiration, however I did have a legitimate reason – I was studying for my CIMA qualification. And it took forever for me to take my first exam because it was just so hard. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that the content was particularly challenging (though it wasn’t that easy either), it was hard because I had to work at the same time.

I should have made better use of my free time in University by doing the qualification instead. In fact, I had an acquaintance who did the CIMA foundation and level 1 during university, because he needed a diploma or a degree certificate in order to take his CFA. He then went on to finish his CFA before we even started working. We all thought he was crazy and intense. On hindsight, given how slack it sometimes was in year 1 and 2 of University, I regret not doing the same. At present, he has an awesome job, which most people can’t have given our limited level of experience and lack of qualification. His LinkedIn profile is always ranked one of the most viewed. Of course, there are also some of us who have landed great jobs and would never need those qualifications.

But sometimes I wonder if I did the same, would I be as successful as him? That’s a rhetorical question – probably not even close but I would think I would be better positioned during the job hunting season. I guess I just have to settle with the fact that I now have to work and study at the same time.

Having been through a little of what it’s like, I thought to give those of you who are thinking of doing a qualifications some tips on what to look out.

1. Find something relevant to what you do or what you might be interested to do

This might seem straightforward, but sometimes people take qualifications for the sake of taking them or because people around them are doing so. Personally, I was dissuaded from taking CIMA by some people. They advised me that I should have taken CFA instead because it was more recognised. However, the definition of “more recognised” depends on what industry you work in. If I were in banking – yes absolutely, but I found that CIMA was more relevant to my work.

Pursuing a qualification is also a great move to switch out of a job / industry. A good example is how some people have decided to take do Masters with the hope that that’ll open another window of opportunity to them. That works too, but there’s always a level of uncertainty with that, which leads to me to my next point.

2. Speak to as many people as possible

If you’re really serious about taking a qualification, speak to a good mix of people, specifically:

  • those who are senior and qualified to understand how the qualification has or hasn’t benefitted them
  • those who are in the industry / job that you hope your qualification will open doors to, in order to understand whether the qualification is actually relevant and necessary for their job
  • those who are taking the qualification to learn about their experience and assess if you can really take the extra challenge and stress. They may also give you a tip or two about financing options

3. Start small – if you can, take one exam and see whether you find it relevant

It doesn’t have to be like a 12 month gym membership, you can actually take 1 exam first, then schedule the other exams after that. Don’t overcommit and buy all the books at one, only to find that you hate it and find it extremely boring. You could even buy the book first and see whether you find the exam worth taking. There’s definitely a high cost to pursuing qualifications. Sometimes you might have to self fund your studies, so you need to be wise about how you spend your money. Even if your company sponsors you, you need to make sure that failing the exam will not affect your promotion and bonus opportunities, or even worst whether you keep your job.

And this reminds me – I really need to cancel my monthly gym membership.

4. Once you commit, you will experience pain and constant FOMO, but don’t give up.

FOMO 
ˈfəʊməʊ/
noun informal
  1. anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.
    “I realized I was a lifelong sufferer of FOMO”
early 21st century: abbreviation of fear of missing out.

 

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Know that you will definitely lose some weekends and weekday nights. It’s very common in the UK that people will ask you “how was your weekend”. My response for my Easter holiday weekend was particularly depressing because I was studying throughout. When asked this question, we figured that it is usually polite to ask the person back. Cue a slight cringe inside when they tell me about their fabulous weekend, riding horses and chasing unicorns. I guess at least they didn’t mock me for having a lack of life.

Or maybe you could rethink FOMO, when everyone has qualification and you have none. #FOMO

Concluding Thoughts

As one of my friends pointed out to me, those who are the most successful are often those who are always working and studying at the same time. They are constantly improving their personal and professional self. It doesn’t have to be by pursuing professional qualification – there’s only so many you can do that is relevant but self-improvement is always great.

