Many have been written, posted on Facebook, showed on TV or announced on radio, yet no one knows the real struggles of job hunting overseas until you experience it. Here is my first hand experience on my attempt at job hunting abroad. Be patient in reading coz it might be helpful to you or anyone planning to do such.
Preparations for the Travel
I saved up some cash amounting to S$ 3,000 when converted (about PhP 100,000.00), which I was willing to use up. So I thought that’s enough for my job hunting in Singapore. Booked a return ticket with the return date 6 days later. At the immigration counter during departure, they saw I was going for 5 nights and 6 days overseas so it was okay.
A rough budget for all the things I’ll be spending on has been prepared: accommodation, foods, phone charges for calling/sms/data, sightseeing, entertainment, emergency funds. I also have my credit card ready for use in airline ticket bookings.
Initial accommodation was arranged with friends (previous colleagues) who are already working in Singapore so I’ll be staying with them for 2-3 days until I find a room sharing accommodation to stay while job hunting. The budget for room-sharing rental was S$350 a month.
Luckily, I found a room-sharing at Woodlands for S$300 a month inclusive of utilities (water, electricity, internet, and gas for cooking). The landlady was very nice and willing to have me even if only for 1-2 months.
I reached out to previous colleagues, friends, and acquaintances asking for openings in their companies. Then I customized my resume and application letter and sent them a copy for their referral.
Tips and Hints for Job Hunting
Speaking with a previous teammate who got hired earlier that year, he shared me the best tips he learned during his job hunting stint.
- Use a local address and a local contact number on your resume.
- Create your profile on all job hunting portals.
- Create your profile on the career sections of large companies.
- Create at least 10 customized versions of your application letter and resume for different positions (roles), ready to be sent anytime.
- BCC yourself using another email address for all your applications sent.
- Submit at least 50 applications in 1 day during your first week then wait for calls. Then apply as you find new openings the following weeks.
- Apply only for those job openings opened to foreigners.
- Send in your application emails in the morning between 6am to 8:30am so your application will be on top of other applications that were sent during the night.
- Do not be choosy, as it is most important that you got hired and have work. Look for better jobs later when you are already settled.
Job Search Routine
During the day, I’d be reading news and scouring the web for job openings then go to bed early at 8pm. I bought the Sunday paper looking for ads about job openings and also applied for those that I thought I could do.
Waking up at 2am to 3am, I’d be busy checking for new posts that I could apply for and be sending applications until 9am when I’ll go out of the room to have some noodles and eggs for breakfast. Then I’ll nap from 2pm to 4pm before going to the nearest food center (hawker centre) for dinner by 5pm. My daily budget for food is S$10, but normally the set meal including teh tarik (tea with milk) cost S$4 to $5.50. The rest of the budget I use to buy fruits which I munch during my application hours.
Phone Calls and SMS Tips
Any extra that I could save from my food budget is added to my mobile top-up allowance. I found out that in Singapore, you have to have top-up (load) on your SIM card in order to receive phone calls or SMS. If you have 0 (zero) top-up, you cannot receive calls because the cost is shared by the caller and you as receiver.
Overseas call home is also quite expensive if you do not use any of the budget numbers (e.g. Singtel has 013<country code><area code><telephone number>, and Starhub has Dial 018 > Country Code > Area Code > Telephone No).
During my job searching stint, I was recommended to use Starhub and M1 as they are cheaper. Singtel has better coverage in all areas of Singapore, but Starhub has better options for data usage so I stuck with Starhub.
Wasted Tickets and Money
The date of my return ticket arrived and prospect for interview was still nil, nada, zero. Several email replies were received but it’s just the usual response.
“Application was received. We will contact you if you are shortlisted.”
I was ready to throw away the ticket and just continue my job hunt since I was given 30 days of social visit pass during my arrival in Changi Airport. I considered rebooking my ticket but found it was more costly to rebook than to just buy a new ticket back home. Consulting friends for advise, I was advised to keep applying because sometimes employers take 2-3 weeks to call applicants. Also, it would be hard if they call and I’m no longer available for face-to-face interview. So I should extend my stay using the online facility of immigration.
Extension of Visit Visa
Application for extension of visit visa could be done online, at least a week before the end of your first month of stay. Thankful for this information from my friends, I applied for extension during my 3rd week in Singapore.
My stay was extended for 1 month without going to any immigration office which was very convenient. I just had to print a copy of the email they sent which approved of my extension of stay and I am able to go around again without worrying of random police checks.
