The Expat Expert: How I got my job in Asia and how you can do the same

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Four years ago Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. I was then working for an investment firm, investing in banks and financial services, of all things. Suffice it to say, I was out on the streets within months.

I did a bit of research, packed my bags and came straight to Singapore. Today, from where I am sitting – with a job of course – employment in the financial sector doesn’t seem any rosier. My own journey has been tough, so I thought I’d share my insights with other professionals looking to move to Singapore.

1) Research, research and research

Check out popular job listing sites (like this one) and speak to local industry recruiters to understand which skills are in demand. Do your homework: find out which firms are based in Singapore and are hiring.

Subscribe to email alerts and be as broad as possible with your search terms to see what’s out there. This is a big move; it’s best to be prepared. Do weeks of research before buying that one-way ticket.

2) Manage your salary expectations

Gone are the days when firms would be happy to give you relocation benefits or hardship top-ups to settle into Singapore. When I estimated my worth in Singapore earlier on, I managed my own expectations by using my last post-tax salary as a base and adjusted it accordingly to the equivalent Singapore tax bracket – your worth won’t be too far from this number.

Recruiters can also provide another reality check if you have unrealistically high salary expectations.

3) Sort out your paperwork

Sort out your bills, debts and taxes before heading over; the last thing you want is to make long-distance phone calls to banks and tax authorities instead of networking with peers and recruiters.

I would plan ahead by bringing original copies of pay slips, P45s from the Inland Revenue (if you’re from the UK), degree and professional certificates, and written proof of awards or testimonials from ex-employers.

Look into applying for a temporary work permit months ahead so that you can focus on job searching, networking or interviewing the moment you touch down. You are an unknown entity to both employers and the Singapore government, so be prepared to prove your credentials.

4) Get social

Go on the offensive when building your network. Complete and enrich your profiles on professional and social networks. Start by reaching out to ex-colleagues, friends or acquaintances who are currently based in Asia or know someone who does.

The situation calls for a thick skin; don’t accept no for an answer, be nice and get at least a contact or referral from them if they are unable to help. Chances are they might know someone who does.

While you are here, consider tagging along with your peers and acquaintances who are members of recreation/country clubs or religious congregations – yes, they are big here for reasons I can’t explain.

5) Expand your professional network

Attend networking events or get in touch with your university alumni, professional peers or professional bodies. For instance, I know someone who used to study at two universities in the US. The first thing he did when he got here was to connect with the local alumni and in turn, help connect them with his professional peers by proactively organising informal drinks sessions.

Needless to say, his network grew exponentially and with that came more connections and job opportunities.

6) Hone your knowledge, freelance away your time

When I was looking for a permanent role some years back, I took on assignments from friends and peers in order to sharpen my knowledge and more importantly, to showcase my work to potential employers: it’s a win-win situation. I also interviewed and signed up with a freelance consulting firm. Freelance work helped to keep me sane and busy.

7) Keep on your toes even after you have secured your first job

As is the case almost everywhere in Asia, financial organisations in Singapore are pretty blasé when it comes to firing. I continue to get daily email alerts informing me of available job openings. Once burned; twice shy – I am constantly on the lookout and so should you.

The Expat Expert is a Singapore-based financial professional. The views expressed are his and not those of eFinancialCareers.

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