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Adulting 101: Lessons I have learnt as I move on after 7 years in the same job

SINGAPORE — As I entered the working world at TODAY at age 23, I gave myself five years on the job to make a mark in one company before I would consider a career move.

Adulting 101: Lessons I have learnt as I move on after 7 years in the same job

As she prepared to leave TODAY, senior journalist Wong Pei Ting reflected on the lessons she has learnt by staying with one employer for nearly seven years.

Adulthood is an invigorating stage of life as young people join the workforce, take on more responsibilities and set their sights on the future. But its many facets — from managing finances and buying a home to achieving work-life balance — can be overwhelming.

In this series, TODAY’s journalists help young Singaporeans navigate this stage of their lives and learn something themselves in the process.

 

SINGAPORE — As I entered the working world at TODAY at age 23, I gave myself five years on the job to make a mark in one company before I would consider a career move.

A year to learn the ropes. Two years to push my limits as I get on top of the daily grind. Another two years to ride my own wave and have some achievements to call my own.

By the end of the fifth year though, I felt pretty lonely being among the few fresh graduate hires within the company who were handed a long service award for staying at least five years.

Most of my peers had left their jobs in search of greener pastures as conventional wisdom today suggests that job hopping is the straightforward guarantee to a better job title — one that no longer makes you sound like a minion — and a fatter take-home salary.

They sure made me feel like I was missing out, too. There would be days, especially when I was going through a particularly tough time with motivating myself, when friends would try to appeal to my better senses to leave and find another place that “values you better”.

But my earlier convictions kept me in check, and it was only recently — almost seven years in — that I felt that it was time to move on for the sake of personal growth.

In the lead-up to finally bidding goodbye on Friday (Oct 22) to this newsroom where I have been for six years and 10 months, a TODAY editor asked if I could share what I had learnt from staying on in one job for so long in an era where people tend to quit after two or three years.

As I thought through the lessons that I had gleaned, I also started pondering over what I had missed out by taking the approach that I did, and whether there is such a thing as “overstaying” in one job. I posed some of these questions to a few career advisers.

Here are three things I wished I had known as a fresh graduate entering the workforce.

#1: You will make mistakes. Don't kill yourself over them

Year one. I came bearing romantic notions about life as an intrepid journalist and was eager to make an impression that I was worthy of chasing the “important stories”. But I ended up filling in a menial, desk-bound role as a digital reporter that was the exact opposite of what I imagined I would be doing.

I also made many mistakes while at it and was told on a daily basis about the many aspects of my work that needed improvement.

In the role, I worked under a strict boss who imposed high standards even for the simplest tasks. Getting a scolding from her truly felt like the end of me and my career.

But I have come to realise that it was more important that I had found in her a tough mentor than to have had a boss who would go easy on me in my initial years, but from whom I would learn nothing (note: tough doesn’t mean toxic, a recent hot topic).

In hindsight, I would even advise my younger self to apply the startup growth hack mantra to “fail fast, fail early, and fail often” within the first six to 12 months of my career before the stakes are too high to fail further into your career.

In my case, it could mean embracing what that tough boss had to offer me in terms of practical tips and advice, rather than holding her at a distance to avoid illuminating all of my flaws and getting my ego stabbed any further.

It might help to not take the criticism too personally, or take yourself too seriously. Good bosses won’t hold your initial shortcomings against you and might even expect them. Address them with an attitude that shows a willingness to learn and adapt, and it might even reflect well on you.

In any case, it is definitely not worth it to let one criticism crush your dreams or lead you to think that you should quit to avoid being a liability to the team or that you would never be good enough. Take it as a chance to improve yourself.

I gained some perspective from speaking to Ms Sandra Quelle, founder of career consultancy firm The Happy Monday Co, who said that an employer should expect to take anything between six and 18 months to get a new employee fully up to speed.

With that in mind, the new hire should also give themselves a similar timeframe to settle down, she said, adding that it will usually take another one or two years to have some achievements to show, and prove your worth to the company.

#2: It will take patience to achieve your goals in an organisation 

Back to my quandary of doing ungratifying backend work while desiring to be in the thick of the action, interviewing and reporting. Even as I strove to do the work that was required of me with excellence, I was constantly worried that I would forever be relegated to those duller tasks.

I leapt at every opportunity to head out and do some shoe-leather reporting within my role then, and eventually asked to make an internal transfer from the digital desk to the main news desk where I could do more of that.