On my 3rd week of job searching, I got invited to an interview. I dressed up in my well ironed slacks and blazer despite the Singapore heat and showed up very early to find I was just one of many applicants. No callbacks after the interview so I guess I didn’t get picked.
Following was an invitation for an exam where I joined many other applicants for an English and Math test. Those with scores above 80 were called in for interview to which I attended but the role is quite unrelated to any of my previous work experiences so naturally, I was not selected. I was told they’ll put me on reserve for any of their technical support openings when one becomes available.
A few more phone interviews arrived on my 4th and 5th week but when they heard that I’m just a tourist in Singapore, I did not hear from them anymore.
During one of my lowest days, I thought of applying as a saleslady or even as waitress in the coffee shops. I went around the shopping malls looking for the posters of job openings. Unfortunately, they are all looking for locals or Permanent Residents so I didn’t bother anymore.
On the 6th week, I received a call from a local company who wanted me to report to them for an interview with the director as she has arrived from Australia. I went in the afternoon of the same Monday and the lady director was quite impressed she already wanted me to start immediately.
Knowing that working without permit is not allowed in Singapore, I voiced my objection and she said it’s only for my training and their observation. She wants me to observe if I can do the job and for them to observe if they are satisfied with my performance and if I could build rapport with the colleagues. She promised that by Friday of the same week, she will know whether I’m suited for the position or not and will then submit their application for my work pass then. Else, she will just pay for wasting my days and that’s it.
All my friends whom I told this found it very weird but said they did hear of some local employers who are like that. One good friend actually told me to just not show up the next day and just forget about it because they’re just wasting my time. Since I was bored job hunting at home and I ran out of positions to apply to, I reported to their office the next day and helped with this and that, answering phones, and accompanying the on-site engineer on his trips to different warehouses fixing the accounting and inventory systems the company sold to them. Some of the issues just need a reboot, a patch, or sometimes a deletion of a wrong entry that’s causing error to the system.
Friday arrived and the director’s secretary did let me fill out the application for working pass for them to submit. They liked my work and would like me to join the team. The secretary told me the reason the madam wanted to observe me first before applying for my work pass is because very few people are able to stand her shouting and pressure-packed instructions. Lucky for me, I used to work and live with a driven aunt who screams at everyone and thrives on pressure.
So the arrangement continued the next week where I reported to work from 9am to 6pm. They started me on training of the software their programmer developed and which they are selling to other local companies. They gave me a manual with 1580 pages to study and a copy of the application that I could install on my machine and test on my own. That’s the training for them… a self study which I’m supposed to complete in 3 months.
On Tuesday of my 7th week (2nd week of going to this office for training), they received a result of their application for my work pass that it was rejected. The secretary said the form was done wrong, so they had me do another form, this time for appeal, with the guidance of another foreign employee, a Malaysian.
By Tuesday of my 8th week in Singapore, the director herself was a bit serious when she called to her office and explained their appeal was again rejected. She really wanted me to stay with them so she will be going to the Ministry of Manpower the next morning to clarify the matter personally. She told me that they did not have the quota to hire another foreign worker on S Pass, but she has already terminated the S Pass of a previous foreign staff so there should be an open slot for one more. That’s why she will be going for a personal visit to MOM. However, further appeal will take time to process so it is best I go back to my home country and await the pass there. I should only come back when the work pass is already approved.
It was a sad day for me because I didn’t show up on two interview invitations the previous week as I was already busy with my training. And to think it is all for naught is just unbearable and caused me much regret. That evening, I booked a ticket to leave Singapore on Friday and reported to the office the next day to get my pay for the days I reported to the office. I got S$890 for the reason that I was just on training.
In the end, I went home shaking my head thinking of the wasted time and money. I had some regrets and a lot of what-ifs running on my mind, but I focused on the good things and learnings I acquired in such short a time. Yes, it was an expensive lesson but I bonded with friends and have seen more of Singapore. My friends gave me a tour of Singapore, bought my tickets to Universal Studios theme park, brought me out to dinner, and showed me around in Singapore. I made new friends too and those are things where you can’t count the cost.
Are you still willing to take chance? If you have the finances, the guts, and the emotional and psychological capacity to deal with whatever happens, then I’d say go for it. Else, you better apply for work overseas while you are still employed, and only go overseas when you are hired.
The job openings these days are mostly posted online and that makes applying much easier. Use those channels to find employment before journeying to the unknown.