Richard Khoo started 2020 on a bright note — he welcomed his second child to the family, and the automobile company, where he was working as a marketing and communications manager, had just been listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
Then Covid-19 hit, and a wave of pay cuts and retrenchments worried Richard. True enough, he was let go from his job two months after his father passed away.
With young mouths at home to feed, Richard had to find a new job quickly. As the saying goes, when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and he sent out close to 500 job applications related to marketing, business development and product management roles.
Speaking to Workipedia by MyCareersFuture, the 40-year-old revealed: “I tapped on various online job portals, approached recruitment agencies, and even reached out to personal contacts.
“After all my efforts during that period, I was only invited for three job interviews, but no job offers!”
Dealing with disappointment
You wouldn’t blame Richard for feeling sharp disappointment at how things had turned out, despite his best efforts. Most of us would be feeling depressed, and for good reason.
In fact, unemployed individuals are more than twice as likely as those with full-time jobs to report being treated for depression, according to a report on telephone surveys with over 350,000 Americans conducted in 2013 as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.
Another Swedish study published in BMC Public Health also showed job loss consistently predicted subsequent major depression, with a somewhat greater effect in men.
Richard himself revealed: “I felt very frustrated and was feeling lost for a while when I didn’t get any replies from prospective employers.
“There were times when I questioned my self-worth and wondered why I was the unlucky one. Negativity crept into me. I was low in morale and could not focus on my job search sometimes.”
But most importantly, Richard refused to give up, and while pressing on with his job search, he took up food delivery work to supplement his family’s expenses.
“I initially started by riding a bicycle, but it was physically very tiring, and the earnings received was very little”, he said.
“Later on, I changed to an e-bike (power-assisted bicycle), and then a motorcycle which allowed me to complete more deliveries and increase my earnings.”
But the going was still hard, as Richard rode “long hours daily with minimal rest to earn enough” to keep his family going.
“My days were probably filled with frustrations, and I struggled to move on,” Richard sighed.
“But as the breadwinner for my family, I knew I had to move on.
“They were my pillar of support, and the smiles on their faces whenever I saw them warmed my heart, and I felt that I could not give up and disappoint them.
“My wife, in particular, was always supportive and cheered me on even though she had the tough job of looking after our two kids!”
Meet WSG Careers Connect — a partner for all jobseekers
Social media can be a great time-filler during hard times, entertaining us in quiet moments of rest, but it can also show unexpected paths for career opportunities, said Richard.
“In fact, I ended up seeking help from a career coach from WSG Careers Connect when I came across an ad on Facebook!
“I was initially not very cooperative as I was more focused on increasing my earnings as a food delivery rider.
“But I decided to open up and share my concerns when my coach Joey didn’t give up on me and constantly followed up with me.”
Joey Kang, a career coach for over four years, is a certified career practitioner and specialises in assisting professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) in enhancing their job search skills and employability.
Recalling her efforts with Richard, she said: “Like most of our jobseekers, once rapport was established, Richard became more willing to share his circumstances.
“He was open to my advice and committed to partner with me to work towards getting a job.
“While his spirits were initially low (due to the lack of outcome from his numerous job applications), Richard remained positive!”
First steps to improving Richard’s job search
Most jobseekers tend to mass apply to jobs by sending out a standard resume, and another is only replying on job portals, which can be crowded and highly competitive.
“It was the same for Richard, where he applied for hundreds of jobs with no positive outcome, which impacted his self-esteem and confidence,” Joey revealed.
“His job search experience took a turning point once he was able to embrace various strategies, which included reaching out to his network, and increasing his activities on LinkedIn for better visibility!”
She also helped to reformat his resume to aid in helping him stand out during job applications and guided Richard on how to customize his job search to fit the roles he was truly keen on.
Understanding what employers need in a post-pandemic workplace
October 2021 proved to be a turning point for Richard. Westcon-Comstor, a specialist cloud and information technology (IT) distributor, was looking for a business development manager to take care of their networking product portfolio in Singapore.
Despite Richard’s age and the fact that he was coming from the automotive industry, Westcon-Comstor, like many other employers in Singapore, values hiring mid-career workers.
Patrick Aronson, the chief marketing officer and executive vice-president (APAC) for the company said: “There are many advantages in introducing mid-career workers to our teams.
“They tend to have excellent work habits, which is a good example for younger teammates.”
“The traits of mid-career workers often include focus, maturity, loyalty and commitment. These are all great values that we prize in our company.”
The return to offices after a period of remote working, is another factor for companies to hire mid-career and mature workers.
Patrick shared: “In fact, our younger team members can be inexperienced with an office working environment. Many started working just before Covid-19, and some got their first jobs during the pandemic!”
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“Having experienced peers who spent many years building strong office working environments, will be helpful for us to re-establish some of what was lost during the pandemic.”
It certainly boosted Richard’s cause that he had prior experience in the IT industry in his younger days, having started in IT distribution in 2006. However, upskilling and reskilling were certainly necessary, as he admitted.
“Having said that, I did take some effort to understand the new technologies and market trends since my absence from the IT industry over the past years.
“An example would be new market terminologies such as secure access service edge, or SASE, which is an emerging cybersecurity concept, that boosts network performance and reduces the number of vendors and devices IT professionals have to manage,” Richard elaborated.
His decision to re-pivot back to the IT industry proved to be the right choice, and he secured the job vacancy at Westcon-Comstor.
As lessons go, perhaps one we can take from Richard’s journey is that no matter how hard things look, they can get better, even for the older or mid-career workers and jobseekers amongst us.
Companies in Singapore still prize experience and skills, as Patrick concluded: “A more diverse workforce, is a stronger workforce. Diversity is not just race or sex. Having age diversity matters too — we see it as a competitive advantage!”