At least you won’t feel that your “study” brain is degenerating. Looking back, i can confidently say that my math has definitely improved. The qualification has also helped me understand a lot more things in work. There was an initial inertia to study after work, but it really helps once I get into a rhythm of work-study-life. I still feel that I miss out sometimes, especially on sunny weekends and I’m stuck indoors. But even if I’m not studying, the truth is that I would probably be stuck indoors watching drama anyway.

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An accurate portrayal by theAwkwardYeti

On the bright side, for the rest of us who are single and have few commitments, we just need to worry about working and studying. I have no idea how those who are married with kids, work and study survive.

Hope you enjoyed the post! I would also like to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment. You’ll never know who else is reading your comments and might benefit from them!

If you would like to stay tune to the next post, please click the “Follow” button on the bottom right of the page and just provide your email. You don’t need to have a registered wordpress account. 

You can also connect by following my instagram @twentyandfabulous and liking my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/twentyandfabulous/

Stay fabulous & ambitious everyone! 

Athena

 

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The Car Park Problem: Learning to Say No

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I was back in Singapore for Lunar New Year last month and encountered a peculiar problem in the car park. My best friend was driving and we were looking for a parking space in a multi-storey car park. However, when she drove to the third storey, everything came to a standstill. We didn’t move for twenty minutes.

By some miracle, we eventually found a parking lot and got out as quickly as we could. I asked my best friend about this and she said this was a common situation faced in this car park. The car park had a major problem. It had only one lane. Cars that came up to find parking lots were blocked by cars which were trying to get out of the carpark. Then the honking starts. All that was needed to solve the problem was for someone to say no to the situation, get out of the car and direct the traffic, but everyone preferred to sit in their air-conditioned vehicle… and honk. Nobody wanted to get out into the heat and roll up their sleeves to get the traffic moving.

The car park problem reflects a similar problem I face in work: my inability to say no, because it is uncomfortable.

As a junior, it is normal that we would want to please our bosses. It could be ambition that drives us to constantly want to impress our superiors. Sometimes its nervousness that we may be left behind our peers if we don’t make them happy. Sometimes it could be just purely of fear that we will not progress in our careers if we don’t. I have the same fear. During one of my projects, I received the feedback that in my eagerness to please, I didn’t actually know what I signed up for. Given the tight deadline of one month, I didn’t actually have the capacity to perform the task, but I said yes to the partner because I didn’t like the idea of rejecting a partner. I mean, it’s a partner.

Since it’s so uncomfortable to say no, why should I do it then?

It affects your ability to deliver on other tasks.

For every task that you accept, you need to consider the consequences on the other outstanding work that you have. Does it affect the quality and the timeliness of other work? How does it change the order of priority of each piece of work? This will also put your reputation at stake if you fail to deliver.

A good piece of advice I was given by someone was to “under-promise and over-deliver” for every piece of work that you receive. As you’ve managed expectations when the task was initially handed out to you, any extra mile you go will enable you to exceed expectations upon completion of your task. However, I’ll put a twist on this principle – before you can even under-promise anything, how about think of what you can even promise in the first place. Because if you’re overworked, you can under-promise, but you’ll probably under-deliver as well.

It increases chance of burnout from work.

One of the main points that I didn’t mention in my post on the difficulties of transitioning from University to work, which eventually leads graduates to want to quit very quickly, is actually due to our inability to say no. Having more responsibilities and being challenged is a good thing, but when it starts making you sacrifice your weekends and prolong your weekdays, you will burn out soon.

As some of us aren’t willing to have this conversation about being overworked with our boss, we choose to quit instead because we can’t actually live like that. We live with the stigma that saying no and refusing a task means that we are lazy and not willing to be challenged, but there is a line. Sometimes people give you so much because they have become accustomed to you taking on so much that they don’t even realise. However, nobody is going to tell them except for you. The onus is on you.

In fact, I would think that employers would prefer you to work hard, be consistent about the quality of work, rather than work extremely hard all the time and quit after less than 2 years of working for them. As quoted by a friend who has his own company, “we prefer a consistent employee than a one who slacks one day, hotshot the next. When you’re running a company, you want reduce all the unknowns as much as possible. There’s enough of them as it is.”

