Employer Soundbites: Switching Careers Isn’t as Terrifying as You Think

In the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, career switching has become more common. If you want to make the leap, Farshad Ismail and Chua Huimin have some advice for you.
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Sarah Si
Sarah Si
Editor
Switching Careers
Photos courtesy of Write Edge

 

gradsingapore’s Employer Soundbites aims to share quick thoughts from employers on current industry trends, hiring insights and useful tips for fresh graduates looking to kickstart their career on a high note.

About the interviewees

Farshad started his career as a freelance writer, director and video editor, working with companies such as the National Library Board (NLB), Moove Media and Changi Airport Group (CAG) to create promotional and seasonal short-form videos for online consumption.

Some of his projects include NLB’s Jubilee Celebration and CAG’s Airport showcase, which have gone on to garner 100,000 views online. He also worked as a wedding videographer in order to broaden his skill set.

At present, he’s a Primary Creative Writing and Secondary English Curriculum Lead for Write Edge, as well as a Senior Teacher for the Westgate Branch. On top of that, he manages a team of five that plans and develops structured and focused curriculum, workshops and partnerships with schools.

Farshad studied Media Studies and Management at Nanyang Polytechnic, before graduating from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature.

Huimin worked in a restructured hospital for almost four years before exiting the healthcare scene. Now, she’s Head of Operations at Write Edge, and leads a team of centre managers and customer service associates. Her responsibilities include reviewing and improving day-to-day operations, as well as planning ahead for future systems and processes.

She graduated with a second upper honours degree in Physiotherapy, with a National Healthcare Group scholarship, and is currently pursuing her Masters in Management at Singapore Management University (SMU), with a scholarship “Women in Business.”

Could you tell us more about your career switch?

Farshad: In between my freelance projects, I did some teaching stints overseas as a volunteer. The teaching itch was born out of my first overseas expedition to Thailand, where I coached young children in English.

After finding the experience enlightening, and finding myself not just enjoying but also succeeding in the role, I began to look for more opportunities to teach. Lo and behold, as an undergraduate and a lover of creative writing, I found the perfect opportunity to grow as a creative writing teacher. There, I found my calling and never looked back.

Huimin: I would say I stumbled into operations. I left the physiotherapy scene as I was getting quite burnt out. I then enrolled into Bible school, something that I always wanted to do, and needed a job that could accommodate those hours. I’m naturally meticulous and good with administration, so I thought of trying out the role of centre managing, which I excelled at, and my career progressed from there.

Was there anything when you were switching careers that surprised you?

Farshad: At the start, I found the transition rocky and turbulent, since my teaching stint had started informally. My idea of teaching was more free-form, and I envisioned being given a laissez-faire approach to being an educator. Furthermore, as a freelance creative, my work was itself hinged on my few feedback sessions – I could rely on subjective opinions to deliver results.

But upon becoming a teacher in a system, I quickly realised the importance of working within a structure and how education and learning wasn’t as simple as I thought it to be. What surprised me most was the depth and complexity of education, and the thought needed to put into it in order for it to be successful for students. Furthermore, education is a long-haul effort, a stark contrast to my previous role, and the endurance needed for teaching was another surprising factor.

Huimin: I always thought that since my degree was so specialised, it would be “useless” when I changed industries, and felt that I was at a disadvantage as I needed to start from scratch. I was surprised that many of the skills I picked up whilst being a physiotherapist were still applicable in my current role.

As a physiotherapist in the wards, you need to learn how to assess how critical each patient is and what rehabilitation you can proceed with. You also need to learn how to work under pressure and prioritise what rehabilitation you’d like to do for that session. Doing that relentlessly for four years trained me to be a highly analytical and focused professional that could stay composed under pressure.

What are some of your major career highlights in your new career?

Farshad: One of my most memorable career highlights is achieving the highest distinction rate for my PSLE students in my first experience leading a Primary Six class. Another highlight would be managing a 53 per cent distinction rate for my “O” Level students across my years of teaching.

Besides teaching, I’m proud to have led core projects such as the rebranding of our curriculum materials, workshops and other courses.

