Monday, January 16, 2012

Still trying, after 100 interviews

Today on Sunday, Sunday, January 15, 2012, Page 8 - 9, Faceinthecrowd
Source Website:,-after-100-interviews
By Neo Chai Chin,, 04:46 AM Jan 15, 2012

PHOTO: Mr Edmund Lim. "GIVE ME a JOB".
Photo by Wee Teck Hian, Copyright © MediaCorp Press Ltd,-after-100-interviews

Even as he works on his own shortcomings, graduate Edmund Lim thinks employers should be less picky and not make job-hunters jump through so many hoopsJob interviews, in the words of Edmund Lim Chuan Yang (picture), are akin to Miss Universe beauty pageants: One has to talk and flash a megawatt smile all at once and, if you can't get past the question-and-answer round, forget about clinching the title.

Achieving the latter is still a work-in-progress for the 32-year-old life sciences graduate, who has failed to score a full-time job lasting more than six months despite attending 100 job interviews in the last two years. Even changing his name legally - to improve his chances of getting called up by employers he had previously applied to - has failed to do the trick.

PHOTO: Mr Edmund Lim. "GIVE ME a JOB".
Photo by Wee Teck Hian, Copyright © MediaCorp Press Ltd,-after-100-interviews

Disappointed and frustrated by the futility of the search, Mr Lim - who graduated from the National University of Singapore in 2005 and is freelancing as a tutor with a self-help group and as a character-building trainer at schools - wrote to Today recently chronicling his experiences.

How would this veteran in job interviews fare in a media interview?

Before meeting Mr Lim, I wondered if he would be bitter about life or less than upfront in his assessment of his shortcomings. But he arrived early for our meeting at a coffee joint, showed hints of a wry sense of humour once the conversation started, spoke candidly and gamely did what we asked for the camera.

PHOTO: Mr Edmund Lim. "Give me a job".
Photo by Wee Teck Hian, Copyright © MediaCorp Press Ltd,-after-100-interviews

Mr Lim applied to several employers for science-related positions after graduating but became a property agent after that proved unsuccessful. He then joined a statutory board but resigned after three years.

Since March 2010, Mr Lim has been in search of a full-time job.

He landed two briefly. The first, handling logistics and fund-raising at a voluntary welfare organisation, was "okay", but he did not work well with his boss - whom he likened to Meryl Streep's character in The Devil Wears Prada - and left after five months. The second was a research position, but it did not work out as Mr Lim had lost touch with laboratory work.

PHOTO: Mr Edmund Lim. "FOR HIRE".
Photo by Wee Teck Hian, Copyright © MediaCorp Press Ltd,-after-100-interviews


The positions which Mr Lim applied and interviewed (unsuccessfully) for run the spectrum: From paper-pushing desk jobs with public sector agencies, to retail and call centre positions, enforcement and debt recovery officer, librarian and traffic controller.

He ventured into business in China with a friend from the army for a short spell and, on the advice of the friend, decided to approach the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) last March for help to up his appeal to employers. "My business partner is business-savvy, he knows a lot of people and can get jobs easily," said Mr Lim. "He pointed out to me that I needed to brush up my interview skills."

PHOTO: Mr Edmund Lim. "FOR HIRE".
Photo by Wee Teck Hian, Copyright © MediaCorp Press Ltd,-after-100-interviews

He attended five workshops and gleaned tips from mock interviews. "They videotaped us, and they spotted a lot of careless mistakes from me. I tend to get very tense, very nervous. I can get job interviews easily, but I can't be the finalist, I can't be the 'gold medal winner'."

With those lessons, Mr Lim made sure to gesticulate less in the face of tough questions, show more enthusiasm and to smile as he talked. He still cites interview skills as his main shortcoming but now rates his chances of scoring a job as "okay, as long as other (candidates) don't compete with me too much".

PHOTO: Mr Edmund Lim. "FOR HIRE".
Photo by Wee Teck Hian, Copyright © MediaCorp Press Ltd,-after-100-interviews

His friends have been supportive. Some have helped to film mock interviews of him and offered tips, while others have chipped in with encouragement. He jokes that it could be because they know of no one else who has "succeeded" in chalking up 100 unsuccessful job interviews.

His sister is an accountant and, while his parents do not depend on him for money, Mr Lim said: "They keep silent, but I know inside their hearts they're very disappointed."


Over the months, he has tempered his expectations. He used to place a higher premium on how much a job paid but now says a "good boss and good colleagues", as well as "manageable work", are most important.

Asked what his ideal job is, Mr Lim still cites the type of roles he first applied for fresh out of university. "I'm passionate about environmental science and food resilience issues. It's because I studied biological science. I also do a lot of planting at home."

His best and worst interview experiences are one and the same: Making it through three rounds of interviews with a statutory board, only to call the agency two weeks later to find out the bad news. "My heart broke into half," he said. "My friends were saying, 'What happened? You must have said something wrong, or it must have been your body language.' I said no, I won't talk rubbish during an interview. So, I don't know ..."

PHOTO: Affirmative action for the jobless.