An obvious question now comes to mind, how do you say no exactly?

An effective method that I’ve tried so far was to ask questions to clarify and increase my understanding of the task. Sometimes people aren’t really sure what task they are handing out to you to do, sometimes they don’t even know the purpose of the task. Hence, by asking questions and challenging them slightly, the task may actually have been redundant. You could try listing the competing priorities you have at hand to see whether you can fit the new task in, or if the person will get the message that it’s not possible. In fact, even if you didn’t successfully manage to say no, the person can at least give you a hand at prioritising the different tasks you’re juggling with.

I haven’t been able to investigate the different methods, but one thing not to do is to say no immediately when the request is given. It’s so easy to come off as rude and arrogant when you say no immediately, especially to your superior.

Concluding Thoughts

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There’s always a rainbow if you just step out.

With that said, it’s important to not reject challenges to increase your capacity and ability at work. You need to judge correctly for yourself what is too much for you and what you’re rejecting because you aren’t willing to be challenged.

Nobody knows whether you’re just being lazy or you’re really overloaded with work, except you. We are sometimes so good at putting a professional and calm front that we forget to prioritise our own well-being. We sit there stuck in our cars honking all day, frustrated and angry with the situation. We forget that the quality of our other work decreases when we take on more than we can handle. We forget that we could actually do something about the car park problem.

If you face the carpark problem in your workplace, why don’t you stop honking and do something about it today?

Hope you enjoyed the post! I would also like to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment. You’ll never know who else is reading your comments and might benefit from them!

If you would like to stay tune to the next post, please click the “Follow” button on the bottom right of the page and just provide your email. You don’t need to have a registered wordpress account. 

You can also connect by following my instagram @twentyandfabulous and liking my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/twentyandfabulous/

Stay fabulous & strong everyone! 

Athena

The first 90 days of working

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Let’s talk about the first 90 days from the time you started work.

Maybe you’ve worked for much longer than that, but this post is dedicated to all of you who have worked for less than a year. (90 days just has a nice ring to it, heehee).

I had initially planned to write about networking and dressing up for work, but I realised that I had too many friends who had just started work and were discouraged and slightly disillusioned. Work was different from what they had expected. Some of them had landed their dream jobs, some of them hadn’t, but the recurring theme was that work wasn’t that great.

I had my 1 year work anniversary in September and yes, it feels like a long time. So to those who have just started working, I hope to share with you some realisations I had from my first year of working, while it’s still fresh in my mind. And in my own little way, also encourage you to press on. 

1. The transition from University to Work is difficult, sometimes, really difficult, especially with the ‘longer’ hours.

Day 0: I still remember the feeling I had on the first day of work (actually it was induction), I was fresh, excited and ready to change the world. However, at the same time, I felt apprehensive and uncertain about my future. Would I do well in my job? Would my boss and colleagues like me?

Day 7: Post-training – I had a brilliant time and now I felt I was even ready to conquer the world.

Day 60: Entering the business was completely different from my expectations. It was difficult, so difficult to transition from University where I knew almost everything and knew how to behave and deal with situations to Work where I spent my 9am to 6pm, doing tasks that nobody wanted to do because I was assumed to know nothing. I could hardly stay awake in the morning and I couldn’t stay focused after lunch because I had food coma.

Many of us would understand the feeling of having morning lectures in University then going back home to take a nap or some place to chill before going for afternoon lectures. But now, you have to work straight from early morning to night, with a short lunch break in the morning.

But fear not, because things will get better once you find your coping mechanism.

For example, some of us rely on coffee. Personally, I don’t really like coffee, but I do have one cup every morning to keep me through the day. Too much coffee is unhealthy though, so I do limit the number of cups I take to prevent that though getting addicted. I wouldn’t want to be one of those who can’t function without coffee.

To cope with working late into the night, I had a small packet of crisps. I know this explains why I put weight after working, but at least it got me going for the first few months. Think of it as Freshers 15, but for work. After that, I became used to working longer and also replaced with crisps with fruits.

