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7 minute read

Overconfidence at The Workplace: Is Complacency Hurting Your Career Prospects?

Don’t rest on your career laurels. Here’s some advice on why staying sharp matters, with bonus advice from DPM Lawrence Wong!

Have you ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? It’s a psychology term used to describe where folks have a tendency to overestimate their abilities or knowledge.

The researchers who coined the term found that incompetent people were not only poor performers but also unable to accurately assess and recognise the problem. For example, students who feel they deserve higher scores but consistently fail their tests and produce poor-quality work.

“In many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious,” wrote David Dunning in an article for Pacific Standard.

“Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”

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Sometimes, the issue isn’t about competence but complacency. We tend to think that most Singaporean workers are digitally well-trained for the workplace, but according to a recent online survey by Gallup and Amazon Web Services of around 1,200 workers and 350 employers locally, that may not be the case.

Singapore has one of the highest digital literacy rates in the region. Yet, only about 10% of workers claim to have advanced digital skills such as cloud architecture, software development, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Emmanuel Pillai, regional head of training and certification at AWS, said to the Straits Times: “The need for advanced digital skills is still strong, and the skill gap is actually widening, not narrowing.”

In fact, a survey done by SkillsFuture in 2020 showed a gap between employer and employee perceptions of the relevance of local workers’ skills.

It revealed that local employers were more likely to think their workers’ skills would become irrelevant within the next few years, while employees were less likely to think so!

Yet in 2021, only one in three Singaporean workers were motivated to reskill and upskill, with only 27% requesting their employers to provide more reskilling opportunities, according to a report by global recruitment agency Randstad.

“Farming” at the workplace is not wise

There’s a fairly popular career term you might read on local online forums such as HardwareZone or called “farming”.

No, it doesn’t mean working at Lim Chu Kang ploughing the earth or feeding livestock.

“Farming” at your job means coasting at work and working at your lower-end of your capabilities.

Sometimes this is motivated by a lack of desire for career self-improvement or a fatalistic view of the company you’re working at and the opportunities that can arise.

One example from this online thread is where an employee shares how he was tempted many times with job offers from tech companies, but after “thinking here and there, I know myself. I’m lazy, with no motivation to work elsewhere.”

“So, I rather just stay in my current place and farm.”

But in this day and age, with the nature of jobs changing, can anyone in our Singapore workforce keep their aspirations this low?

Probably not.

Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Lawrence Wong said at the NUS IPS Singapore Perspectives Conference in January 2023: “Those with the right skills will be able to seize the opportunities and enjoy tremendous rewards, while those who are unable to adjust and adapt will certainly face more challenges.”

In addition, Singapore workers also need to keep upskilling and move away from the notion of cushy jobs or staying happily at their current companies till retirement.

DPM Wong added: “These days, most workers now will have multiple careers in their lifetimes, even in the rare case of somebody working in the same company throughout their lives, the work they do will likely evolve over time.”

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Some tips on shaking off career complacency

If you’ve been coasting in your career for a while or simply not given much thought about your career resilience and what’s coming next, it can take a while to get momentum going. Here are some tips on revving your career engine.

1. Time to reflect: Are you really as good as you think you are?

Sure, you do annual check-ins with the boss when bonus time appraisals come around, but do you really get good feedback to determine if you’re the most effective worker you can be?

Even for DPM Wong, getting feedback for career growth matters. He shared at the IPS Singapore Perspectives 2023: “In public communications, I think very hard about what platforms I’ve spoken at, and then what can I do better.

“And there is nothing like reviewing the speeches I gave, and getting good feedback.”

“You know, it’s very interesting, and it applies to all of us- when you give a public speech, there’s no shortage of people who will come up to you and say: “good speech”.

“But very few people come up to you and talk about the points you could have improved.”

“So really, it’s about finding people you can trust, people whose opinions you value, to give you constructive feedback so that you can learn and you can improve.

“And that’s something I do all the time.”

2. Find mentors who can talk to you about what your next role could be

DPM Wong was also asked at the IPS forum how he looked ahead to roles and responsibilities that could arise for him in the future and shared: “There are lots of things you can do to prepare. You talk to people.

“I think mentors play a very important role- people who have gone through it all before.

“Talking to Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh Chok Tong, talking to the present Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong, understanding what kind of responsibilities, what kind of challenges and roles that they faced – I think that’s very helpful.

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He also previously spoke of the value of mentors in shifting ourselves out of career ruts, saying: “We do not say, I have a 10 to 15-year plan, and this is what I want to do. If you truly have that in your mind, good for you, but I think the vast majority of people do not start off like that.

“Instead, we mostly take it one step at a time. Hopefully, along the way, we get to choose a career that is aligned with our purpose, our values and our passion.

“Also a career that stretches us, pushes us a little bit out of our comfort zones so that we continue to develop and grow.

“And so, no doubt, as we take these steps one by one, there will be challenges along the way.

“There will be moments when we stumble. But it is from these setbacks that we grow, and mentors play a pivotal role in guiding us through these setbacks and enabling us to develop and grow.”

3. Talk to a career coach

If you didn’t know, career coaches can help jobseekers with the following:

  • Creating a career plan to meet their goals
  • Overcoming blind spots that may be hampering their job search
  • Stand out from other candidates when they search and apply for jobs
  • Breakdown roadblocks or challenges that arise
  • Help them put their best self forward by being prepared and confident

Jesmin Tan, a programme manager and career coach at AKG (formerly known as Maximus), shared with Workipedia by MyCareersFuture: “A good career coach has certain personality traits, such as being a good listener, having a calm and positive attitude, and understanding issues from your point-of-view.

“In addition, a career coach’s understanding of the recruitment and selection processes involved in the marketplace, as well as the different functional types and vertical industries, will provide useful market knowledge to help them understand the career possibilities.”

So, if you’re trying to figure out how to regain your career momentum, a career coach would be the perfect person to help clear the cobwebs. Speak to one now, and good luck with your career!

Find more jobs like these at
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