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Finding Graduate IT Jobs in SMEs
While there is an allure to working in big IT companies, SME IT firms offer plenty of opportunities and benefits for graduate employees as well.
Singapore’s open economy makes it an attractive hub for MNCs to set up their Asia Pacific headquarters in the country. It has been found though, that many graduates, including IT graduates, are likely to start their careers with an SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) rather than a large corporation.
So don’t neglect SMEs when embarking on your job searching journey, as these companies offer plenty of growth opportunities as well.
While many IT graduates may dream of rubbing shoulders with professionals from big tech companies such as Google or Facebook, start-ups and middle-sized corporations offer plenty of career benefits as well.
SMEs typically have 200 employees or less, which makes it easier to foster a close-knit work environment with your colleagues. There is also the possibility of having a high level of autonomy and early responsibility.
The steep learning curve and ability for cross-departmental work will also help you gain crucial skills at a faster pace and provide you with a well-rounded work experience.
It may also be easier for your efforts to get recognised in a small company, as opposed to a larger one, which will lead to greater job satisfaction and motivation for your work. Managers and directors may also have a higher level of involvement with the day-to-day work of the business, giving you access and the chance to tap into their vast experience and expertise.
Many IT graduates have also noted that SMEs offer a greater degree of flexibility in the workplace compared to large companies, such as flexible work arrangements.
How to track down small IT companies
IT and technology SMEs don’t always put up hiring notices for various reasons (e.g. high advertising fees) which means you will need to know exactly where to look. Here are some options to start you off:
Career centres: Often, your school’s career centre will have partnerships with IT companies, and will be able to connect you with someone within the company.
Specialist IT job boards: Most career services will also provide specialised job listings to their students, so they need not trawl through a whole pool of unrelated jobs. Some online job portals also offer such services.
Start-up meet ups: Attend start-up meet ups not just to gain more insights on their work culture etc., you should also approach the company representatives to find out if they have any possible job/internship openings.
Networking: Speak to everyone about your job search – family, friends, lecturers and tutors, mentors, and course mates. You never know who’ll be able to link you up with a potential job opening.
Many IT graduates also enter SMEs through speculative applications as smaller companies often don’t advertise their vacancies, preferring to hire through word-of-mouth instead. The onus will be on you to do your own research and to pinpoint the skills needed by the employer before writing up your résumé and cover letter.
Highlight your relevant skills and experience in your application to get a better hit rate with the employer. Also, always make sure to follow up with a call a few days later to ask about the status of your application.
Training and progress
Training programmes in SME IT companies tend to be more informal and less structured than those in large corporations. Instead of having an official graduate programme, training is mostly done on the job, and you can request for additional training as and when necessary. Most IT companies are quite willing to provide the required training if it can be justified.
Additionally, if you’re willing to show initiative in your work, you will be able to enjoy job progression in SME IT firms. Be proactive in mapping out your career advancement plan and decide on the skills required for your own personal development.
Ensure that the skills you develop are useful across a range of roles or business functions, giving you the flexibility to switch into new roles and gain experience to progress quickly.
What Type of IT Company and Job is the Best Fit For Me?
There’s a range of roles and industries that IT graduates can go into, but which one should you zero in on?
While the sector may be dominated by several tech giants – such as Google, Apple and Microsoft – there are plenty of diverse roles that IT graduates can turn to for job opportunities, including those in non-IT sectors.
To be a prudent job seeker, you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons before applying to companies. Not only will it help in your decision-making, you can also make use of your research to impress recruiters and improve your chances at the job.
Consider the following points in your search:
1. Potential employers
Many IT graduates typically find employment with the following type(s) of recruiters:
- Technology solutions providers – e.g. Hewlett Packard, Cxrus Solutions
- IT services organisations – e.g. Fujitsu, Infosys
- Telecommunications companies – e.g. SingTel, StarHub
- Technology consultancies – e.g. TCS Singapore
IT graduates can also lend their expertise to roles in other sectors, such as finance and professional services:
- Investment banks – e.g. BNP Paribas, J.P. Morgan
- Retail banks – e.g. Barclays
- Investment management firms – e.g. Aberdeen Asset Management
- Insurers – e.g. Aviva Ltd.
- Accounting firms – e.g. EY, PwC
Retailers in particular are in great need of talented technologists as they explore ecommerce options, investing heavily in various aspects of online and mobile shopping, e.g. security and digital currency.
IT graduates can also find opportunities in media (e.g. AsiaWorks Singapore), games development (e.g. Ubisoft, Konami Singapore, Touch Dimensions), and public services organisations (e.g. IMDA) alongside smaller employers like specialist software houses and niche consultancies.
2. Type of work
It is also best to narrow down your career options by considering the scope of responsibilities you’re willing to take on. For instance, how much coding or technical reasoning are you willing to be involved in? Would you prefer to work solely in the technical area or with a mix of commercial functions? If your answer is the latter, then IT consulting might be for you.
Alternatively, if you’re interested in tasks that mostly involve coding or programming, then your best bet will be technology solutions providers. Don’t completely rule out non-IT companies though — some of them may be looking to develop their own software or applications, such as online retailers. These jobs typically fall under IT engineering or software development.
On the other hand, if you have a preference for daily troubleshooting and long-term projects, you may prefer working with an IT services provider or be part of a IT support team in a non-IT firm.
A good way to discover your preference is by exploring the graduate programmes offered by employers as these programmes usually rotate you across different roles and departments. Alternatively, part-time jobs can be helpful too.
While most technology jobs are deskbound, some may require you to travel far and often – and this can greatly influence your job preference and satisfaction.
If you’re someone who prefers to stay put in the office, then a technical role such as developer or software tester will be right up your alley. On the contrary, IT consultants are almost always on their feet, travelling from one client base to another. Graduates in IT services may also spend the occasional week at their client’s premises.
Business and management roles (such as project management) typically falls somewhere in between the two and will be less hectic. That said, this is highly dependent on your role and the firm’s requirements.
Be sure to consider how you feel about moving around in the long run as well. While it may sound fun to be able to travel and meet new people, you may have to make sacrifices with regards to your free time and personal life.
4. Time and dedication
All employers will ask for hard work and dedication, but you may be required to do more at smaller companies or start-ups due to its leaner workforce. Late nights can become a regular occurrence, especially when faced with many project deadlines. It’s also not uncommon for you to have to engage in tasks that are completely out of your job scope. It is thus crucial that you do your research on the pace of work and culture of each organisation before applying for the job.
Just note that if you’re passionate about your work and think you’ve got what it takes to adapt to the steep learning curve, then a start-up or smaller company may be suitable options for you. Start-ups and smaller companies can be a great training ground for gaining crucial skills and experience, and give you the opportunity for early responsibility.
The Benefits of Working in IT
A career in the IT sector offers much more than just a high salary.
Singapore’s IT sector, which includes the info communication and software/hardware industry has been crucial in her transformation to a Smart Nation. The shift in focus has seen a rise in the demand for talent in the tech and IT area.
However, pitted against “polished” and “prestigious” sectors like banking, accounting, and finance, what are some of the benefits that the tech and IT industry can offer? Read on to find out.
Everybody needs IT!
As businesses – both big and small – begin to integrate IT functions into their operations, IT services providers are no longer the sole recruiters of IT graduates. Many companies are hiring IT personnel to meet their technological needs as it can be more prudent to have an in-house IT expert instead of constantly having to outsource for even the smallest IT services.
Depending on the size and IT needs of the company, the size of its in-house team can range from having only one or two employees, to more than 100 IT professionals.
For instance, finance and banking organisations are one of the largest IT graduate employers today as they need to maintain and secure their IT infrastructure at all times. Employers from sectors such as defence, security, and aerospace may need even more.
The rise of start-ups and ecommerce have also opened up a lot of new opportunities and roles, particularly in the mobile commerce space.
Constant innovation = exciting work
Technology is evolving at an impressive pace, prompting new innovations nearly every other week or month. For instance, the retail sector has been redefined through technology within a short decade, branching out from brick-and-mortar stores to include online commerce – and now mobile ecommerce.
The financial sector also benefits from cloud computing, digital currencies such as bitcoin, and a variety of other technological inventions. Logistics, telecommunications, and manufacturing are all seeing improvements as well, thanks to technological development.
Many IT experts cite the ongoing advancements and changes as factors that contribute to the exciting nature of their jobs as it gives them a varied career and plenty of learning opportunities.
$$$$$ (ie. good money)
Contrary to popular belief, the pay scale for IT graduates can be rewarding. The 2015 Singapore Graduate Barometer survey reports that graduates looking to work in the IT industry expect to earn approximately S$42,000 per annum, and this figure can increase depending on different roles and responsibilities.
You will also find that remuneration can increase quite significantly as you climb the corporate ladder, such as a promotion to the role of a consultant or manager.
Past working experience and the range of your technical expertise can greatly influence how much your pay scale increases, so be sure to start stacking up on skills during your university days.
Great growth opportunities
IT employers are known to be extremely generous in providing training, opening up a wealth of growth opportunities and a range of interesting career paths for graduates.
Graduates can make use of the training provided to specialise in a particular area before moving up to another role, or to switch specialisations to gain wider exposure. For instance, an IT analyst can take up training and professional certifications to become an IT manager or consultant, or even discuss with his/her superior to switch over to cyber security.
Certain roles within the IT industry are considered recession-proof, such as those in cyber security. With cybercrime growing so fast, IT graduates specialising in cyber security are constantly in demand.
Software design and development, as well as networking and systems administration are another two areas that IT graduates may want to consider. All companies will need specialists to help in the design and maintenance of a company’s communication systems, including information-sharing infrastructure, and websites.
Consulting is another area that is expected to weather through economic hardships, thanks to functions that combine technical knowledge and commercial awareness. IT consultants can utilise their business acumen to analyse business drawbacks that afflict a firm, and apply technical knowledge to advise companies on the software that best suits their needs.
Further duties include software installation and follow-up services such as staff training.
Ten Typical IT Jobs for Graduates
Are software engineers and application programmers the same? We have ten IT job titles described and defined for your ease!
While the thrilling growth of the IT industry has resulted in the creation of many new and exciting roles, the wide range of job titles can get quite baffling, hinting little at the job scopes. The fact that most jobs do not have a standardised title makes things equally confusing for job-seekers.
Here’s a list of some of the more common job titles that you’re bound to encounter during your job search – described and defined. Aside from the job description, do check out the key skills crucial for each job. They may be able to tell you if you’re a good fit for the job and if you’ll enjoy the typical day-to-day duties.
#1: Software engineer
Also: Application programmer, software architect, software developer, systems developer
Briefly: As a software engineer, a big part of your responsibilities lie in designing, programming, and testing system-level software – such as the operating systems, database systems, and embedded systems – to meet a particular need.
Although you’ll be working primarily with software systems, knowledge about how hardware functions and its software compatibility is also essential.
You will need to be meticulous in your work as the job is typically highly complex and technical in nature. You will also be expected to work closely with clients and colleagues (e.g. system analysts) as you assess systems and propose solutions.
Most software engineers are hired by electronics and telecommunications companies, and will require a background in computing, software engineering, or related qualifications.
- Analytical skills
- Logical thinking
- Attention to detail
#2: Systems analyst
Also: Systems developer, systems engineer, solutions specialist
Briefly: Systems analysts help clients solve problems with their businesses by designing new IT solutions or modifying and enhancing existing systems with new features/improvements.
They start by assessing the client’s needs and their existing IT infrastructure. They then provide a proposal consisting of details such as suggested system requirements, operation systems, and user interface upgrades.
This often includes an analysis of the cost and time needed to implement the project.
A successful systems analyst should have a good mix of commercial and technical knowledge to propose feasible and relevant IT solutions to a client. Your work might involve interacting with clients throughout the development process, so good communication and interpersonal skills are vital.
- Good communication and interpersonal skills
- Ability to extract and analyse information
- Commercial awareness
#3: Business analyst
Also: Business architect, information specialist
Briefly: A business analyst’s role is typically less technical than a systems analyst. Core duties include identifying potential improvements that can be introduced to processes and business operations using IT, and work tends to be more client-facing.
Business analysts are generally responsible for assessing a customer’s needs, gathering and documenting the necessary requirements, and then creating a project plan to design the resulting technology solution.
Business analysts would thus need technology understanding, but not necessarily a technical degree.