See things do get better.

2. Not knowing what to do or how to act is normal

The second realisation occurred to me much later when I overheard 2 senior members of the team speak about this. They were saying that they felt that this new graduate was rather arrogant because he acted like he knew everything, when he’s just a graduate. This was revelation to me because I often felt the discomfort of not knowing what is appropriate to do or say, and in terms of my work, I didn’t know what was the best approach. But then I realised, it’s normal.

As someone new entering the workforce, no one really expects you to know anything. Instead, they expect you to ask questions and be curious about things. Learn to clarify and understand what is the best way to approach situations.

However, I would like to think that there are certain guidelines on how questions should be asked:

Address the question to the right person

I will strongly advise against asking stupid questions openly. While senior people can be quite friendly during dialogue sessions and will say things like, “feel free to ask any questions, even stupid ones”. They actually expect you to think through it and make sure it’s relatively appropriate. Asking the CEO how to use the office printer or very basic questions will not help advance your career at all.

Ask at the right time

Sometimes, it’s also about asking questions at the right time. While you can be very enthusiastic and proactive, you need to take into account your environment. Let me give you a scenario: On the day before the deadline of your client’s deliverable, you are given the task of formatting some slides, for example, make sure that objects on your slide are aligned on the slide. You decide to read the content of those slides and realised that you have some questions about the content that you want to ask your manager. Under any other circumstances, you are learning and doing the right thing (see point 4 later). However, try asking your manager now, maybe he might entertain you, but it will put him in a relatively snappy mood. Your team is rushing a deliverable deadline! Choose to ask the question at the right time.

Ask questions that you cannot Google about

I think this is quite self explanatory. Otherwise you can Google what I mean. Yes, I get the old age argument that we all want to save time and ask the person who can give us the answer immediately, but you remember better when you find out the answer yourself. Save yourself the opportunity to ask other more challenging questions.

Don’t keep asking the same question 

People will know that you’re not listening.

3. Expect to do shit work whether you’re in the job of your dreams or not

Regardless of where you start work, you will be given the most mundane and boring tasks because you are the most junior person. Why? It’s just because someone needs to get them done. If you don’t do it, no one else will do it. Then why should you stick it out then? I thought about this a lot. As we joined the workforce at our prime, we should be given more exciting tasks that would allow us to fully utilise our brain power. So why should we do that? Why?

It’s because no one trusts you. We all know there are flaws in the recruitment system and even the most qualified person in terms of education, may not be very good at their job. Having a job requires almost a different skill set altogether. How many of us start working and realise that it is completely different from what you learnt in University?

The little mundane tasks you do will overtime allow people to trust you more with the bigger tasks. Put yourself in the shoes of your superior. If you whine and complain all about the small tasks that you have to do, think about how much more whining and complaining your team will have to endure when you are allocated a difficult task.

I often hear that juniors sometimes enter the business expecting to be given tasks similar to Managing Directors / Partners. They complain that they don’t learn during stupid tasks.

This brings us to my next point

4. Who says you can’t learn doing the small tasks?

Someone successful from my parents’ generation once told me that as the most junior person on the team, his only job was photocopying documents for a very long time. But he read every single piece of information on the paper that he was photocopying.

You see, friends, it’s all about the attitude.

5. Have a life outside of work

It’s very easy to be consumed by work when you start, especially when you have challenging hours. Sometimes when you go back home, you feel like you still have outstanding work, so you continue.

It’s really easy to burn out this way. Partly because I work in the UK where there is an emphasis on work life balance, but partly because I see others around me wanting to quit or feeling lost after working for a few months – You really need to find your work life balance. Everyone works and enjoys in different ways, so you need to find something that lets you switch off from work and look forward to. Personally, I do that by deliberately turning off my work phone on the weekends. I also play badminton every Wednesday, because at least I know mid week I have something to look forward to.

Don’t make your life all about work, because you will begin to hate it, then you will start entertaining thoughts of quitting.