I was two years in as an employee then, and, to my surprise, it did not take much for the bosses to say yes. I ended up being happier and more motivated on the job, staying on till now as I found many opportunities to grow, with my personal goals and interests aligned.

I almost did not make it to this point where I put in the request though. In what is perhaps a very Asian thought process, I felt like it might be easier to look elsewhere for a job that I might like better and leave without kicking up a fuss.

But Ms Quelle said leaving would be costly to both the employee and the company, and it was wise for me to be proactive about seeking out opportunities for myself, although a balance should be struck between making requests and being closed-minded or “too eager to move on”.

“Often we want everything that I am wanting now, and that is creating a bit of an interesting dynamic in the marketplace, where companies are struggling to retain talent and on the flip side, people say, ‘I want to become a senior manager, and I don’t have time to wait’,” she said.

“People have to understand that going to that level takes time and you have to develop the skills and it cannot be done overnight.” Today, she finds herself working with executives who rose too fast to then realise that they don’t know enough to be in that position, she added.

That said, those who still feel that their skills are not being utilised should at some point be honest with their bosses and vocalise what they want, Ms Quelle said. The chat can sound a lot like, “I think I can support you in this activity” or “I am very interested in going in this direction. Can you get me onto any projects where I'm getting exposure?”, she added.

If your goal is a financial one, Ms Quelle said that employees can keep track of their achievements within the company to remind the boss when building a case for a pay raise.

A 3 to 5 per cent raise is the average, and she knows of people getting as much as 12 per cent in this manner, especially when the individual had gotten an expanded job scope, she said.

“It can be painful to constantly ask for a salary raise, but it shows that you value yourself… If the initial answer is 'no', ask when you can have this conversation again. If it is six months, put a note in your calendar and ask again.”

This, to me, seems like an aggressive approach, but Ms Quelle begged to differ: “Expecting people to give you things or to recognise you is a little bit unrealistic. It has a higher chance if you are responsible and you voice it out.

“Any company which has a great product, they don’t rely just on creating a great product. They go into marketing and they do it for a reason. So it is the same. You might be very good at your job, but unless you promote yourself, you will not be seen.”

#3: Stagnation is not a good place to be in. Do something or get out 

My best friend entered the workforce a full year before I did. And when I entered the workforce, she passed a remark that never left me: “I wake up every day feeling excited about my job. When the day comes when I no longer feel excited, I will know that that is the time to leave.”

It was a good rule of thumb. Indeed, there came a day when I no longer felt as engaged in my work and the days evolved to months, with me just sailing by. But instead of quitting, I found myself choosing to stay for reasons of comfort and the fear of going after something new.

The career consultants I spoke to all agree that there is such a thing as “overstaying” in one job, and I was showing some classic signs of that.

Life and business coach Erlina Sidik said that, especially when people are in the early stages of their career, it is important to get as much exposure and experience as possible in order to gain clarity about their strengths, passions and, ultimately, how they contribute to the world impactfully.

“Overstaying in a role limits one’s potential,” she said.

 Ms Sidik added that those seeking greater clarity on whether to stay or move on can ask themselves these five questions:

  • Are you growing in terms of experience, knowledge and skills?

  • Is your job aligned with your goals, interests and values?

  • Is the role you are in leading you towards your path to success?

  • Do you feel you are being fairly compensated for your contributions, or at least have the understanding and transparency of what it takes to achieve your desired compensation?

  • Do you feel engaged and happy at work?

If the response is “no” to most of these questions, then the employee should consider if it is time to make a change as self growth and alignment are key for a fulfilling career and life, she said.

That said, Mr Ben So, founder of Emunah Coaching and Training, recommended that a fresh graduate stick with their first job for at least three years for their experience at the first company to mean something to the next company. “Make sure there is no more room for growth before you move, and get to know more about the next company first,” he said.

Ms Quelle said that identifying the right time to move forward is about balancing the states of being patient and being agile.

Sensing that fresh graduates here need to hear the message about being patient, more so than the importance of being agile and adaptable, she said: “When you plant a seed, you can’t expect a flower the next day. It takes time.

“Maybe my advice to all fresh graduates is to buy a plant, and you grow at the same pace as the plant.”

ABOUT THE WRITER:

Wong Pei Ting has just finished her term as a senior journalist at TODAY, where she covered community and social affairs, education and transport issues.

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Adulting 101 career human resource work-life balance

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