- Communication and facilitation skills
- Presentation skills
- Project management
- Problem-solving skills
#4: Technical support
Also: Helpdesk support, applications support specialist, maintenance engineer
Briefly: Technical support officers specialise in maintaining the overall IT infrastructure of an organisation, troubleshooting tech issues as and when they crop up. Depending on your role, you will either assist your clients (or colleagues) on-site or through the phone. In some companies, you may also be asked to take charge of more than one area of expertise.
Some recruiters, especially those in high-tech or specialised sectors, may look for specific experience and knowledge, but most will require you to have a good grasp of basic IT skills.
- Technical knowledge
- Problem-solving skills
- Good communication skills and diplomacy
#5: Network engineer
Also: Hardware engineer, network designer, network support
Briefly: Network engineering encompasses a broad range of responsibilities involving the setting up, administering, maintaining, and upgrading of a variety of systems and network infrastructure for their users. Some network engineers may also be involved in areas like security, data storage, and disaster recovery strategies.
Work can get technically demanding, so you will need a good grasp of technical knowledge. Employers typically hire graduates with telecommunications or computer science-related degrees. You will acquire several specialist technical certifications as you progress in your role.
- Specialist network knowledge
- Good communication skills
- Planning and analysis skills
- Problem-solving skills
#6: Technical consultant
Also: IT consultant, information specialist
Briefly: Technical consultants use their technical knowledge to advise customers on how they can leverage on IT to improve their businesses or overcome obstacles.
Their level of involvement in the IT implementation/upgrading project is dependent on the client’s preferences. Some stages of involvement include assessing the existing IT infrastructure; procuring a contract; designing, developing and implementing IT systems; as well as after-sales support.
Recruiters typically prefer graduates with a technical degree, though not always necessary.
- Good communication and presentation skills
- Technical knowledge
- Commercial awareness
- Project management
- Good time management and organisational skills
#7: Technical sales
Also: Sales manager, account manager, sales executive
Briefly: Technical sales is possibly one of the least technical roles in the industry. Complementing their sales skills with IT knowledge, technical sales personnel need to be able to translate the value of their IT products (e.g. hardware, systems, IT services) into commercial worth to convince their clients to make the purchase.
Work will mostly involve making phone calls, meetings, conferences, and proposal drafting; and like all salespeople, there will also be targets to meet. Clients will expect pre- and after-sales services as well, and it’ll be up to you to coordinate with your colleagues from the technical department to provide training or follow-up services.
While a technology degree isn’t essential for this line of work, you will need to have good technical understanding of your products.
- Good interpersonal and communication skills
- Good persuasion skills
- Product knowledge and commercial awareness
- Problem-solving and analytical skills
#8: Project manager
Also: Product planner, project leader, master scheduler
Briefly: Project managers organise and make use of available resources (e.g. people, time, finances) to ensure that IT projects achieve its goals within the allocated timeframe and budget. Depending on your involvement in a project, you may be in charge of an entire project from start to finish, or manage part of a larger plan.
The role of a project manager isn’t usually assigned to fresh graduates as it requires the experience and knowledge of an industry veteran. A project manager will also need to have the charisma and soft skills to keep his or her team together, usually developed only after spending some time within the sector.
- Good organisation and time management skills
- Good communication and interpersonal skills
- Good decision-making skills
- Problem-solving abilities
- Able to work well under pressure
#9: Web developer
Also: Web designer, UX designer, multimedia programmer
Briefly: Web developers cover a wide range of duties related to the building and maintaining of an organisation’s website. This includes creating the website design and layout. Work can get quite technical as it involves a lot of programming on the back-end, but a good sense of creativity is essential when designing the user interface of the website.
This role requires specialist knowledge and a strong foundation in several coding languages.
- Attention to detail
#10: Software tester
Also: Software quality assurance analyst
Briefly: Software testers run automated and manual tests on a programs and software to ensure it is reliable and fully functional. Testers will then have to feedback the project leader so that fixes can be made.
Some testers may be asked to be present during the early stages of product development to help programmers anticipate potential pitfalls before actual coding begins.
- Analytical and investigative thinking
- Problem-solving skills
- Attention to detail
- Good communication skills
Getting a Graduate Job in IT and Tech
Here's some basic knowledge to help you plan for your career in the IT and technology industry.
Technology used to create, store, communicate, exchange and use information is considered part of the IT sector. Given the widespread application of IT in a broad range of industries, graduates are not limited to working with IT-based organisations or software development houses and consultancies.
Financial services and manufacturing companies, for instance, are heavily reliant on the use of technology, and will typically invest in an in-house team to help them maintain the company’s IT infrastructure.
In an effort to transform herself into a knowledge-based smart nation, Singapore will need the help of talented IT personnel to help her sustain its technology movement.
Recruiters hire talented graduates from a variety of backgrounds. Work experience, though not necessary, may greatly improve your chances at securing a position. Additionally, it does not have to be computing-related experience, as work experience in any form testifies to your transferable skills – something that IT employers look out for when hiring.
Most large organisations, such as Microsoft, IBM, and Google, have graduate programmes and training schemes that help graduates pick up the necessary technical and soft skills.
Smaller businesses may provide mentorships.
More often than not, you’ll be directed to an online application system, although some employers may still request for a CV and cover letter. Like most recruitment processes, graduates will have to go through a series of interviews, whether phone, face-to-face, video, or panel.
There may also be further forms of assessments, such as group exercises, presentations, or programming tests, to determine your level of experience with C++, C# or .NET, for example.
There is generally no one fixed recruitment period for IT professionals because of how it overlaps with other industries. For this reason, the best way to keep tabs on recruitment cycles is to check each organisation’s recruitment schedule instead.
Technology internships and graduate programmes within financial organisations, particularly major investment banks and accounting firms, tend to have early application deadlines. In contrast, IT organisations often hire throughout the year.
Qualifications and skills
Employers hire from all disciplines but a qualification in computing-related fields, including computer science, IT, and computer engineering is necessary for graduates looking to apply for technical positions such as software developer, programmer, and systems analyst.
Singapore is in need of IT specialists and professionals as it launches the Smart Nation initiative to turn the country into a knowledge-based smart nation. Graduates with relevant knowledge, including programming languages (e.g. C++, C#, Java, Linux/Unix, .NET, etc.), will find plenty of job opportunities even during an economic downturn.
Besides programming languages, core technical skills needed for this sector are operating system expertise, network and infrastructure knowledge, and software development skills.
Positions in hardware development and research and development may require graduates with qualifications in physics or electronics engineering.
Graduates from a non-IT-related background need to display a keen interest in IT to pursue career opportunities in the industry. Such graduates are often hired for roles in consultancy or business analysis, where they use broad technical knowledge and commercial awareness to help clients improve their IT systems and achieve their business goals.
There are also corporate roles such as marketing and finance.
In addition to technical skills and good business acumen, employers also require graduates to demonstrate several soft skills:
- Teamwork and interpersonal skills: You will be working in teams during projects, so it is important for you to be able to get along well with your teammates.
- Good communication skills: Aside from your teammates, you may also need to communicate with senior management and clients. It’s important to be able to convey ideas or explain projects without resorting to jargons.
- Organisation and planning skills: Most IT professionals work on several projects simultaneously, so organisational and planning skills are necessary to ensure that deadlines are met with satisfactory results.
- Problem-solving ability: Troubleshooting IT issues is a key part of being a specialist – having quick problem-solving skills will thus make you an asset to your company.
- Commercial awareness: Keep up-to-date with the latest trends in the industry and find ways of acquiring new skills to remain relevant in a quick-changing landscape.
- Recruiters also appreciate highly motivated, adaptable quick learners.
Expectedly, work will mostly be desk-bound but you may also be expected to liaise with clients, suppliers and vendors. Working in IT also involves a lot of teamwork.
Due to the wide range of roles available for IT professionals, the job scope is highly dependent on your position and the sector you’re in.
For instance, programmers may have less client-facing moments, but they are often exposed to many types of projects from different industries, with different requirements and needs.
Consultants, on the other hand, will meet plenty of people because of their travels, which leads to plenty of networking opportunities.
Working hours are fairly regular but occasionally, you may need to work overtime to meet tight deadlines. Many employers have flexible working policies, so you may be able to make arrangements to suit your personal schedule. Freelancing is also a viable option to consider.
IT companies tend to have modern and interactive workspaces, with many investing in the latest technologies to promote employee development. Many also have comprehensive wellness programmes and employee benefits such as gyms, fully-stocked pantries, and gaming facilities.
Training and development opportunities
Graduate programmes will familiarise you with sector knowledge, technical proficiency and basic professional skills such as communication, presentation, and negotiation.
Graduates hired directly into a specific role will receive on-the-job training and be able to pick up specialised skills and in-depth knowledge.
For example, a junior developer will pick up the necessary programming language and technical skills required when he dives straight into designing new and maintaining existing software products.
IT companies generally do not have a structured training plan due to the unpredictable nature of the industry. However, precisely due to how fast technology evolves, IT employers are immensely aware of the value of training, and are often willing to invest in their employees.
Employees will thus need to have the initiative to propose programmes to acquire new skills. Most employers tend to be supportive if you wish to pick up specialised qualifications (e.g. vendor certifications like Microsoft and Cisco, or specialist papers).
Internationally-recognised accredited training programmes are available for technologists keen on working abroad.
How to Network for Investment Banking Jobs
Networking is one of the most underrated skills when it comes to hunting for finance jobs. As a fresh graduate, what can you do to make sure you’re being social enough?
Some people might think that networking is just an American thing and that it won’t work in Singapore. That’s where they’re wrong! The local finance industry – and the investment sector in particular – is a surprisingly small world where who you know can make a big difference.
It’s never too early to start networking for opportunities in investment banking and management, whether for full-time graduate jobs or internships! Here’s what you should be doing to get your foot in the door.
Get your priorities right
It may seem that all recruitment events are worth going to, especially if they’re hosted by the bigger investment banks. However, given the sheer scope of events out there, it’s important to prioritise in order to avoid wasting your time.
If you have specialised skills, it’s better to go to a recruitment event that is looking for those specific skills. Examples of such skills include risk management and compliance expertise, which are particularly in demand in 2014 due to increased regulation by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).
If your skills aren’t so specialist, don’t limit yourself to networking locally. Keep an eye out for contacts across the region as well. After all, plenty of investment graduate schemes will have you rotated across different countries too.
Use any opportunity
If you’re in a place where you have easy access to the people you need to be talking to, such as being on campus, then you have a massive advantage.
There are plenty of recruiters from banks or investment firms who drop by campus on recruitment drives, so take the opportunity to meet them and listen to what they have to say.
It’s not just about recruitment events, too. If an industry professional has just given an academic lecture at your university, hang back and ask them some intelligent questions about what they’ve been talking about (make sure you’re genuinely curious, though).
Once you’ve both finished talking, ask for their business card to keep in touch. Don’t be afraid – the worst they can do is say “no”.
Be brave at networking events
Going into a room full of people can be daunting – especially if most of them are strangers. It is tempting to just retreat into a corner to “check your e-mails”, but remember that talking to as many people as possible is invaluable!
Here are some ways to make your life easier:
- Always look for a crowd with an odd number of people. Networking events are noisy, so it’s very difficult to hold a three-way conversation. Someone will automatically gravitate towards you if you join the mix.
- Step up to a circle of people who are talking. Listen to them intently, and as soon as you get a chance, put your hand out and introduce yourself. Social niceties dictate that people will always shake your hand, and will most probably start asking you questions. This helps if you can’t muster up the courage to break the ice on your own.
Follow up on new contacts
So you’ve hit it off with a potential contact and gotten their business card. That should be enough to stand you in good stead if you do apply to their company, right?
It’s not enough just to get someone’s contact details – you have to follow up immediately. Tell them you’ll call or e-mail to ask some questions. Or, if you’re feeling bold, set up a casual meeting and then keep it.
Once again, make sure your curiosity is genuine! No one likes hanging around a pretentious person who’s quite obviously got an ulterior motive.
Keep track of everyone you meet
If you’re networking properly, you should have quite a few people to keep track of. Take extensive notes in any meetings you have with contacts, and log them into a file in your computer or planner afterwards.
It’s good to know as much as you can about your connections (without venturing into stalker territory!). This will help you build relationships with them. Also, remember to follow up on old contacts regularly – you should also be keeping previous associations useful and relevant.
If you want to get a bit more creative, try setting up a Google News alert for every contact you meet. Not only will you be kept up-to-date on what they’re doing, you can also send them a congratulatory e-mail if they close a big deal.