Concluding Thoughts

Some of us were so happy when we finally got a job after multiple rejections that it didn’t really matter whether the job suited us. Some of us were lucky enough to get our “dream” job. Gradually, we all realised that the dream we were promised was a nightmare. Many of us, including myself, became disheartened along the way, because the job wasn’t what we expected. However, I think if we decide to look at work with a different perspective and attitude, it will get better over time. People will trust you more and delegate more difficult tasks for you to do. And even when you become senior, you will still have to deal with some administrative and mundane tasks. But it’s your attitude and what you decide to do about your situation that makes the difference.

If everything still doesn’t work out, you can always look for another job. But make sure that you’ve learnt and gained all that you want from your current job before moving. Make sure it’s not a whim that you change jobs but that you’ve given your job a proper chance. For example, by committing to your job for longer than just a few months and giving your best attitude. At least then you can said that you’ve tried your best but your relationship with this job just didn’t work out.

How about we try to switch the theme from work wasn’t that great to I’m learning everything I can from this job. 

Hope you enjoyed the post! I would also like to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment. You’ll never know who else is reading your comments and might benefit from them!

If you would like to stay tune to the next post, please click the “Follow” button on the bottom right of the page and just provide your email!

Stay fabulous & optimistic everyone! 

Athena

The Daunting Job Hunt

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At 23, one of the most daunting things most people will face is the uncertainty of their future.

You’ve just gotten out of University, bright faced, inexperienced, but filled with the goodness of academic knowledge. You’ve studied for most of your life – you are the smooth player, you know which lectures to skip and which ones are important for exam hints, you know that answering ‘C’ in multiple choice questions increases your probability of getting the question right (but know that professors know that too), you know how to differentiate the equation using product rule and chain rule. You are the expert at studying, master of the universe.

Until the moment of realisation dawns upon you that… you don’t have a job. You have no idea where you will be in the next five years.

Rewind back to first year of University when your friends were out there getting spring weeks, then internships in year 2 then graduate roles in final year, while you were having fun and partying. Or like me, you didn’t party hard or go crazy, you just didn’t think about life after school. Don’t panic, it’s not the end of the world when you don’t have something. We all start somewhere.

“Welcome to world of job hunting, but there will always be presents for you to grab if you learn how to approach it.”

Let’s see if I can provide some help in any way. As I’m not a UK citizen, cue visa issues, I often get questions of a similar nature to “How did you find a graduate job in the UK?”. Well, let’s just say I was blessed by God, but also that I did some things right.

1. Start your research early! 

When I went to university, because everyone in Economics wanted to go into the banking industry, I jumped onto the bandwagon immediately without doing much research. Hence, when I was posed the question “What do you like about Equity sales” during my Nomura Women’s Spring week interview for an equity sales position, I said everything I knew and enjoyed about sales, cutting out the equity bit because I had absolutely no idea about what equity even meant. That interview then went on to traumatised me for the next 3 years of interview drought.

I wished I researched on what equity meant.

In my final year applying for graduate roles, I learnt my lesson and researched on every firm and every role as much as I could. There are always a few similar questions that can be prepared. Use Glassdoor and Google!!!

  • Why do you want to join firm x?
  • What do you think makes you a good fit for firm x?
  • What do you know about the role?
  • Tell me about a time when you demonstrated one of firm x’s values.

Taking on internships is also a form of research, because while you do rubbish things during an internship like photocopy or in my case, Anti-Money Laundering checks, you do get a glimpse of the industry that you are looking at. In addition, you can speak to me around you in the industry to understand to some extent what they do. I say to some extent, because job descriptions and what people say sometimes sound much better than the actual career. However, if it’s difficult to find out enough, you can only rely your network.

2. Know what you don’t want and narrow your search

It’s hard to figure out what you want sometimes, especially when you don’t have any real experience of all the jobs in the world. Yes, you do have job descriptions, but like I said earlier, they don’t actually reflect the reality sometimes.

