By: Andres Felipe Hernández
It was December 2015. I was on holiday in Manizales and my wife Belen was in Dublin, our city of residence for more than 10 years. Prior to that we lived in Germany for 4 years and traveled around Europe. After leaving our home countries many years ago (Colombia & Spain), we thought our home was Ireland. We had stable jobs, friends, a cat, a car, and our own apartment. But one day a phone call changed everything. My wife received a promising job offer in Singapore. We’ve never been to Singapore but without hesitation I said to her: “we should embark on a new adventure in Asia. What are we waiting for?.” It took renting out our apartment, selling our car, getting pet transport for our cat Pepe, and packing our belongings. I resigned from the financial institution where I was the leader of the Spanish team. The entire transition process was approximately three months. When we confirmed our decision to move, we took into consideration Singapore’s low unemployment rate of 1.9%. To me it was a positive sign, I knew I could find a job more quickly, moving to one of the most important financial capitals in the world.
As many Colombians, I have a so-called “titulitis,” which is essentially the fascination to obtain as many educational titles as possible and be a well qualified professional in the highly competitive job market. In my repertoire I hold: a law degree from Caldas University (Colombia); a master in international law from Augssburg University (Germany), a master in management from the National College of Ireland, proficiency level in both German and English, several certificates in leadership, administration, insurance, and data protection. I even proudly possess the formal title of “paisa” from my beloved coffee region in Manizales. In Colombia, our parents educate us to be very well prepared for our professional careers. So my wife and I took our suitcases and left for Asia. What could go wrong?
Belen was granted an Employment Pass (EP) and therefore I was able to receive a Dependent Pass (DP). The DP eligibility depends on the validity of the spouse holding the EP; they must earn minimum $5000 SGD per month. Once receiving your DP your potential employer, or employment agency, will request a Letter of Consent from the Ministry of Manpower. We used an agency to help us through the process. There was a lot of documentation but in general it went smoothly.
First month in Singapore
We arrived to Singapore around the 15th of March. A big heat wave had welcomed us. It took us a few days to acclimate having come from cold and rainy Ireland. Our first accommodation was the Fraser Suites Hotel, very near Clarke Quay. We stayed there for 4 weeks. The first month in Singapore went by very fast and felt like the most unforgettable holiday. Soon after our holiday came to an end and we moved into our first apartment.
I’ve been diligently searching for employment over the last month and I have learned a lot. I want to share the information I’ve learned with the Colombian community of Singapore, and people searching for jobs in Singapore at large:
By law, there is a quota of 5 Singaporean employees per one foreigner hired in any given company. This is the reason why small companies have less capacity to employ talent from other countries. Therefore it is recommended to look for job vacancies in big multinationals where the quota is higher. Many companies must submit a “business case” to the Ministry of Manpower to receive permission for hiring employees from other nationalities.
(For further information regarding the Foreign Worker Quota, follow the link).
Based on my experience I would not recommended applying for random jobs. It is better to evaluate your own skills and define what values, knowledge and experience you can bring to the industry that a local Singaporean, and others, do not have. This is crucial for being successful in the job hunting process, because the Singaporean community is very well qualified.
Once the career path and industry is defined, make a list of potential employers. You must learn about them, visit their web pages, attempt to look for an HR point of contact or hiring manager. Use popular website LinkedIn to focus on possible job opportunities in those target companies. Another useful tip, is to create your own tracker with all the companies applied for.
There are three effective ways to look for jobs in Singapore: employment agencies, applying directly to the companies online and/or networking.
For me networking is the most effective way to find a job in Singapore. Sometimes it can be difficult to open up when attending a networking event for the first time so a good start can be preparing an elevator pitch in advance (a 30-second to 2-minute persuasive introduction that defines your value position, potentially describing your best assets, skills, studies, experience, or perspectives that you can bring to an organization). YouTube can be your best ally for this because it has hundreds of great elevator pitch examples. The name elevator pitch reflects the idea that it should be possible to deliver a summary of you in the time span of an elevator ride. It can be used from the gym to networking events, and you never know if that new friend could be the managing director of a company that has the potential to connect you with the right person in order to get a job. Everybody should be welcome to listen to your story as long as you make it interesting, and do not limit your network to only Colombians. Typically expats help other expats, we all know how difficult it is to become part of the job market in Singapore so good way to get to know more people is by reading this portal and the Facebook page “Colombianos en Singapur,” Internations (note that there is a monthly fee to join Internations), and visiting the community centers in your area for activities or voluntary work. Attending a course to learn a new skill is also very useful, I am currently learning Chinese, and there I not only get to meet new people but also develop a new skill in the meantime.
Another point to consider, if you want to apply for job positions it is imperative to do some research in advance about the company advertising a job opportunity that suits you. If you get a chance to send your CV by email to the recruiter directly (e.g. via LinkedIn) you may have a better chance. Additionally, try to write your CV in a creative way, and customize the information according to the relevant job description to impress your potential future employer. But be careful, this does not mean you need to lie on your CV, you just need to highlight the skills relevant for the job description. Remember, the majority of companies and job agencies have filters to match the perfect candidate to the perfect role. If you have the relevant skills but you don’t include those keywords in your resume, your profile will be disregarded.
I also learned the importance of a good cover letter. Employers here are a bit more formal than in other countries and they like to see your efforts to explain the reason why you are the ideal candidate for the vacancy. Some agencies and web pages consider this as an option. My advice is to include a cover letter, whether they ask for it or not.
During this first month of searching for jobs I also realized there is another hurdle: The hot weather! As aforementioned, the first month I felt as though I was on holidays; these days now creating the routine where I avoid the heat in the streets. I spent several days at home with the air conditioning thinking to myself that I wasn’t being productive enough. Remember: the less you do the lesser you do. Trying to find a balance requires discipline, therefore, make a daily schedule to get into an organized routine. Planning a to-do list for the week is essential to avoid losing your motivation.
Based on my experience, I do not recommend coming to Singapore without a working permit, and this has no blame on our Colombian nationality. In all honesty, I haven’t had any issues with my passport and I’ve never felt unwelcome anywhere I have been thus far. Remember that Singapore is a very small country and it has limited resources, limited space and obviously locals come first. I certainly understand the fact the government wants to protect their own community, and large numbers of foreigners that could abuse their wonderful system are not welcome. If you are currently in another country and you are thinking of moving to Singapore, it is recommended to come over with a job offer and/or have some funds to invest as entrepreneur and create your own company. In comparison with other countries, the recruitment process could be slow and you need to be patient and invest time on a daily basis.
Here are my recommendations of useful links to search for jobs in Singapore:
If you would like to work for a start-up company, follow Startup Jobs Asia, which not only has job opportunities but it also has options to invest in young companies.
Having a good profile either on LinkedIn or Indeed, can be key to finding the job opportunity that you are looking for. Personally, I prefer LinkedIn but Indeed has turned out to have more job offers that were relevant to my experience.
Adecco has some interesting offers, however they are currently updating their database so it could be a bit challenging to find what you are looking for. If you apply for a job with Adecco, I’d suggest to make follow up phone calls within the next two weeks of having submitted your CV.
JobsDB is also a good website where you can select to have reminders sent by email with offers that match your skills:
A few other headhunters are:
Starting a new life on a completely different continent is not easy. I’m still working on defining my own path. Everyday is a new challenge that I’m willing to take on. I hope all the recommendations based on my experience are helpful for your own job search. Be mindful the best opportunities won’t fall on your lap. To get results you must invest time to find the right people and circumstances that will lead you to your dream job. Best of luck, and let me know in the comments if I can help in any way!