Huimin: I led the branding project when we rebranded to Write Edge. It was a large scale project that involved all teams and a lot of logistics over six months. I was only one year into the company, so I felt quite accomplished when it was a success.

The other highlight would be heading the operations team, helping to grow the company, and spearheading new initiatives and projects.

What were some challenges you encountered when you switched career, and how did you overcome them?

Farshad: First, it was learning to manage a different sort of expectations. In my freelance career, I needed to show a finished product to a client to get to know my next step, or whether I was veering off into the wrong direction. But in my new career, I had to learn to manage expectations from multiple stakeholders, and for the long-haul.

I also had to learn how to work in a structure. As a freelancer in the media industry, the approach to work was much more free and needed a lot of individual brilliance. Working as an educator, I realised there was more collaboration than initially expected, and one of the main challenges was learning to be more efficient within a system, which has its tremendous benefits. This also meant needing to let go of certain things not within my control, and being more relentless with my own output.

Huimin: One of the challenges I encountered was wondering if I did the right thing by quitting physiotherapy. This doubt lingered for a couple of years, as it was a meaningful profession that I gave eight years of my life to, and is an iron rice bowl for someone like me, who likes stability. The breakthrough came when I realised that I’m a better operations professional than physiotherapist, on any given day. So, I feel like I belong where I am now.

Another challenge was feeling like I wasn’t good enough, because of my “specialised” degree in physiotherapy. I felt like I didn’t know much of the business world, didn’t know Excel formulae and the usual things that undergraduates learn at school. To overcome this, I decided to pursue further studies to overcome that challenge.

What are some of the necessary skills graduates and young professionals need to possess in order to switch careers?

Farshad: Definitely endurance, and with that, a skill to compartmentalise your life. With a new career, and inevitably a new environment with new challenges, we have to expect a higher than usual number of curveballs. Things won’t go as expected, and we have to be ready to deal with the fallout and the stress. Compartmentalising will help you with your confidence and your life, and allows you to build patience, as well. Learning to compartmentalise also helps deal with failure – and there’s lots of that in a new environment.

People skills are also invaluable. Regardless of our nature, we can always learn better ways to connect and work with people. Having the right support system and the forging of enriching relationships will definitely help to ease the transition into a new environment.

Last but not least, learn to ask questions, and be comfortable with asking questions, especially ones that go beyond your scope of understanding. This helps to build a better foundation and understanding of your new environment, and can help you fast-track your decisions and choices in your career.

Huimin: Resilience and a good attitude. I interview people from time to time, and honestly, the education background doesn’t really matter. I believe that if you possess these, you’ll not only thrive anywhere, but be a breath of fresh air to your prospective employer.

Do you have some final advice to give graduates and young professionals who are looking to make a career switch?

Farshad: Perhaps, the first step ought to be certainty – or at least a conclusion – of what you would like out of your life and career. For me, it was the ability to be involved in something bigger than myself, and leave a lasting impact and legacy. Once I was sure what I wanted, it was a matter of determining my next course of actions.

Too often, I spent days asking myself if this was worth it, or what I wanted to do, but when I determined for myself what made my life fulfilling and what mattered, I found it easier to decide on what I should spend my days on.

The next would be to work on discipline as a foundation. It can be a contentious subject, but what worked for me was to build my endurance, and instil in myself a disciplined mindset in order to achieve what I wanted. Motivation is a great tool to get things done, but I found once motivation and inspiration were dissipating, discipline helped me to pull through the dreary days. Motivation helps me jump over difficult obstacles, and discipline helps me reach those roadblocks.

To build discipline, create a routine. Clean your room, have breakfast, go for a run, play a game daily, so long as it works for you. Be disciplined in one area and hopefully, it’ll distil to other parts of your life.

Huimin: No matter what you thought your career would be as you were growing up, and even as you were studying for your undergraduate degree, it may not pan out the way you thought it would. I know many people who are in jobs that have nothing to do with their degrees, and they’re flourishing.

So be open to new experiences, look forward and not backward, take the step of faith, do away with all the “what ifs” you ask yourself and be comfortable being uncomfortable. That’s the only way you know you’re growing.