It’s a small touch that your contacts will appreciate, and will cost you no time at all.
Do your research
If you have a meeting or interview at a firm where you don’t know anybody, see if you can find out the names of those you’ll be talking to beforehand. Then, try searching for them on LinkedIn.
If you’re a “second-degree connection” (i.e. you were introduced by someone else), you should talk to your mutual contact in advance to find out what to expect. Personal connections are great short cuts, and can be really helpful when you want to impress a potential contact.
At the end of a meeting, it’s often a good idea to ask if there’s anyone else they think you should meet. This could be as simple as being introduced to an intern with a similar background to yours.
Approach the people you know
If you see someone you know at a job fair, recruitment event, or employer talk, use it to your advantage even if you don’t know them that well. Walk up, say “hi”, and make a brief attempt to catch up.
You don’t have to be too familiar with some someone to ask them questions – you just need to be credible. Keep empty chit-chat to a minimum, and ask intelligent questions, not “What’s it like to be an investment banker?”
Don’t forget their assistants
If you’re rude or dismissive to a contact’s assistant, do you really think your phone calls are going to get through? Be polite and professional, no matter who you happen to be speaking with.
Get a life!
Nobody thinks about work 100% of the time! Try using common interests outside of finance as a conversation starter, or as a bonding opportunity. Pay attention when someone mentions hobbies, or if they are fans of a specific sports team.
The investment banking industry is very demanding, so don’t be afraid to talk about non-finance things alongside work topics. Some people may even be willing to come out of the office with you for a coffee break if they have time, so that they can take their mind off the job for a while.
If anyone tells you to stop calling or simply says “no”, then cross them off your list. There are loads of other people you can ask or network with, and it’s not worth getting on anyone’s bad side.
Compare Your Investment Banking CV with the Competition
Résumés for a graduate scheme with an investment bank usually fall into three types: straight-and-narrow, everyman, and wild card. Want to know where your résumé fits and how to improve it?
Several banks, including Barclays and Nomura, will ask graduates to submit a résumé along with their application form. Other financial firms, including Credit Suisse, require a cover letter with your application as well.
Since competition for graduate roles in investment banks is fierce, it’s essential that you get your résumé and cover letter right.
Graduate résumés for investment banking jobs generally fall into three types, so compare yours to the three “typical” investment banking candidates below to see what category yours falls into. From there, you can identify areas for improvement!
The straight-and-narrow candidate simply ticks all the boxes. This type of candidate has directly-related work experience in the financial sector (gained either from an internship or prolonged work experience), and a solid academic track record with an honours degree in some business-related major.
They may also have extracurricular activities showing their potential as a leader and motivator – qualities highly sought by banks including Credit Suisse.
If you’re a straight and narrow applicant, the good news is that you may have already met 80 per cent of the requirements listed in the job description. However, don’t get complacent – there are plenty of other candidates out there who have “ticked off the boxes” like you have.
Inject some of your personality into your résumé and cover letter so that they don’t come across as too “typical”, bland, or rigid. This doesn’t mean you need to come up with a radical style and format, as your application should be legible and look smart!
Rather, incorporate more original examples from your extracurricular activities and work experience, or from times when you took a risk and produced exceptional results to illustrate your skills and experience.
A detailed but succinctly written example can be included in your cover letter. If the employer doesn’t accept cover letters, put it in the work experience segment of your résumé under the appropriate employer instead of simply listing your duties.
Or, you could try incorporating it within the skills or achievements section.
The everyman has explored a few different avenues, and has work experience in finance as well as other unrelated sectors. Their résumé doesn’t have any gaps, as they’ve worked throughout all university holidays.
This candidate also has a strong honours degree in a related finance subject. The everyman will usually try to link experiences obtained in an unrelated sector to the role which they are applying for.
While the everyman applicant shows flexibility and adaptability, and has obtained some relevant work experience, their challenge is to ensure the details on their résumés and cover letters are applicable and well-organised.
Many of these candidates attempt to flood their application with every experience or achievement they have, thinking it will look impressive. This is a big mistake.
If you’re an everyman candidate, divide the work experience section of your résumé into “finance” and “additional” sections. Put all finance-related experiences under the “finance” heading (including relevant achievements or projects you’ve worked on).
Then place pursuits within other sectors in the “additional” section.
The key for the everyman is to highlight transferable skills that they’ve gained across their variety of experiences, and to prove how those can be related to a career in investment. Make good use of the cover letter to explain your varied endeavours, and to link them to the role which you’re applying for.
The wild card
The wild card candidate is not the typical applicant, but clearly demonstrates an aptitude for finance and a clear interest in a career in investment or investment banking.
This candidate may have an excellent honours degree in a seemingly unrelated subject – such as English literature – but knows that many banks, such as Morgan Stanley and Nomura, accept applications from all degree disciplines.
The wild card candidate may have a small amount of directly-related practical experience under their belt. Or, they may have completed a trading course after university and joined a financial student society to increase their knowledge and skills.
If this is you, because you have less directly-related experience, you must make sure your résumé and cover letter effectively communicate a genuine interest in the industry and showcase the initiative you’ve used to build relevant knowledge and experience.
Conduct thorough research into the bank and role so you can accurately articulate how your skills and knowledge – finance-related or not – would be an asset to the employer.
Also, turn what might appear to be a weakness into a strength. Take advantage of your degree in English literature, for example, and explain in your cover letter how it’s improved your ability to think critically, conduct research, write reports and communicate effectively – skills investment banks usually favour.
As with the everyman applicant, compartmentalise your résumé so you have related experiences and achievements at the top, and unrelated ones towards the bottom. With all your less directly relevant experiences, make sure you bring out the skills you’ve developed and picked up that apply to the position you’re going for!
Quick Advice: Finding an Engineering Job or Internship
Finding graduate engineering jobs and industrial placements can be quite the journey. Here’s some basic advice to help you with your application.
Whether you’re looking for a job, internship, or industrial placement, the journey of a jobseeker can be pretty daunting, especially after going at it for some time.
But here are some basic tips to help you through your journey.
- Besides getting good grades, be sure to apply early. While most companies do adjust their application deadlines according to the graduation timeline of local universities, there are also those that offer programmes for different periods of the year, so do keep track of the companies you’re keen on.
- Do your research and get help from a careers advisor.
- Network. Get to know people and start building your network as soon as possible, especially with professionals in the sector that you want to work in. Career fairs, presentations, and conferences are good starting points.
Consider jobs or internships at small companies
- Apply to both MNCs and SMEs. Limiting your applications could mean missing out on the opportunities that SMEs can offer you – SMEs often allow its graduate employees to take charge of greater responsibilities than MNCs. Graduates thus have a chance of picking up a wider variety of skills.
- Many small and medium-sized firms can also offer a unique experience that MNCs with a defined graduate scheme can’t because of fixed syllabus/structure, such as opportunities to chart out your own career pathway or to pick up specialised skills outside of your industry that you think might benefit the company.
Finding work experience
- Work experience is highly valued in the industry as engineering firms prefer candidates with the relevant technical skills, so do apply for internships or part-time positions to improve your chances at your next job interview.
- Strategise and plan out your process. You can start with smaller companies for part-time jobs while waiting for internship programmes from major companies. MNCs typically only take in final year students, so prior experience from part-time gigs will certainly bulk up your résumé and give you the leg up in future applications.
- Be persistent! If need be, call up recruiters that you’re interested in, and apply to as many quality employers as possible. Ask for shadowing opportunities if there are absolutely no positions available, or opt for unpaid work if necessary.
Research the industry you most want to work in…
- Do your homework and research about the sectors and engineering firms that you are interested in, but don’t just stop there. Look into the positions and specific areas that you think you’d like to develop deeper knowledge/skills in. This shows initiative on your part and will give you an extra edge, especially during interviews.
- Read up on the latest industry news to help you develop commercial awareness. You’ll need to show that you are actively keeping in touch with developments in the sector.
… but don’t get obsessed with an ‘ideal job’
- Getting your ideal job is an ongoing process. Your first job is only the first step. Instead of just waiting for the “ideal” job, apply to a breadth of engineering sectors for a variety of experience and skills development.
- Be willing to go beyond your specific degree area. Sometimes, you might find engineering jobs in other industries which might be even more satisfying than initially expected.
Non-engineering experience can boost your CV
- Gaining experience in the industry can greatly boost your résumé, but don’t pigeonhole yourself. Experience in non-related fields can help you develop key transferable skills, such as problem-solving and negotiation skills, which are just as important to employers.
- Remember to participate in co-curricular activities in school even as you strive to maintain an excellent CGPA. The activities are great avenues for you to develop both transferable and technical skills (depending on the society that you join).
- Consider volunteering or charity work to help you develop people skills. It will also appeal to companies with CSR objectives.
- Learning a new language or taking part in activities out of your comfort zone can help to demonstrate your willingness to try new things and initiative to grow.
- Travelling can also help you gain experience, survival skills, and people skills that may be useful at the workplace.
Prepare properly for applications and interviews
- Be meticulous when filling in application forms and always tailor it according to the position offered.
- When interviewing, demonstrate commercial awareness: e.g. cost-performance trade off and other commercial pressures, alongside technical knowledge. Demonstrate that you know how to use both to add value to the company.
- Know your basics well, especially during a technical interview. Be honest if you don’t know the answers. Your interviewers will be able to tell if you’re lying your way through.
- Pinpoint competencies that are desired by the employer before you go for your interview and pre-arrange examples of how you’ve applied these qualities in both your work and daily life.
- Go to your interview with questions on hand – particularly about the role, company, or prospects of the position. Make use of your research about the company to help you form these questions – this will demonstrate your level of interest.
Be positive and passionate
- Target jobs that you’re passionate about, instead of jobs that you dislike but offer great pay. This will translate during your application process, such as during the interview and the assessment centre sessions.
- Work on personal projects on topics that you’re interested in. For instance, you can start a project on mini-bot building and use it as part of your portfolio.
- Never write an application when you’re down in the dumps! It shows!
Don’t limit your job search by geography
- Don’t limit yourself to jobs within your neighbourhood or Singapore. There are many employers and organisations offering foreign internships – they can help build character and expose you to unique working experiences.
Get feedback on unsuccessful applications
- Be active about seeking constructive feedback from employers, especially after the interview. Find out how you fared, and how you can improve.
- Consider calling your interviewers/recruiters for this instead of emailing as emails can be easily ignored.
Engineering Postgraduate Study: MSc, PhD, or EngD?
Doing your postgraduate studies can open up plenty of new opportunities, but what are some of the things that you must consider before making your decision?
While a postgraduate degree does not automatically lead to employment opportunities, it does greatly impact your career direction.
It is highly advisable to spend some time gaining experience in the field before pursuing a postgrad, so that you’ll know for certain which area to specialise in your course of study.
Additionally, years of dedication to an employer might also lead to some form of support from the company.
Here is a brief outline of some of the certifications that an engineering student may consider for their postgraduate studies – whether locally or overseas.
Most masters courses typically take no more than a year for a full-time student, allowing you to specialise in a specific area of interest.
If you already have a BEng degree, it may even speed up the process of achieving a chartered status.
An engineering postgrad student can select from three types of courses: The MSc (Masters of Science), MRes (Masters of Research), and MPhil (Masters of Philosophy).
Each degree provides you with in-depth knowledge of a specific subject, but has very different course structures.
MSc is course-based and may sometimes require the submission of a short dissertation, whereas MRes and MPhil are typically research-oriented.
If you plan to continue with a doctorate degree, then the latter two is better suited for you as they will help you build your foundation in research skills.
Working adults may opt for part-time courses instead, although these courses may last up to two or three years.
You may want to speak to your employer before applying for the course to gauge the level of support they can provide you with – in terms of a more flexible schedule to accommodate both work and school or any form of financial backing, for example.
There are two types of doctorate courses available for engineering students, the traditional doctorate (PhD) and the engineering doctorate (EngD), each catering to different needs.
A PhD usually takes about three years to complete, and involves ground-breaking research. This route is typically recommended for those interested in becoming an academic.
You will primarily be guided by a supervisor as you conduct your research, although there will be plenty of opportunities to work alongside other PhD students and researchers.
While some may opt to do a purely academic PhD, many others may incorporate industry-related training from an industry partner for a more practical and hands-on experience.
Depending on university requirements, you may have to commit at least three months to working on the premises of the industry partner.