For me, it was clear after my disastrous internship at the bank that I was not at all interested in a career in banking. So that was out of the way and I had a better focus on what I wanted to do. I find that sometimes when you force yourself to do something, not only do you not enjoy it, you won’t be able to give 100% because you’ll be always wishing that you’re somewhere else. You need to also think about whether you will be able to compete effectively with those who give their 100% and actually enjoy that job.

In addition, I knew that I didn’t want to go back to Singapore, so I applied to as many UK jobs as I could. Of course, because we shouldn’t put all the eggs in the same basket, I submitted a few applications for jobs in Singapore. However, my focus was clear and I knew where my priorities were.

3. Apply early with quality and quantity

I know sometimes we are in a rush to meet application deadlines. That’s inevitable because we are not sure of all the opportunities available. However, if you’re actually interested in the company and the job, be prepared to stay up late to submit a proper application after revising it a few times. In addition, don’t be afraid to cast your net wide and far because rejection is the norm. To try to guarantee that you get something, make sure you apply to as many firms as you can. Sometimes people think so hard before they apply because they are choosey and picky, but the thing is getting a job is not easy in the first place. For most people like myself without an amazing CV, you don’t get accepted at every firm you apply to. Reality is harsh, but I’m giving you a reality check before you end up dejected.

4. Check your CV, cover letter, essay submissions

Check check check! Ask your friends to help check! Yes, for essay submissions, think of it as tick box exercise. Within each question, the recruiter will skim through and want to see you demonstrate leadership quality (tick) and exhibit the values of the organisation (tick). For example, a past question from Unilever:

“Describe an occasion when you have had a big issue to solve and you needed help.” 

against Standards of Leadership in Unilever:

  1. Growth Mindset
  2. Consumer and Customer Focus
  3. Bias for Action
  4. Accountability and Responsibility
  5. Building Talent and Teams

I won’t give you any answers, but think about that big issue and try to relate to the most relevant standard(s) of leadership. There are usually more than 1 question within the application form, so just make sure you’ve covered all the values across the questions. Use the STAR technique, provide the Situation, Task, Action and Result.

Then ask your friend to check so that your answer is actually structured in a coherent way and require little explaining.

5. Update your Linkedin / Social profile

I never realised this, but when I went to my firm’s career services recently, the lady told me that Linkedin is the number 1 way companies recruit. And then it occured to me, if you look at it from the perspective of a recruiter, you would want to know as much information as you can about the candidate, so that you can have a better judgement of whether he/she is fit for the job. Where do you go?

1. Linkedin

  • Companies have special subscription and privilege rights with Linkedin, so they can search for candidates using special key words. So if you want to work in a particular industry, make sure you put that in the summary of your profile (i.e. I am strongly interested in the FMCG industry).
  • Join groups that show off your interest in certain companies and/or industries
  • Be careful on what you follow – don’t follow KPMG on Linkedin only when you are applying for PwC

2. Google

  • Make sure you have nothing strange when I google your name.

6. Ask and it shall be given

How much do you really want a job? What are you willing to do to get the job? I’ve witnessed some people refusing to ask other people for help during application cycle, because they are embarrassed or because they are not close enough. People are usually more than willing to help as long as you don’t overdo the asking.

My friend had the phone interview before I did for my current job. As I was preparing for it, I asked him whether he could share with me the questions that the interviewers asked. He told me all he could but assured me that it was relatively easy. When I finally had the interview, it was so much more difficult than I had expected, but thank God, I passed it. I told my friend all about it and he said he actually failed the interview but didn’t want to affect my morale.

2 lessons I learnt: Firstly, a question that is easy to some people can be the most challenging and difficult question that you’ve ever had. Be always prepared and don’t let your guard down. Secondly, you need to make some good friends in life.

If you’re so guilty about asking or embarrassed for pestering them, just make sure you buy them a drink/meal after that.

Yes, don’t be afraid to ask other, but make sure you pay it forward.

Enjoyed this article? Feel free to share any ideas or additional tips in the comments section!

Stay tuned for the next post which will be about “Revelations I had in my first year of working”, dedicated to all who started working less than 1 year ago.

Stay fabulous & determined!

Athena N