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!

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Stay fabulous & ambitious everyone! 

Athena

 

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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