Engineering doctorates can take up to four years to complete. It typically focuses on researching about and finding solutions to contemporary industrial issues in the sector.
While EngD students are required to go for taught courses on specialist technical and professional development subjects related to the area of research, onsite industrial training will take up nearly 75 percent of their time.
Graduates with an EngD typically go on to become highly-specialised experts in their own field, guiding others interested in their area of expertise.
In Singapore, there are scholarships offered by universities, government bodies, and companies to help postgraduate students. You will need to communicate with the respective departments for more information.
For instance, the NUS Graduate School offers the Commonwealth Scholarship for Integrative Sciences and Engineering for students from any of the Commonwealth countries, whereas A*STAR has the National Science Scholarship and various collaborations with international universities around the globe.
You may also want to keep an eye out for international scholarships offered by various third-party funding organisations.
Opting to study locally or at your alma mater is a good idea given that you will be familiar with the culture and staff in the university.
You may also get special waivers or access to additional sources of funds, but don’t reject the idea of doing your studies in a different institution.
Doing your postgraduate studies in a new environment gives you the chance to explore new networks, academic sources, as well as expertise.
Be sure to run a basic check on the institution’s admission requirements, facilities provided, and the resources that will be made available to you.
Find Great Graduate Jobs in Small Engineering Firms
Big job opportunities for engineering graduates aren’t just limited to big engineering companies! Why not check out smaller engineering employers as well?
Consider this: nearly 99% of all 170,000 registered businesses in Singapore today are SMEs, employing seven out of every 10 workers and contributing to half of the national GDP. By extension, this means that 70% of engineering graduates will most likely end up launching their careers with smaller engineering firms!
With so many graduates finding employment with small engineering firms, let’s take a look at how applications to such firms differ from applying to bigger companies. After all, big companies are not the only organisations with impressive opportunities – SMEs can offer very competitive prospects for graduate engineers too!
Training and salaries in SMEs
Most SMEs won’t be able to promise internationally-approved training programmes, but what they can promise is a lot of on-the-job training and involvement.
You’ll most likely be put through a variety of responsibilities right off the bat that will help you pick up a range of skills. As a result, you may find yourself developing just as fast – if not faster – than in an actual rotating graduate programme. Recognition for your work may even come faster than you expect!
Salary-wise, SMEs may not be able to offer as much as a large company. However, the gap generally isn’t so big that it deters graduates from working with them. Most will try to keep up with the market average, offering competitive remuneration through other non-monetary benefits instead.
Finding a job in an SME
Finding a job in smaller engineering firms is no longer as simple as flipping open the newspaper or logging into a job search portal. When it comes to recruiting graduate engineers, many of these firms prefer a more financially-sustainable form of advertisement: collaboration with university careers services centres.
Many of these smaller engineering firms tend to have highly-specific needs, and careers services centres can help them by pre-screening suitable students and graduates according to these firms’ requirements.
This applies to both internships and graduate employment opportunities, and the specialised nature of the work may expose students to a different form of industrial experience, instead of the kind offered by the conventional engineering giants.
It should be worth noting that “small” doesn’t necessarily mean “nameless” either! There are plenty of highly-specialised, world-renowned engineering employers who operate here in Singapore as SMEs, either because of the specialised nature of their work or for the tax incentives they can get from being classified as a smaller business. You never know what hidden gems you may find!
Applying to SMEs
Applying for a job with an engineering SME calls for a proactive nature. As is the case with most other employers, smaller engineering firms will favour experienced candidates who can offer immediate contributions to the company. You’ll have to go the extra mile by gaining relevant work/internship experiences to prove you can hit the ground running.
What this means is that you’ll have to start early – and begin multitasking! Engineering employers especially like graduates who have demonstrated the ability to successfully manage several projects or responsibilities simultaneously. Pinpoint instances where you’ve juggled a few responsibilities (hopefully with positive results!), and highlight those in your CV.
Don’t just focus on selling yourself, though. Job hunts are all about matching what you have to offer with a company’s needs, and it’s no different with these smaller firms. Make sure you also consider these other factors while applying:
- Find out as much specific information about the company as you possibly can, such as their corporate aims and objectives, the type of projects that they do, as well as any stances that they have on social responsibilities.
- Demonstrate that your existing knowledge can contribute to improving the company’s performance.
- Indicate your enthusiasm in working with them by following up with a phone call or an enquiry e-mail after submitting your application (don’t flood their inbox though!).
Entrance requirements for smaller firms generally tend to be less restrictive or structured compared to larger organisations, so come expecting a more interesting or personal interview process!
Sometimes, smaller engineering firms will also have graduate apprenticeship schemes – their own scaled-down equivalent of the formal training programmes at large engineering firms – to initiate graduate employees into their jobs.
Most inclusive apprenticeships will typically consist of three parts:
- An introduction to the basic engineering principles needed for the job and their application in daily circumstances.
- An extended education component for any necessary academic qualifications.
- An industrial year where you earn credits towards your degree by working with the employer
Your apprenticeship may also be enhanced by a variety of other benefits and activities that these companies can offer, such as training sessions and seminars or after-work activities. Look for opportunities to interact with the staff at the companies you’re interested in to find out more about what their apprenticeships have to offer!
3 Things to Consider if You Want A Civil Engineering Job
Thinking of becoming a civil engineer? Here are three things that you need to think through first!
Most civil engineering graduates typically start their career with the construction or structural industry, where they’ll be welcomed into graduate schemes. Depending on the size of the company, you may be asked to choose a specialisation earlier or later.
Larger employers tend to hire graduates straight into a specialist division. In contrast, smaller companies rarely operate beyond two to three specialisations, and their graduate engineers are expected to be involved in all of those.
The future looks bright for graduate civil engineers in Singapore, especially with the upcoming construction of new MRT lines and BTO housing. But before you jump into your first job, do consider these three factors that will determine the scope of your work!
Factor #1: Working on designs or on site?
Civil and structural engineers are typically snapped up by either a consultancy or a contractor, and the working environment can be quite different.
- Core responsibility: Designing structures and following up on design-related problems once building commences
- Stick with a project from start to end
- Close working relationships with clients, sometimes even managing projects for them
- Work is largely office-bound
- Core responsibility: Realising consultants’ designs once it’s finalised! Contractors also supervise their team and the implementation of designs
- Occasional collaborations with specialist subcontractors
- Work closely with consultants
- Involves on-site work
Recruiters will expect you to know the difference between these two roles and their starting duties. If you start out at a consultancy, you typically start with design assistance or data gathering under the guidance of a senior engineer.
Working for a contractor, in contrast, may have you on-site overseeing the work on a segment of a project. Alternatively, you can also find jobs with specialist contractors, such as companies specialising in coastal and marine work like dredging and reclamation, off-shore installations, and specialist shipping.
Some sectors will also have client organisations that need the expertise of a civil engineering graduate in-house, such as the Public Utilities Board (PUB) or SMRT. The job scope is almost similar to a consultant’s, but you’ll also be expected to pull certain project management roles as well.
Factor #2: Which industry?
Civil engineering doesn’t merely confine you to malls, houses, and roads. There are also a variety of other industries where graduate civil engineers are in demand!
- Airports: Unless you’re involved in a completely new airport project – which could take years of preparation – your typical job scope will involve modifying and improving existing facilities, such as runways and taxiways (also known as “airside infrastructures”), maintenance and cargo hangars, and terminal buildings.
- Bridges: Singapore doesn’t just have bridges – it also has viaducts. Building these calls for a high level of expertise in structural, highway, geotechnical, and environmental engineering. Engineers in this field typically work in multidisciplinary teams. Structural specialists, for instance, prepare the superstructure designs, while geotechnical specialists will work on the foundations.
- Buildings: With sustainability now a key consideration for the construction industry, civil engineers may be invited to work with building services experts to design and produce enduring structures that comply with environmental regulations.
- Coastal and marine: Marine engineers have helped Singapore develop its urban coastal areas to withstand rising sea levels and erosion. They specialise in sea defences – “hard defences” such as concrete barriers; and “soft defences” such as man-made beaches. Building and maintaining ports, offshore wind farms, and tidal energy facilities fall into this job scope as well.
- Energy and power: Power stations, electric towers, solar farms, and oil platforms – these are only a fraction of the projects that you can work on as an engineer in this field! This job is about designing, building, or decommissioning the infrastructure needed to create and transmit energy.
- Environmental: Here, you’ll play an advisory role in projects, giving counsel on the ecological impact of the project and ways to minimise environmental damage. You can specialise in areas such as flood risk, geometrics, and chemical disposal.
- Geotechnical: Geotechnical engineers oversee the structural foundations of buildings, making sure that the groundwork is solid and stable enough to withstand the weight of the structure. They use field data to perform site surveying, design substructure, oversee on-site construction work, and offer advice on modifying the land to help support the project. Postgraduate study is highly encouraged for this field, due to its specialist nature.
- Highways: This specialisation is primarily concerned with finding ways – both temporary and permanent – to reduce traffic congestion and improve road safety, as well as lessen the environmental impact of highways. This area of work may also encompass the construction of bridges and tunnels.
- Offshore: Civil engineers in the offshore industry design and build oil production platforms, sub-sea structures, pipelines, permanent and temporary anchorages, along with various deep-sea mining facilities. This encompasses feasibility studies, site assessments, foundational and structural design, supervising installation, and operational management.
- Rail: Rail engineers design, install, and maintain infrastructure for railway systems – including tracks, drainage, earthworks, telecoms, and power. Cost is a major concern for engineers in this sector.
- Tunnelling: Tunnelling mainly requires specialist structural or geotechnical knowledge, but also involves elements of underground engineering. Rock tunnels, shafts, caverns, and underground stations, for example, fall under the domain of a tunnelling engineer. Engineers working in this field will need to take into account a project’s safety, cost, and location, ensuring it has minimal impact on nearby buildings or the surrounding environment.
- Water and public health: This line of work is about providing clean drinking water to properties and treating wastewater economically. Engineers in this industry design and implement drainage systems and energy-efficient treatment plants, as well as find solutions to prevent urban flooding.
Most engineering employers tend to hire where there are ready pipelines of projects in place, which means you’ll likely find more open positions in segments of the industry that have been earmarked for growth.
Keep your ear to the ground and watch where the money is going for clues on which employers are hiring. However, bear in mind that even in segments of the industry that are struggling or aren’t growing as rapidly, they may still be a handful of firms there with strong project pipelines!
Factor #3: Which degree module/final-year project?
Your chosen degree module or final year thesis can boost your chances of getting hired into a particular engineering specialisation. While civil engineering employers are generally willing to hire across engineering disciplines, they may only recruit graduates with specific degree modules to fill certain specialised roles.
Even though this situation may not be a make-or-break one in the long run, it’s worth giving some thought to if you are still studying. For instance, if you’re sure that you want to go into bridge engineering in the future, then you’ll want to pick up modules in areas such as structural or geotechnical engineering.
Taking the right modules isn’t just about equipping yourself with the necessary technical knowledge, though. From an employer’s standpoint, your choice of modules also showcases how interested you really are in the field you’re applying for.
Choose the Right Engineering Career and Graduate Employer
Engineering employers in Singapore want good graduates, but how do you choose between them? Take some time to think about the industry you want to work in, the career you want to have, and the life you want to lead.
Here’s something to consider: getting employed is one thing. Getting satisfactory employment in engineering, on the other hand, is a whole different ball game altogether.
Most engineering firms present a good mix of specialist and management career opportunities – each of which offers a very different type of career springboard. While this may not necessarily determine your future career pathway, it certainly does influence your professional growth as a graduate engineer!
For this reason, it’s important that you put some thought into applying to the right employer and position:
- What are your priorities: Developing your technical knowledge to become an expert in that particular field, or throwing yourself into the thick of the action in a manufacturing plant?
- What type of function suits you best: A customer- and product-oriented role, such as in the supply chain management, or a strategy planning-related position in project management?
These are only broad guidelines for you to think about, however. If you’re still unsure, then you may want to try applying into a rotational training programme, offered annually. These are mostly offered by larger engineering firms, and they allow you the opportunity to “sample” duties across different departments, including commercial and technical ones.
However, depending on the employer, the structure of these programmes may or may not be role-specific. Some engineering firms will want their graduate employees to experience the best of both worlds, offering programmes that cross technical and non-technical fields. Others are more particular, sorting applicants out into “streams” upon admission.
On the other hand, smaller organisations prefer recruiting directly into specific engineering roles, so make sure that you know what you’re aiming for if you’re applying to such firms.