His experiences have convinced him that employers here ought to be less picky. They should not shortlist too many candidates for a single position and, given two candidates with comparable qualifications and attributes, they should favour the one without a job - what Mr Lim calls "affirmative action" for the jobless.

Interviews should not extend beyond two rounds, given the number of days of leave a candidate would have to take in order to try for one job.

The public sector should also do more to hire the unemployed, and organisations like e2i could provide training for bosses on better managing employees, said Mr Lim.

PHOTO: Employers to show sympathy to job-seekers, and understand that they also need the bare necessity to survive.

"I hope this report can tell employers out there that sometimes they have to show sympathy to job-seekers. It can do wonders for the jobless out there and their families," he said.

Is he himself picky about jobs?
Not for a while now, said Mr Lim. He has applied for jobs for diploma holders and said irregular hours are not an issue. Told once in an interview that he needed to climb trees and potentially inspect them at unpredictable times of the day, he replied: "I'm willing to do all this."

Alas, he saw the same job ad reposted by the employer the following week. "So, I don't know what they're looking for."

He added: "I think, with all the coaching, I've been improving. But employers also need a mindset change. It takes two hands to clap."

Tips from a pro
Ms Christine Chan, Adecco Singapore's senior manager for HR Services, dishes out advice for job-seekers who have hit a rough patch.

Besides expressing willingness to take up the job, what can job-seekers do when employers say they are overqualified?
It's important to explain why you are looking for a different role, if the interviewer deems it below the level of your existing or previous role.

PHOTO: It could be that you do not fit with the company’s image and tone, they are wary of your ambition or they don’t like you personally. It is obvious that it is unlikely to be overqualified and not able to contribute.

People change jobs for many reasons, including a career or industry change. Often when this happens, they have to drop down one or two levels before moving back up the ladder again.

It's also important to demonstrate the value that you could bring to a role - you may be able to make a bigger contribution than someone who is not so well-qualified.

PHOTO: Terms like 'fast-paced', 'high-flyer' and 'can-do' are used to discourage older job applicants. Drop down one or two levels before moving back up the ladder again.
Photo by Dorothy Woodgate

How may candidates explain extended periods of unemployment without being dishonest?

PHOTO: It rewards those who are willing to lie, without very little recourse for verification. Hiring managers reject candidates based on resumes, when a resume has absolutely no ability to demonstrate technical skill.

Candidates should never lie on their resume - not only is this wrong, the lie is likely to surface at some point. If there are gaps in employment, candidates should be specific about what they were doing during that period. It looks far worse if whole periods of time have been completely deleted from a resume and interviewers will be very wary of this.

One final piece of advice is to voluntarily bring up any gaps during an interview. A good interviewer will likely respect someone who volunteers information about any gaps or peculiarities on a resume.

Any tips for someone who does not interview well, despite efforts at brushing up?

PHOTO: Practise, practise, practise. Wen Ji Qi Wu Rising Up upon Hearing the Crow of a Rooster to Practise.

Practise, practise, practise. Practise answers to the types of questions that you think will be asked. Do mock interviews with a friend or family member. There are multiple examples of interview techniques on the Web.

Remember that interviewers are not expecting Oscar-winning performances during an interview - they are usually looking for relevant skills and experience.

Always remember that you must get across your key skills and also why you feel you are right for the job.

Diary of a job-seeker
Here are our picks of some of the 100 job interviews described in Mr Edmund Lim's email to Today. "This is something which I am not proud of," he wrote, but he hoped to spark discussion. We are not naming the employers at his request.

#4 (Statutory board): Manager said I was not suited for a temp job and pushed me to a permanent job opening in procurement. They interviewed me, and said I was more suited for another job in arrears management and interviewed me again. In the end, a job offer didn't even materialise.

#22 (Industry association): Analyst position. Interview went okay. Was surprised there was a second round. Elated that I was the only one there, and they even introduced me to other colleagues. Thought I had it in the bag; in the end, hopes were dashed.

#29 (Government ministry): Processing position. HR asked why I was going for a diploma position when I could go for something higher. Wake up lah. You think it's so easy to find a job nowadays meh?

#34 (Education company): Customer service. Said the wrong things when the interviewer asked why I wanted to join ... I said I was interested in teaching, and she misconstrued it as (this job) being a stepping stone to my ultimate goal.

#44 (Tertiary institution): I was the only male candidate. The interview lasted only five minutes, and they preferred to hire females.

#49 (VWO): Contract position. Interviewer told me straight to my face that this job is not really suited for me. Requested that I take back my testimonials, which cost me S$3 to photocopy.

#54 (Statutory board): First round, took my height and weight only. Could not progress to the second round.

#77 (Professional association): Interviewer asked why I was interested in a medical career after being out of touch for more than five years.

#84 (VWO): Said that I preferred to work in a volunteer environment with less office politics and more people helping one another. Interviewer frowned at my answer and said their volunteers are very demanding and can play politics.

#96 (Company): Boss was a nice man. But his offer was only S$900 a month. By the time I travel and eat, I might even go into negative salary mode.

#90 (A statutory board): Same panel recognised me. The director said: "It's you again!"

By Neo Chai Chin,, 04:46 AM Jan 15, 2012