March 31

Things to know before getting your first job


A few days ago, I was at a dialogue where there were some ministers. What was more interesting was what happened after the ministers stepped off the stage.

You might feel like you're drowning in your job
You might feel like you’re drowning in your job

As always, with Singapore’s efficient civil service, there were civil servants milling around, even though it was already closing in on 10pm.

This young, smiley man walked up to the person from the Ministry of Finance, seated beside me, and beamed.

He shared that he’d recognised him.

Then he proceeded to share about where he was from.

I’m from the Strat group.

The moment I saw him preen himself with the word ‘strat’, I knew I was in for some bullshit.

Real bullshit.

Some colleagues can leave you reeling in shame, about how bad you are
Some colleagues can leave you reeling in shame, about how bad you are

What followed was a masterclass in how not to talk about yourself. He started talking about how he’d moved across the ministries, asking about where the other person was moving to, and it degenerated to a conversation around career pathways and how to get the best out of it.

I saw the person from the Ministry of Finance shifting uncomfortably in his seat.

If you’re gotten a job today, here’s what you need to know to stop rubbing people the wrong way, and to start succeeding at your job.

It’s more about what you don’t do, then what you do

Having a lot more faith, sometimes isn't the answer
Having a lot more faith, sometimes isn’t the answer

The small things matter a lot, in a job.

A lot.

Intangible things that you take for granted such as:

  1. Being early
  2. Answering emails within 72 hours
  3. Answering non urgent work messages (such as on WhatsApp) within 24 hours

When you miss out on these things, it’s shows one thing.

You’re not very reliable.


You think that’s your boring, average Joe, who turns up for work, day in day out, and ploughs on like a work horse, right?

And that’s why you think its more important to be exciting and full of ideas, than reliable.

But in Botelho and Powell’s study of 2400 executives who made it to the top in The CEO Next Door, they found that the key outlier trait that predicted success to the top position was ….


Charisma like Obama?

Creativity like Steve Jobs?

It was neither.

It was boring Reliability.

It’s reliability that will determine who the boss gives the next promotion to, because reliability shows that you will get the thing done, without fail.

It’s about the basic job first

In my first job, I kept wondering why it seemed like I was the worst performer.

Wasn’t I going the extra mile by giving suggestions and ideas in meetings? Wasn’t I showing my ability to execute by carrying out the ideas I’d suggested?

But later, when I was issued with the Performance Improvement Plan (a get better or get sacked plan), I suddenly realised the truth when my boss told me,

Maybe you should follow the job description first before trying to do extra.

If you don't want your career to die a slow death, do the basics first
If you don’t want your career to die a slow death, do the basics first

Sometimes, when we’ve just come out of school, we might find ourselves quickly bored by the repetitive things we do at work.




You get the idea.

And you want more.

But until you can do the basics well, and show that you’re able to grow the value of what you’re doing, doing extra is going to be seen as overreaching.

You’re going to be seen as trying to run, before you even walk well.

What does it look like on a daily basis? It means that when your boss assigns you something, you’re clear on:

  1. When it’s supposed to be done by
  2. How it’s supposed to be done
  3. What you’re not supposed to do
  4. What a good job entails

And you deliver on time, on budget, and on scope.

If you don’t, you can’t really say you’re doing your job well.

It’s about being likeable

In my first ever internship in Singapore, having come back from the U.K., I thought I was bright, and (thought) my education seemed more superior than others.

I would go into the office, put on my headphones, and then work out the rest of the research.

But it wasn’t until my boss told me that it seemed like I didn’t want anyone to talk to me, that I saw how important it was to look approachable.

Compare this to my colleague, Chloe (not her real name). She would always come into the office with a bright smile, and always seemed ready to help.

On Valentine’s Day, she bought cupcakes for everyone.

On another occasion, she bought handcarved table mats for everyone.

She eventually scored high marks for her appraisal.

Being likeable through your small actions is vital for you to eventually score the points with your boss, and be seen as being able to work with many different teams.

Learn to quit

2 years after my first job, I left.

There wasn’t any thunderclap when I handed in my resignation.

It was simply an email, saying that I was resigning.

The contract had come to an end, and I didn’t want to continue the conversation around extending it.

I came to realise that in my first job, it had not been helpful because of how I had come to see it as impeding my growth at work.

I didn’t feel like it was the place to grow.

And that was never a good attitude to take to a job.

The moment you lose your love with the job, it’s going to be hard to regain your first love.

My suggestion is that it might be time to leave.

A job is different from school.

At school, it can be close to impossible to suddenly switch a degree course, or even an academic subject.

We may take the same restrictions to our work, without seeing that work is a lot more flexible. And that in work, many factors can end up improving our job satisifaction by a lot.

Don’t underestimate factors like

  1. Employers
  2. Your direct boss
  3. The type of work you’re assigned to

It’s okay to quit.

Trying to keep a clean streak where you stay more than 1 year in a job, is not something you have to. Instead, learn to cut your losses quickly, especially when it’s not working out.

Sometimes it might help just to retrench yourself from the job
Sometimes it might help just to retrench yourself from the job

There’s no point in forcing it, when there are millions of jobs around.

Take the better job. Don’t just force yourself to love something you don’t.



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