Choosing your working environment
Start by considering whether you’re more suited for a fast-paced or research-based working environment. Factories and manufacturing plants tend to be more exciting, requiring a lot of immediate attention and action. Inversely, the R&D and design departments may provide more chances to work with technology, but are less speedy.
How about spending most of your working hours outdoors? Some positions will require you to travel and perform your duties out of the office, such as the construction or oil extraction areas of work. Others, such as design engineering, are mainly office-based. If you’re the type who gets bored by a desk-bound vocation, then you may want to opt for an engineering specialisation that can sate your wanderlust.
The working environment may also affect the type of opportunities and projects that are offered to graduate engineers. Larger organisations with structured training schemes will usually let you participate in big international projects, supported by a good network of senior engineers.
Smaller organisations, in contrast, are more selective with their projects, usually going for specialised niches. The lesser manpower at such firms means that you’ll be given more early responsibilities, which translates to faster growth and more experience. While this may also mean that the learning curve may be quite steep, you may achieve early acknowledgement if you can pick things up fast enough!
What are you prepared to do?
Before you decide on who you want to work for, think about how far you’re willing to go for your work – both literally and metaphorically! Consider:
- Are you prepared to move around the region for your work, or travel overseas on secondments and long-term project assignments? How long would you be willing to do so?
- Or are you more comfortable being rooted in the office, where you can build positive working relationships with your team members?
Oil and gas engineers, for instance, are usually required to be particularly mobile – often travelling offshore to oil rigs and refineries. On the other hand, a process controller may find themselves tied to a specific manufacturing plant, monitoring its operational efficiency day in and day out.
Think about the hours that you’re willing to clock in as well. It’s not uncommon, for instance, for manufacturing engineers to have to do shift work, whereas those involved in maintenance sometimes pull unusual hours. If keeping ordinary working hours of 9-to-6 is a priority, then perhaps other engineering specialisations will be more suited for you.
Obtaining additional professional qualifications
Another concern that you may want to consider is the educational support that you may get from your employer. Are you aiming to become professionally qualified: as a chartered engineer or an incorporated engineer? What about further studies?
Most recruiters do provide such support and opportunities. Be sure to clarify, however, because some employers will only support your education to a certain level.
In addition, make sure to ask about alternative training opportunities – both internal and external – and other forms of sponsorship that can benefit you or help you with your career progression.
Make the match
Don’t neglect the culture fit between you and the potential employer either! See if you can request for a tour around the workplace during interviews to get a feel for the company culture or the kind of work that inspired you to apply to this employer in the first place.
If you have the opportunity, try speaking to current employees or any connections you may have within the company for insiders’ views. You can also use this time as an opportunity to observe your potential colleagues. More often than not, if you’re comfortable talking to them from the get-go, you’ll be fine working with them if you do get hired.
What Else Can I Do With an Engineering Degree?
Having an engineering degree doesn’t tie you down to the engineering field forever. Here are some alternatives!
Just because you have an engineering degree, it doesn’t mean that you have to be stuck in an engineering-related job forever! The best thing about an engineering degree is that it equips you with skills – such as logical thinking, problem-solving, and strong numeracy – that are technical enough for a specialised sector, yet general enough to be transferable to other areas of work as well.
Most companies have positions where engineering graduates can combine their existing technical skills with commercial, financial, and management opportunities. Here are some alternative career options:
Whenever something has to be moved from one place to another – whether it’s transporting raw materials to a manufacturing facility, or distributing retail products to customers – that falls under the purview of logistics.
You’ll be responsible for everything that is related to the process: the planning and financial costs, processing and tracking orders, the liaising with other departments, and so on. Two of your main concerns will be expenses and deadlines. It’s your job to balance quality service and timely delivery with minimising costs.
Some of the skills needed:
- Problem-solving and logical-thinking skills to tackle urgent last minute problems.
- Most situations will boil down to a cost-benefit analysis. You’ll need to be able to consider the impact of your choices on the business as a whole.
- Good communication skills – you’ll need to be clear and precise when managing colleagues and customers, especially when you need to be firm with them.
Operations management bridges the manufacturing and the business side of a company, linking them to form an efficient supply chain. As such, work in this area is very diverse; you can be involved in nearly everything – from the purchasing of raw materials to the delivery of a complete product to a customer.
Roles in this area are primarily occupied with planning and implementing strategies to increase productivity and to reduce costs. Here are some notable “engineer” attributes to have in this type of work:
- Analytical thinking skills to deduce necessary information from compiled data.
- Quick-thinking ability to solve problems that may have a huge impact on a process.
- Able to see the overall picture and final objectives even as you focus on improving specific areas.
Patent law and intellectual property
Engineers make good patent lawyers and agents – specialised legal professionals who advise and help clients protect their intellectual property (IP) – because of their technical knowledge and ability to understand the process of invention. This allows them to negotiate intelligently on behalf of their clients.
You won’t need a lawyer’s licence to practise as a patent agent, but you do need the right type of technical knowledge, such as knowing how different IPs need to be protected. You may work with patents (which protect technological innovations) or other types of IPs such as registered and unregistered designs (e.g. the unique shape/appearance of a product).
Potential employers include the in-house patent division of a private firm or an organisation, public establishments, and government departments. Some skills that you should consider boosting:
- Excellent communication skills – especially written skills – as you’ll be dealing with a lot of reports and legal liaisons.
- Good time management ability, because you’ll have to work through continuous client meetings, tight deadlines, and multiple projects.
- A patient and persistent nature due to potentially resistant clients or officials, as well as long training periods and exams (which can take up to three to five years).
Procurement, purchasing, and buying
Procurement is all about scouting out and purchasing equipment, parts, and materials for projects at the right price and quality. You’ll have to prepare a list of suppliers and quotations to select from; check on the quality, prices, and schedules; and liaise with transporters and logisticians to ship purchases to the right place at the right time.
Engineers are well-suited for this job because of their familiarity with specific parts, equipment, and materials, which means that they can help with quality control. Here are other qualities that you should improve on for this line of work:
- Meticulousness and accuracy in your calculations and handling of the purchases. Some orders can be worth millions of dollars!
- The ability to work under pressure and think fast because you may have to contend with tight deadlines and last-minute problems.
- Good communication and negotiation skills to bargain with your vendors.
- A good technical understanding of the process that you are purchasing for. You’ll need to accurately gauge timescales and the impact of any changes you make.
Supply chain management
Supply chain management manages raw materials, production lines, manufacturing processes, and logistics to maintain a steady supply of products to customers, ensuring that nothing is delivered late or lost.
To succeed, you’ll have to learn to strike a balance between providing good customer service and minimising costs. To improve processes and act as a liaison between different parts of the operation, you’ll need to understand the functions of other teams as well as their individual roles.
Many engineering graduates branch out to this particular field because of its focus on quantitative skills. An engineering background helps with picking up necessary technical knowledge, which could lead to better business decisions. Pay attention to these skills:
- Analytical and investigative skills to seek out new opportunities and strategies that may boost profits.
- Effective communication skills, as you’ll be working with people from a variety of backgrounds – from business managers to line technicians.
Teaching, academia, and lecturing
If you’re not all that into the corporate world, why not go into teaching? Many engineers discovered their passion through their exposure to the subject in an educational setting. So why not draw from your personal experiences and theoretical knowledge to train students to become future engineers?
You may need to pursue additional qualifications to teach specific subjects, but enthusiasm for your subject matter is a definite must-have. Complement your knowledge with the following:
- Excellent communication skills to simplify in-depth, specialist technical knowledge for your younger, less experienced students. Consider also that this is not just confined to verbal communication – your job may include practical laboratory and research work.
- Creativity that helps you present your subject matter and teach problem-solving skills to your students in a way that’s both engaging and interesting to them.
- If you’re teaching at university level, you may also need to carry out personal research or write academic papers for journal submissions periodically.
Technical consulting offers broader business-oriented opportunities, and will usually involve using mathematical and computational theories to troubleshoot problems that impact the profitability of a business. Engineers are highly sought after in this field for their technical knowledge.
As a graduate, you’ll usually start off in this line of work with research-based duties, but will eventually move up into performing data analysis and statistical modelling to help clients solve commercial problems.
Other skills that will help you in this line of work:
- An eye for detail, superior logical reasoning, and keen problem-solving skills. You will be dealing with tremendously large volumes of data (known within the industry as “Big Data”).
- Excellent communication skills for presenting technical information and analyses to audiences from a non-engineering background.
- Specialist knowledge to advise on the implementation of specialised technology or equipment.
Technical sales is a branch of sales that focuses on selling highly technical products or solutions to specialised clients. You will need to persuade clients that your organisation’s expertise and products can meet their requirements. This requires a solid understanding of both their business and their needs.
A solid engineering background is essential – you’ll need to understand clients’ technical issues and challenges, as well as how your organisation can help them address those problems. Other skills that you may need as a successful technical salesperson:
- A disciplined nature will help you remain level-headed in a sales environment, especially when under duress.
- Good communication and listening skills, as well as attention to detail. You’ll need to absorb and interpret information on a regular basis.
- Self-motivation and a positive nature will make you more approachable, and will help with generating new business opportunities.
Some technical systems and solutions – especially particularly complex ones – are sold with a provision of training for clients. That’s where technical trainers come in: they teach clients’ employees how to install, operate, and maintain these purchases. This may include topics such as technical standards, company-specific software packages, manufacturing equipment, and health and safety processes.
Most employment opportunities in this field come from agencies or internal human resources and development teams. Other necessary skills:
- The ability to anticipate the training needs of your clients. You’ll need to prepare courses and materials suitable for all levels of staff – from those with only basic technical and IT knowledge, to highly-specialised engineers.
- Good presentation and communication skills to effectively relay your “lessons”.
- You’ll need to keep up with the latest industrial developments as well as work with specialised course providers or accreditation bodies.
How Do I Get an Engineering Graduate Job
Engineering recruiters in Singapore are always on the lookout for talent to boost the nation’s innovative economy.
Online sources have approximated that the engineering sector accounts for almost 35,000 jobs in Singapore, and is always on the lookout for more professionals to accommodate the nation’s growth.
Regardless, competition continues to remain stiff, with well-known graduate employers attracting plenty of applications, although SME engineering firms are also gaining traction as SPRING Singapore assists them in their growth.
Here is a basic guide to help job-seeking graduates address their concerns.
What are the different areas of work?
Engineering graduates are welcome in many areas, such as aerospace, automotive, chemicals, electronic, and rail. They are also greatly valued in industries where machines and technologies are involved, such as FMCG, manufacturing, and telecommunications.
Depending on the industry, engineering roles can vary in scale from the development of nanotechnologies and electronic devices, to the construction of grand structures like refineries or a field of solar panels.
How can I get a job with an engineering company?
Employers greatly value graduates who can contribute to the company with a good mix of technical knowledge and commercial awareness.
Larger recruiters will typically hire through graduate training programmes, which can be competitive. Having previous work experience – whether gained through internships, industrial placements, or part-time jobs with related employers – can give you an edge over other applicants.
Smaller firms, on the other hand, tend to hire directly into specific entry-level roles.
What qualifications and skills do I need?
While the industry does welcome graduates from all disciplines for more commercial positions, specific engineering roles require a relevant engineering degree.
Employers may be selective of the education level of their applicants as well. While some are open to recruiting graduates from both BEng and MEng degrees, other industry employers will only hire graduates with a MEng.
Graduates may also want to consider training to become a chartered engineer, where you can be part of the Chartered Engineer (Singapore) Registry. The programme was set up to help distinguish professional engineers.
Recruiters also look out for a variety of soft skills, including:
- Communication skills – written and verbal
- Problem-solving ability
- Analytical skills
- Interpersonal skills
- Commercial awareness
- Attention to details
- The ability to learn quickly
- Flexibility and adaptability
- Enthusiasm and motivation
What does the application process involve?
Major engineering firms typically prefer online applications from their careers page or job portals, whereas smaller firms accept CVs and cover letters via email. Once your application is processed, you’ll usually be invited for a series of interviews (general and technical), tests (numerical, personality, verbal reasoning, etc.), and/or an assessment centre.
When should I apply?
Unlike most financial and banking institutions which offer graduate programmes with fixed application deadlines, many engineering employers have “open” recruitment cycles where they accept applications until all vacancies have been filled. That said, a number of them do keep annual deadlines, especially when coordinating a regional/international graduate programme.
Smaller firms also usually hire graduates directly into a specific position as and when it’s needed, so be sure to monitor online portals, job boards, and newspapers as often as possible.
What training and development opportunities do employers offer?
Training and development is a high priority in the sector, and employers typically offer professional courses or graduate schemes to help develop engineers. With the government placing emphasis on the Continuing Education and Training (CET) programme, this has become even more important.
What are the working life and hours like?
The job scope and working hours of an engineer is very dependent on the industry that you are in. You might find yourself deskbound, clearing tasks such as calculations and preparing proposals all day, spending time outside of the office overseeing work in a manufacturing facility/construction site, or holding meetings with clients.
Depending on the role, engineers can have a relatively good work-life balance, although you might have to put in extra hours whenever deadlines approach.
Mobility is also increasingly important as you may have to travel for client meetings, business trips, or extended placements abroad.
What are the highs and the lows?
Graduate engineers get the chance to work with experienced engineers in multidisciplinary teams and explore cutting edge technology. They also find personal satisfaction in working on intellectually and practically challenging problems. Knowing that their work can benefit society is another plus point.
Engineers may also be required to travel often, which can be both exciting and taxing at the same time.
The sector is also sometimes beset with strict regulations and standard operating procedures, often leading to tedious paperwork. In addition to that, work can get frustrating as projects may be abandoned halfway due to a sudden withdrawal of funds.
What other jobs can engineering graduates do?
Obtaining an engineering degree exposes you to a range of transferable skills such as problem solving, logical thinking, and high-level numeracy skills. This makes engineering graduates very desirable candidates not just for the engineering sector, but also for sectors such as finance, IT, and consultancy.
Graduates can also opt for commercial roles in the engineering sector, such as procurement, technical sales, operations management, supply chain management, and logistics as they can provide further insights into the job with their industry knowledge.
Alternatively, one can start out in a technical position to gain more experience before switching to another business area later on in his career (e.g. management or business functions).
Unique Skills Investment Banks Want in its Graduate Employees
Loyalty, diplomacy, and gravitas... You’ll need to show more than boring old “teamwork” and “communication” skills if you want to nab a graduate scheme in investment banking and management.
Let’s face it: everyone thinks they have “good communication skills”, are “team players”, or are “effective problem solvers.” Just take a peek at your friends’ résumés if you don’t believe us. Don’t expect to stand out in the eyes of investment recruiters if you just focus on those old clichés!
Investment banks and investment management companies have demanding checklists of skills that they seek in candidates applying for their graduate or internship schemes. Plus, each firm will also seek unique traits in candidates that match their corporate culture.
If you have a specific investment employer in mind and want to catch their attention, you’ll need to know some of the unique skills they are looking for, and know how to prove you’ve got them!
Key investment skill #1: Intellect
It goes without saying that investment employers place a lot of emphasis on hiring bright candidates. But what specific intellectual skills are their recruiters actually looking for?
Jane Clark, head of campus recruitment (Europe and Asia) at Barclays, says that Barclays seeks candidates who can grasp new concepts quickly.
“People strong in learning agility are sharp and thrive in new and difficult situations,” she said. “Grasping and learning new concepts quickly – whether it is a task, assimilating new information or data, managing a project, or meeting a new client – is important when working in an industry such as investment banking.”
“New markets, products, deals and opportunities continually emerge and agile learners are needed to deliver results quickly – even in new situations. A commitment to learning and a hunger for dealing with challenging situations is key.”
On the other hand, Deutsche Bank places great emphasis on agile-mindedness – particularly the ability to deduce the right questions to ask when in doubt, and to quickly identify the most appropriate leads to pursue while conducting investment research. Think of it as a Sherlock Holmes-esque approach to problems, where you need to arrive at the right conclusion based on a combination of elimination, deduction, and extrapolation on the finer details.
How to prove it: “Tell us about a time when you demonstrated your intellectual ability.”
Investment recruiters typically judge intellectual ability by your capacity to apply your knowledge to practical situations. They also want to see whether you are quick enough to catch on the bigger picture in such situations.
For example, perhaps you worked on a project during a previous internship together with a team of other interns. An agile-minded person wouldn’t just complete their assigned tasks – rather, they would grasp how the project they are working on affects their employer as a whole and be able to discern how the other interns’ tasks might influence that outcome.
Make sure you demonstrate your ability to act on your deductions, too! In the above example, you would ideally take a broader interest in your teammates’ work, and do your best to help them see the best outcome for themselves and reach it. You would also clarify doubts with your supervisor, and make the necessary tweaks as the project moves along.
Key investment skill #2: Innovation
The ability to create or identify new opportunities for the business is yet another highly-valued skill in the eyes of investment recruiters.
Morgan Stanley specifically cites entrepreneurial drive as a key requirement in candidates. This means that their recruiters look for applicants’ ability to spot areas in need of development, as well as opportunities to profit from such a process.
Interdealer broker ICAP, on the other hand, specifies that candidates must be innovative – with the ability to produce new ideas or insights, and to constantly seek chances to improve existing processes. Likewise, UBS also lists an appreciation of the need to “challenge accepted practices” under one of their seven core hiring competencies.
How to prove it: “Tell us about a time when you were innovative.”
Many investment firms use processes that have existed for years. However, these processes are frequently tweaked for improvements in accuracy and efficiency. Have you done something similar?
For example, perhaps your student society was going to run a food stand for fund-raising. If you decided that you could attract more people to the stand by running a social media marketing campaign and introducing tiered discounts based on word-of-mouth referrals, then you provided a basic innovation to help your society make more profits!
Key investment skill #3: Resilience
The investment banking and investment management industries are well-known as high-pressure working environments. In order to minimise attrition, investment recruiters need candidates who are resilient.
Barclays makes no secret that they require the ability to work under pressure, such as dealing with constant deadlines or catering to prominent (and often imposing) clients, particularly for graduate schemes that are meant to fast-track applicants to management or leadership roles.
Standard Chartered Bank emphasises a need for graduates with the ability to adhere to the highest standards even under intense pressure. This often comes in the form of changing deadlines and dealing with the next bit of new information that comes to light. Employees at the bank will tell you to be prepared to be on call almost 24/7!
How to prove it: “Tell us how you have shown resilience in your life so far.”
Feeling tempted to talk about “balancing” the demands of your degree programme with extra-curricular commitments and a part-time job? We congratulate you for pulling that off, but the truth is that many of your competitors will probably say the exact same things.
Instead, talk about a time when you failed at something or received some constructive criticism over something you could have done better. Then, focus your story on how you worked towards improvement despite your disappointment. A “resilient” person is one who sees a setback as a challenge for growth.
Key investment skill #4: International outlook
Given how investment work functions across time zones and borders, graduates with the ability to operate in an international context are often in high demand.
Barclays Wealth and Investment Management’s competencies include “willingness to work abroad” and additional language skills.
At Goldman Sachs, close to 50 percent of the bank’s graduate roles require applicants to demonstrate strong linguistic skills.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch looks for graduates who can demonstrate “global outlook”. Proficiency in various Asian languages is also required for certain roles in Asia Pacific.
At Nomura, knowledge of a second language and its associated culture – though not essential – is considered a strong plus. As a Japanese firm, knowledge of Japanese business culture would certainly help as well.
UBS’s recruiters once included “international experience” as a key competency. Though it has since been unlisted, the bank still places plenty of emphasis on the global nature of their graduate job roles.
How to prove it: “Tell us about a recent development in an overseas market. How will it affect our business?”
Having an international outlook is not just about speaking to a foreign client or colleague in their language. It’s also about being able to relate to them and to understand the market that they operate in.
Show recruiters that you can identify a key event or socio-economic trend that will affect the markets in other parts of the world. And, more importantly, make sure you can explain why and how it will affect the organisation’s operations in Singapore.
Other skills that investment employers look for
Individual investment employers can also have more interesting requirements – some of which you might not even think of at first glance.
Credit Suisse, for example, looks for the ability to “invoke loyalty in others”. And then there’s Rothschild, which lists “presence” (i.e. a sense of gravitas and authority) as one of their fundamental skills.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, sometimes otherwise great candidates end up letting the air out of their application bids all too easily by trying too hard to showcase their worth, at the expense of forgetting the basics.
Recruiters at Citi, for instance, bemoan the fact that applicants who have strong academic qualifications or a good understanding of the markets end up letting themselves down by failing to show enthusiasm, because they were far too fixated on the technical details instead.
Still, at the end of the day, don’t forget that investment careers are – at their core – very much a client-facing line of work! Don’t neglect to showcase the finer points of your people skills, such as HSBC’s requirements for an “outgoing personality” and “good levels of diplomacy”.
All About Graduate Jobs in Investment Banking & Management
Whether you’re curious about how much you can expect to earn, or what the lifestyle is like, you can find answers to your key questions about investment banking right here.
Q: What is investment banking or investment management all about?
It should go without saying that a career in investment banking or investment management is... well, all about making money. Graduate employers within this industry provide financial services to clients ranging from corporations, institutions, and governments to high net-worth individuals – all with the aim of helping clients maximise their returns.
Amongst other services, investment banks/firms assist clients with raising loans, investing surplus cash, acquiring or merging with other businesses, or floating shares on the stock exchange.
Q: How can I get a graduate job with a bank or investment house?
Investment banking employers actively search for talented graduates to take their businesses forward. Their preferred method of entry for graduate hires tend to be through graduate recruitment schemes.
Many employers within this industry also offer internships or work placements. These programmes are very competitive, but landing yourself a place in one will give you a huge head-start to getting offered a permanent job – whether with the employer you interned with, or elsewhere. In fact, some investment banking or investment employers hire solely through internship conversions!
Q: What qualifications and skills do I need for a graduate job in investment banking and management?
The good news is that investment employers generally aren’t picky about degree programmes – they welcome graduates from all academic disciplines. However, the exception is for roles within technology divisions, where technical degrees or degrees with a significant IT component are an understandable pre-requisite.
The not-so-good news is that most investment employers tend to be very picky about academic performance and work experience! You’ll need to be on track for an honours degree at the very minimum, and a relevant internship (preferably with that employer).
You don’t need to be a mathematical genius, but you do need a genuine interest in financial markets, and you must be comfortable working with numbers.
The ability to learn quickly on the job is essential, as are “soft” skills, such as communication, negotiation, and leadership abilities. Essential skills that investment employers look for typically include:
- Numeracy (a.k.a. the ability to work well with numbers!)
- Analytical and critical-thinking skills
- Communication skills – both verbal and written
- Self-motivation and enthusiasm
- Teamwork skills
- The ability to work and/or stay calm under pressure
- Attention to detail
Q: What does the application process involve? When should I apply?
The majority of investment banking and management employers use online application systems.They may also ask you to complete online psychometric tests to ensure you are really a good fit for a career in this sector. If your application catches an employer’s eye and you’ve done well enough on any required tests, you’ll probably be asked to attend an interview and assessment centre.
For full-time graduate jobs, some investment banking and management employers have rolling applications open all year round. However, you will need to watch out for deadlines that fall before the end of the calendar year – some can even creep up as early as September.
Deadlines for internship applications often fall in the early part of the year, so give yourself a head-start by beginning your research early (before the previous year ends) and getting sufficient practise answering application form questions and online aptitude tests.
Q: What are the starting salaries in investment graduate jobs?
Entry-level jobs in the investment banking and investment management sector tend to pay a bit on the high side. Starting salaries can range from S$40,000 to S$50,000, and there may also be bonuses. Of course, such attractive pay scales don’t come without a cost – which brings us to our next question...
Q: What is working life in this sector like?
As the saying goes: money never sleeps. Much of the work in the investment banking and investment sector spills across global borders and time zones, and employees in this sector are well-known for putting in long hours and intense work as a result. Twelve-hour working days (or more) are not uncommon.
Nonetheless, many graduates in the sector seem to think their working lifestyle is good in spite of the long days and intense workplace culture – though this could actually be due to the kind of personalities that are attracted to this fast-paced industry!
The specific nature of your work in this sector will obviously vary according to the different roles and divisions within the industry. If there’s one constant, though, it’s that most of it will often be fast-paced, demanding, and unpredictable. Communication with colleagues and clients is also often a huge part of the job.
Q: What are the different areas of work?
There’s a wide range of disciplines to choose from within this sector! Here are some of the most common areas of work:
- Specialist markets
- Investment banking
- Investment management
- Risk management
- Structured finance
- Private wealth management
- Inter-dealer broking
Q: How are investment banks and firms structured?
Each bank and investment firm is structured differently, but they will have some things in common. The fee-earning areas of the business – which directly produce revenue – are often referred to as “front office” roles. Jobs in this area are typically client-facing, and include advising on and implementing strategies to help clients’ companies to grow, in addition to trading financial products.
Support functions (also known as “back office” roles) such as finance, human resources, and operations, ensure that the right people and money are in the right place at the right time. The whole organisation is straddled by the technology division, which provides and maintains the necessary systems and infrastructure within which business takes place.
Q: What are the highs and lows?
As mentioned previously, working in investment banking and investment management often involves very long and unpredictable hours, and there can be a lot of stress involved due to a heavy dependence on factors beyond your control.
The upside, however, is that you'll be working in a dynamic environment with high-powered colleagues, excellent salary prospects, and the opportunity to assume responsibility relatively early on in your career.
A Graduate's Guide to Investment Banking Job-Speak
Bulls, hedging, stagflation... did you just wander into a farmers’ convention? Here are some key banking and investment terms deciphered so you can sound informed at graduate job interviews.
Analyst: A person who studies a market or industry sector and makes “buy”, “hold”, or “sell” recommendations. Less glamorously, it also refers to an entry-level career position in many investment banks and firms.
Bear: An investor who sells, believing that prices of the financial product they are selling will fall.
Bid price: The price which a buyer is willing to pay for a financial product.
Bonds: Governments or companies can raise capital by issuing and selling bonds. Bondholders investments’ will be repaid with interest (also known as a “coupon”) once the bond reaches maturity. The difference between bonds and loans is that bonds can be further traded between investors, while loans cannot.
Broker: An intermediary between a buyer and a seller. Brokers will receive a commission if the trade closes successfully.
Brokerage: The payment a client makes to a broker.
Bull: The opposite of a bear. A bull is an investor who buys, believing prices of the financial product they are acquiring will rise.
Capital markets: A financial marketplace for buying and selling medium- or long-term funding instruments (e.g. bonds, debt, and equity).
Chinese walls: A term referring to information barriers within investment banks. Such barriers exist to minimise potential compliance or conflict of interest issues (e.g. M&A teams and analysts are forbidden from communicating, to ensure that potential takeovers will not be affected by analysts advising their clients to buy or sell shares in the acquired company).
Clearing: The process for making transactions happen – matching the buyer with the seller, and making sure the buyer actually has the cash and that the seller actually holds the securities.
Commodities: Physical goods that are traded on a global scale, such as oil, petrol, rare metals, or grain.
Credit crunch: The term commonly used to refer to a severe shortage of money or credit within a market. The start of the “Global Credit Crunch” can be dated to August 2007, when default rates on sub-prime loans in the US housing market rose to record levels.
Credit default swap: An insurance-like contract for transferring credit risk. The buyer of the swap makes payments to the seller in exchange for protection in the event of a default. Banks and other financial institutions typically use credit default swaps to cover the risk of mortgage holders defaulting.
Debt capital markets (DCM): An investment bank division responsible for refinancing or restructuring a client’s existing debt, or raising a client’s debt for acquisitions. The benefit of debt is that it grants a company a greater diversity of funding options, as opposed to relying solely on equity.
Derivatives: The general term for financial contracts between buyers and sellers of commodities or securities. This includes futures, options, forwards, or swaps. The value of a derivative is determined by fluctuations in the value of an underlying asset (e.g. a commodity or a security). Since they allow profit from the asset despite its rise or fall, derivatives are typically used as instruments for hedging risk.
Equity: Otherwise referred to as shares. Shareholders own a percentage of the company, and have a share in its profits. They also have control of company management decisions via voting rights.
Equity capital markets (ECM): An investment bank division responsible for structuring and pricing the issuance of companies’ equities (or shares), such as at an IPO.
Futures: A contract between two parties to trade a commodity or a security at a fixed price, and on a fixed future date.
Hard market: A situation where a product or service is scarce for purchase within a market. The opposite is a soft market, in which the product or service is readily available.
Hedge: A strategy where an investor acquires a collection of different financial instruments with contrary positions, in order to offset the possibility of loss.
Hedge fund: A private investment fund that uses a range of strategies to maximise returns while minimising the risk of loss.
Initial Public Offering (IPO): The date when a company’s shares are released (“floated”) for trading on the stock exchange.
Insider dealing/trading: The act of trading using knowledge of non-public (“insider”) information in order to gain an advantage over other traders or investors. This is a criminal offense.
Interest rates: Lenders demand interest on loans, and the rate hinges on future inflation projections, as well as the “real interest rate” (removing the cost of inflation from the interest rate in order to discern its actual value). Borrowers might pay an additional percentage in order to compensate lenders for the credit risk.
Investment bank: A bank providing financial services for governments, companies, or very wealthy individuals. Generally more exclusive than commercial banks, which provide loans and savings accounts to the general public as well.
Investment trust: A collective investment structure where investors pool their money and then commission a fund manager to invest in a variety of stocks and shares on their behalf. A trust can also trade shares on the stock market, though the share price may not always equal the price of its underlying assets. An investment trust’s value will fluctuate with demand for shares on the stock market.
Leveraged buyout (LBO): A corporate takeover funded mostly by high-risk bonds or loans. Though risky, this move allows the acquiring company to purchase a significant amount of assets in a short time while contributing only a small amount of real capital.
Leveraging: The act of using debt to supplement investments. An institution that has borrowed heavily in addition to putting forward its own funds or equity to finance growth is termed as being “highly leveraged”.
Libor: Short for the “London Inter Bank Offered Rate”. Libor is the rate at which banks may offer money to other banks.
Liquidity: The ability of an asset to be traded quickly and without changing its market price.
Market maker: The bank or firm that is obliged to quote “buy” and “sell” prices for a financial instrument, and then stands ready to trade in said instrument on a regular and continuous basis throughout the trading day.
Money market: A marketplace for short-term funding, such as certificates of deposit and treasury bills. Money market securities typically have a brief maturity period – less than one year.
Options: These are similar to futures, but provide the buyer with the right to choose whether or not to complete the contract before the fixed date, as opposed to a binding obligation. The buyer must pay a premium on the seller’s futures for this ability.
Portfolio: A collection of securities, financial instruments, and investment options held by an investor. It is also known as a “fund”.
Principal (person): A term referring either to an investor who trades on his/her own account and risk, or the owner of a private company.
Private equity: Equity that is not publically listed on a stock exchange. Trading in private equity is considered a high-risk yet potentially high-return investment – the investor can hold large stakes in an organisation, but the investment will be largely in liquid.
Proprietary trading: Trading carried out on a firm’s own behalf, using its own capital.
Pure risk: A class of risk where the only outcome is the possibility of loss. Speculative risk, by contrast, offers the possibility of either loss or gain.
Risk management: The act of managing the pure risks to which a company might be exposed to. This involves analysing all possible risks and determining how best to handle them, either through trading them out, or hedging risk with derivatives.
Secondary market: The trading of a company’s bonds and equities among investors. The “primary market” refers to the initial launching (issuing) and direct sale of the company’s securities.
Securities: A generic term for bonds and equities.
Securitisation: The act of turning something into a security (e.g. combining the collective debt from a number of mortgages to create a financial product that can be traded). Banks owning securities that include mortgage debt earn income when homeowners make mortgage payments.
Settlement: The stage once a deal has been made and clearing has taken place, where stock and cash are transferred between the seller and the buyer.
Short selling: The investment strategy of borrowing an asset (such as shares) from another investor and then selling it in the relevant market, hoping the price will fall. The aim is to buy back the asset at a lower price and then return it to its owner, allowing the borrower to pocket the difference.
Spread: The difference between the bid and offer price of a security. Pocketing this difference after a sale is one way in which banks make profits.
Stag: A speculator who buys shares upon issue, to sell them as soon as they begin trading on the market. They are also called “flippers”.
Stagflation: A combination of stagnation and inflation, where economic growth slows even as prices continue to rise.
Sub-prime loans: High-risk loans to clients with poor or no credit histories.
Swap rates: Borrowing rates between financial institutions. The “lender” bank charges this to the “borrower” bank in order to offset the risk of having to pay the fluctuating Libor rate.
Toxic debt: Shorthand for debt that will very likely incur losses on an investor. This is typically debt that has a very low chance of being repaid with interest, has a phenomenally high default rate, or has grown too large to even be repaid.
Unit trust: Also known as a “mutual fund”. The trust issues units which represent holdings of the underlying shares. The fund can then pass profits directly to the individual shareholders, proportionate to the amount of units they hold. This is in contrast to an investment trust, where profits must be re-invested back into the fund.
Universal bank: An all-in-one bank that offers both investment and commercial banking services to consumers and small businesses, as well as corporate clients.
Yield: The total return on investment for a security. This is usually expressed as a percentage of the security’s price.
Which Accountancy Specialisation Should You Choose?
Matching accountancy specialisations to your personality will help you find your niche!
Accountancy and financial management employers usually expect graduates to specify an area of specialisation during job applications – but what if you’re not sure which area to focus on?
You can start by referring to gradsingapore’s areas of work section to help you identify the different accountancy sectors. Employer websites also provide graduate references and links that may be useful.
For instance, KPMG prepares self-selection tests for applicants to figure out the area that suits them best before going through the assessment process. Grant Thornton, on the other hand, mentions in its FAQ that “tax attracts students of law or maths, and business studies students apply to audit.”
Your choice of degree and academic results will also greatly influence your area of specialisation. A career in consulting, for example, typically requires a degree with a foundation in mathematics, while forensic services prefers graduates with an IT-related degree.
It is also best to match your career to your personality. Those good with investigative work may like forensic finance, while auditing will suit graduates who are patient and have an eye for detail.
Here are some brief descriptions of the main specialisations in accountancy, matched with their most suitable personalities:
Assurance concerns the evaluation of the financial data and working procedures within a company that prepares financial documents informing current and potential investors if the shareholders’ money are being put to good use. Those with strong academics, good communication skills, and are self-confident will find compatibility with the job.
If you’re attentive to the latest business opportunities and market trends, and have strong analytical skills, then commercial finance may be right up your alley. Accountants in this field deal with consumer transactions and product/services analyses.
Employment opportunities are ample in sectors like retail, manufacturing, FMCG, and leisure, as they need to constantly analyse and innovate their products and services.
Corporate finance helps business organisations increase and manage their financial value through various purchasing and sales strategies. This field is best for candidates with a high level of confidence, excellent communication and numeracy skills, and the ability to work well under pressure.
There is a wide range of roles available: advisors supervising the raising of capital; accountants assessing the status of the accounts of target companies; lawyers maintaining the legal accuracy of transactions.
Corporate recovery is suitable for those with an interest in the way companies operate, are good negotiators, and can cope with complex and sensitive financial information. They’re there to help creditors, suppliers, or employees of failing businesses to salvage the most out of their remaining capital. Accountants in this field are typically appointed through referrals from banks, lawyers, and accountants.
Corporate treasurers secure the financial stability of a business organisation by ensuring that it has enough cash to meet the company’s needs at all times. They’re tasked with monitoring the liquidity of the company’s finances and keeping track of its commercial progress so that they can estimate the funds needed for it. Those with a good foundation in business and economics, excellent analytical skills, and the ability to perform under pressure will fit well here.
Financial accountants are tasked with analysing and documenting business transactions to gather information about a company’s performance, and then share it with shareholders for investment purposes. For this reason, employees in this sector have to be inquisitive, analytical, good communicators, and willing to question the existing processes within an organisation.
Forensic accountants help clients work out financial problems like fraud, disagreements, and suspected transgressions, and suits those who like investigative work. Communication skills is also necessary to effectively explain complex concepts to clients from a non-finance background. Additionally, if you find that you can maintain impartiality no matter the situation, then this is the field for you.
Internal audit is suitable for those with an eye for detail, and still able to see the bigger picture, are good at business management, and have effective communication skills. Accountants in this field are responsible for monitoring key business areas and reporting its progress to aid the management’s decision-making. They may also be consulted to assess whether the business is being operated inefficiently or fraudulently.
Typically, this field looks for employees who are level-headed, decisive, analytical, and able to simplify complex financial information. Management accounting uses accounting information to make informed decisions for a better implementation of performance management strategies. Candidates should also possess relevant skill sets such as strategic planning, managerial skills, on top of good accounting abilities.
Risk assessment is involved whenever organisations need to determine, comprehend, and manage risks so as to forestall oncoming crises, thereby allowing companies to capitalise on existing and potential commercial opportunities. It is most suited for those with a cautious and detailed nature, and able to consider every factor before making a decision.
If you have good analytical, problem-solving and interpersonal skills, and a knack for discretion, then tax advisory may be for you. Tax advisers are usually engaged as consultants to advise businesses on their tax problems and offer one-off solutions. They may also be hired as a long-term staff to monitor the taxation requirements made on their clients.
Which Accountancy Firm has the Best Graduate Jobs?
From the size and working culture of the organisation to the kinds of study packages on offer, consider these criteria to determine which graduate job in accountancy is the best fit for you.
Most graduates on a job hunt know well enough to make “research, research, and research” their employment mantra, finding out what they can about the commercial goals and growth of the company, their products and services, their working culture, as well as the general development of the industry.
However, many graduates often slip up is making their research far too employer-centric. This means that they end up spending too much time thinking about whether they are right for the employer, whether they have the necessary qualifications, or whether they can really contribute anything to the firm.
While these are certainly important factors to consider, trying too hard to impress recruiters with what you have to offer isn’t necessarily going to land you the job. Rather, you’ll have a huge advantage in the selection process if you can demonstrate that you are not just “right” for the firm, but that the firm is genuinely right for you!
Spend some time considering these following matters before you settle on your choice:
The size of the firm
It’s safe to say that most graduate accountants will, at some point or another,try to find employment with the Big Four: Deloitte, EY, KPMG, and PwC; the four globalkey players and the most well-known employers within the international accountancy sector.
Their intakes are very popular with interns and graduates; if you’re interested in working with them, you need to start preparing your application early.
However, apart from the Big Four, Singapore’s accountancy industry is also vastly populated by other robustly-growing small and medium-sized practices (SMPs) such as BDO, RSM Chio Lim, Foo Kon Tan Grant Thornton LLP, and PKF-CAP.
Don’t be taken in by the stereotype that bigger always equals better! Different-sized firms will offer varying forms of benefits and compensation, so you need to first determine what kind of benefits that you can or cannot negotiate.
Generally, working with a smaller firm gives you the opportunity to gain a wider range of experience, as you will be asked to assist in a variety of tasks and duties – not necessarily confined to only your job description. By contrast, a large global firm may offer you more opportunity to travel overseas.
Consider also if you want to work in the public or the private sector. Just as how size will affect the kind of benefits that you get as an employee, the type of sector that you work in will also influence your remuneration, the type of exposure that you’ll get, and your working environment.
Be sure to ask plenty of questions during the job interview about company culture and the type of people you’ll be working with, as well! It’s important to genuinely be able to like your co-workers and superiors if you want to succeed in your new workplace – especially since a large portion of accountancy work requires you to work in teams.
One of the most important criteria that you should consider while applying for employment is the training and development programmes that your potential employers are offering. Gaining the necessary professional qualifications and fundamental skill sets during your first few years as an accountant is of utmost importance, as these will determine your work excellence, and subsequently, your career advancement.
Find out how much the hiring firm is willing to invest in their employees’ education.Some firms are willing to pay all your exam and tuition fees as you work towards chartered accountant qualifications.Othersmay only choose to offer partial funding support, but may compensate by granting you a significant period of study leave during exam periods.
Aside from external qualification exams, check out any on-the-job training programmes that the firm offers as well.Find out if you will get chances to pick up specific skill sets that you may be hoping to acquire, should you decide to work with this particular firm.
While larger accountancy firms tend to have the resources to offer more appealing training packages, the trade-off is that they may have higher expectations in terms of your exam results and how quickly they expect you to qualify! Most will also require you to be bonded to the company for a certain period of time.
In contrast, smaller firms may not be able to offer such attractive education benefits, but may make up for byoffering you greater flexibility with regards to tailoring your study programmesor acquiringactual industry experience to supplement your theoretical knowledge. It all depends on what you’re willing to commit yourself to!
Job fulfilment can be a rather vague notion as different people will describe the idea differently. In general, though, a fulfilling career will allow you to not only perform work that you enjoy and are good at, but will also encourage you to make positive contributions to other people – whether internally (in the office), or externally (amongst your clients and customers).
In addition to that, a fulfilling career will never let you be stagnant at a certain professional level for too long. You should be expected to grow and take on more responsibilities in the long run.
Your research into a firm’s background should give you a rough idea of the sense of job fulfilment at the company. Make it a point to speak to or network with people from a variety of firms when you get the opportunity to go to career fairs and employer presentations. This will give you a better insight into their working life, as well as the satisfaction that they derive from their jobs at their respective firms.
You could also consider drawing up a list of important benefits that are essential to you, such as the continuing education prospects, career advancement opportunities, and travel opportunities offered.Then, do the necessary research to find out more about how well each firm addresses these criteria.
Alternatively, you could also ask your interviewer during interviews. Use this as your checklist or yardstick to determine how interested you are in working with the firm over the long term.
Other questions to think about
- What sort of work do I want to do?
- Also, what kind of workload am I willing to put up with?
- What sort of clients do I want to/am I willing to work with?
- Do I want more exposure dealing with clients from a specific industry over others?
- Am I looking to specialise in a particular branch of accountancy, or do I prefer something more general where I can experience more lines of work but less intensively?
- Am I able to integrate myself with the working culture of the firm?
- What is my ultimate career objective, and can working with this firm help me fulfil it?
(With thanks to Richard Irwin, senior recruitment manager at PwC, and Richard Evans, associate director of Grant Thornton, for their help on this article.)
Pursuing a Postgraduate Degree in Accountancy
Here's a breakdown of the pros and cons of pursuing an accountancy postgraduate programme to help you decide if it's worth the investment.
There has been a rising preference amongst accountancy and financial management undergraduates to opt for postgraduate studies before joining the workforce, believing that it will give them an edge in their employment prospects.
Is postgraduate-level study really the way to go, though?
Many accountancy and financial management employers rarely look for postgraduate qualifications in their graduate applicants, preferring to provide internal training so that you can pick up organisation-specific skills that can aid the company in the best way possible.
For this reason, thoroughly consider the motives and objectives of doing further study so that you’re able to promote your qualification as a selling point at future interviews.
Good reasons to continue
- Driven by interest
Postgraduate studies is suitable for those who are driven by a strong interest to explore a particular aspect of the industry. Do research the contents of your course thoroughly prior to your application to be sure that it matches your scholarly expectations.
- Networking opportunity
Gaining networking opportunities and new contacts is another valid reason. Alternatively, if you’re looking to cross over from non-finance or unrelated industries, postgraduate studies may also be beneficial for you.
- Gain a specialist skill
Postgraduate studies is also for students looking to gain a specialist skill. The skillset may prove useful later on in your career, but make sure to balance the newfound expertise with practical work experience to successfully promote yourself as a well-rounded worker.
Bad reasons to continue
- To bury bad undergrad grades
If you’re taking on a postgrad to make up for poor undergraduate results, you may want to reconsider. Recruiters look for consistent academic ability instead of sudden spikes of excellence, so good results during your postgraduate years does not exempt unsatisfactory undergraduate results.
- Avoidance mentality
Opting for a postgrad just because you are unwilling to face the difficult hiring climate is a definite no-no. Most people who do this generally lack a clear motive for taking on the course, and as such, will not be able to satisfactorily justify their extended education to future hiring managers.
- Misconceived expectations
Some candidates think that a postgrad is a certain way of boosting your employability, but this is not true. In the current job market, a postgraduate degree is not a definite factor in providing a competitive edge for jobseekers. If anything, internships/past work experiences and soft skills have more of an impact in determining your worth to recruiters.
How postgraduate study could help your graduate job application:
- Intellectual capacity: The fact that you’ve furthered your study can demonstrate your intellectual capacity to employers, and your deeper understanding of selected concepts may add value to your job.
- Tenacity: Postgraduate programmes usually involve a strenuous process of research, so it may stand as an indicator of tenacity. The sustained effort of working on a dissertation or thesis also implies good self-discipline, organisational, and time management skills – especially if you did your postgrad studies while working a job.
- Soft skills: Presenting papers and group assignments are effective in improving your soft skills, including communication and ability for teamwork – both of which are top skills wanted by recruiters.
- Wider network: Additional training modules and conferences are good avenues for you to not only add to your knowledge of your industry, but also network with industry colleagues.
Choosing your university and course wisely
If you’ve settled on doing your postgraduate studies, then it’s time to research on potential universities and courses. There is a large variety of courses to choose from, each with different course structures, requirements, as well as expectations of its students.
NUS’ accountancy programme, for instance, is more business administration-oriented. This promises a broader module and a more extensive choice of research.
NTU, on the other hand, possesses an established staff for you to draw assistance and advise from. Intakes, however, are usually large, which limits access to the selection of supervisors for your dissertation or thesis.
Lastly, SMU offers a different mode of teaching, with seminars and conferences acting as an integral part of the course.
Postgraduate study checklist
When choosing a course, here are some things to consider investigating and comparing:
- How to fund your study
- Reputation of institution and facilities offered
- Its teaching and research ratings
- Course content and structure (take note of their core and supplementary electives)
- Career paths and salaries of alumni
- Networking opportunities, industry affiliations, and collaborations with other universities
- Your target employer’s preferred subject/course when employing staff
Getting a Graduate Job in Accounting
If you think you’re fluent in the “language of businesses”, a.k.a. accounting, and are looking for a graduate job in the industry, here are some tips to get you started.
Regardless of the size of the company, accountants play a vital role in every business organisation. Accountants function in several settings – whether by working in firms that service external clients or by being part of the finance department of either a commercial or public sector organisation.
A career in accountancy would suit you well if you’re keen on helping business organisations make sound economic decisions through monitoring and reporting a company’s finances. Accountants need to be adept at accumulating the necessary information for businesses to decide on how to effectively manage their finances and plan for the future.
On the other hand, a career in financial management would involve the strategic planning and management of a company’s funds to facilitate efficient operations. Essentially, you will be assisting the company direct the flow of its finances towards achieving the organisation’s objectives.
What skills do I need to work in accounting and financial management?
Besides numeracy and analytical skills, accountants also need to have excellent communication and interpersonal skills to effectively convey reports and act in the capacity of a business advisor. Additionally, having good time management and organisational skills will help you through busy peak periods.
Commercial awareness of the business will also give you a good point of reference when dealing with your clients. And as in all other jobs, being able to work in teams as well as possessing initiative and being motivated are coveted skills in the industry.
How do I get the job?
The most common path to becoming a qualified accountant is to apply for a graduate programme with an accountancy firm. Public and private companies also recruit graduates for accountancy roles in their finance departments.
One of the most important criteria when choosing a programme or company is whether it offers you the opportunity to undertake courses that will help you qualify as a Chartered Accountant (CA) in Singapore.
Several factors will affect your decision on which places to apply to; click here to find out more about whether joining one of the Big Four or an SME would be better for you.
The application process
Depending on the firm, employers either use online application forms or request personalised CVs and cover letters for the preliminary selection process. If you successfully stand out, you will be invited for a first round of interview.
At some stage in the process, you could be asked to complete various tests, such as general ability, numeric or verbal reasoning tests, aptitude tests and personality tests. Further interviews might follow as employers go through the process of sifting through potential candidates.
Many organisations accept applications all year round, but it’s always worth checking with individual employers – a few do specify early closing dates or advise early applications.
Also, before applying for a position in a firm, doing an internship would help you get a better idea of whether a career in accounting or financial management would play to your strengths.
What are the different areas of work?
There are a wide range of disciplines to choose from and within each area there are different roles on offer. Some firms might ask you to specify which area you’d like to pursue during the application process, while companies with graduate programmes might let you gain experience in different fields to have a better idea of what’s out there.
Here are some fields for your consideration:
- Commercial finance
- Corporate finance
- Corporate recovery
- Corporate treasury
- Financial accounting
- Forensic accounting
- Internal audit
- Management accounting
- Professional services IT
- Public sector accounting
- Risk assessment
What’s working life like?
In an accountancy firm, you can expect to spend a substantial amount of time out of the office visiting and auditing clients on-site. Working in finance departments in commercial or public companies would involve playing an integral role as part of the larger organisation.
In both instances, there may be off-peak and peak periods – the latter would mean a heightened level of pressure during busier times such as financial quaterlies and closing of accounts at year ends. Such periods aside, however, accountants generally enjoy a reasonable work-life balance.