Getting a Job During a Recession

A program on the BBC about a week back talked about getting a job during a recession. “Graduates,” they said, “who got jobs during recessions were likely to be paid less than their peers who got jobs during times of prosperity.” I am, unfortunately, one of them.

Graduating at the end of 2008, I went looking for a job in one of the worst job markets in recent history. It was only after three months of searching, during which I almost became a financial adviser, that I landed my present job as a business analyst. When the time came to negotiate my pay for this position, the terrible economic situation we were in was always at the back of my mind. I wanted this job so bad that I probably undercut myself needlessly; in the end, I was offered more than what I had asked for.

The BBC program mentioned that us recession graduates tended to accept lower paying positions, and tended to stay longer at these jobs. I am certainly guilty of the former, but as for the latter, having worked at my present company for just below eight months, I am still open. The program advised recession graduates to switch jobs early on, as a way to keep pace with the post-recession graduates.

If anything, this program certainly got me thinking and has led me to seek the answers to the following questions:

  • Am I paid what I am worth, especially when compared to my peers?
  • Would a fresh graduate who got the job I got be paid what I am paid? If not, how much would they be paid?
  • Are there other opportunities that I can look into, including other jobs that were not available during the recession?

Achieving Bliss in a Striving World

“Life,” he told me, “ought to be filled with always striving for something. It keeps life interesting.”

Intuitively I felt that he was right in some way. It reminded me of the concept of “flow”, where you’re so engaged in an activity that is just beyond your comfort level that you lose all sense of self; but at the same time, I felt that “always striving” wasn’t always necessary.

Was it not possible to achieve bliss through the reading of a good book on a rainy Saturday morning?

Getting Old

Yesterday I had a meeting with one of my best friends since secondary school, Wilson, whom had only recently returned from his four-year degree course in New Zealand. We met at Heartland Mall’s Xin Wang HK Cafe, a very decent place for relatively low-cost, almost restaurant-quality food, and the ambience was good (Wilson managed to grab a great corner seat) — helped also by the fact that there were almost always some attractive girls (none as attractive as my fiancée of course) seated around.

When we were ready to order our food, I called the waiter over and told the waiter what I wanted in mandarin. After the waiter had gone, Wilson looked at me with a most curious look. He then told me in quite surprised manner that my mandarin improved (I could tell he was asking himself, “what on Earth happened to the Chinese-cannot-make-it Donn!?”).

I had to explain to him that I had little choice in this matter, given that my fiancée was more Chinese than English. “I speak to her,” I added, “mostly in mandarin.”

It was at this statement that his mouth dropped open and he let out a gasp of astonishment. And it was only then that I, too, realised how much had changed since our school days, and I couldn’t help but laugh along with him.

The Engagement Announcement

“What do I say??” I asked her in desperation. I looked across the table and there they were, looking quite indifferent to the food with which I had hoped would help bribe my way to an easy “yes.”

I was here today, at the Peach Blossoms restaurant in the Marina Mandarin hotel, to ask for permission to wed the lovely girl beside me. Though I had already proposed, and she had said yes, it wasn’t official (at least according to her) until her parents approved.

I was also here today to celebrate my birthday. (Actually, this was a backup plan to avoid the awkwardness that would come after the announcement. The genius that was Li Shya thought this up. I was supposed to ask, and whatever the answer was, it would be quickly followed up by the bringing forth of the Swenson’s ice-cream cake and a birthday song.)

When the waiters had been told to bring the cake, and all we were doing was sitting around waiting for the used plates to be cleared and the cake to be brought to our table, I knew that this was the moment of truth. But then the moment passed, but I hadn’t quite made my move. “It’s too late,” I thought to myself.

“Do you think it’s too late?” I asked her.

“Do it now,” she said.

“But don’t you think,” I said, ” that it would be pretty bad if I was halfway through my announcement and they came with the cake? I think we should wait!”

And so we did. For a minute or so.

I glanced over at where the waiters were gathered. I sensed no movement.

“Are they going to bring it soon?” I asked her once more, but she had no reply as well. We both looked across at the the waiters, and waited. Then I said, “let’s do it.”

“Uncle, auntie, 我有话跟你们讲,” said I. [Translation: Uncle, auntie, I have something to tell you.]

And then I said it. (How did it go? Well, the fiancee would later tell me that her mom informed her that “your face turned red! And you spoke super fast!”) But that’s not the answer you wanted, was it?

Well, it was evident by the super, duper, wide smiles on their faces (parents + grandma, and probably her aunt who was out of my extremely narrow line of sight) that it was going to be a yes.

And it was.

We’re now officially engaged. Hooray!

Persevering Through Difficulty

I am currently reading Seth Godin‘s book The Dip, in which he mentions that well-roundedness is not the secret to success, contrary to what we learn in school.

How often do you look for someone who is actually quite good at the things you don’t need her to do? How often do you hope that your accountant is a safe driver and a decent golfer?

Seth implores us to specialise — to get really good at something and learn ignore the rest if not ignoring it prevents us from being the best at something else. So far so good. But then a couple of paragraphs on he quotes an example from a test taking book that I think fails as a suitable analogy:

From a test-taking book: “Skim through the questions and answer the easiest ones first, skipping ones you don’t know immediately.” Bad advice. Superstars can’t skip the ones they don’t know. In fact, the people who are the best in the world specialize at getting really good at the questions they don’t know. The people who skip the hard questions are in the majority, but they are not in demand.

Using Seth’s own words, his advice is bad advice — life’s not like a test. In a test, every question is like a possible “specialisation” — you either know the answer or you don’t.

If you know the answer, you’re an expert, so do that question. If you don’t know the answer, you’re no expert, so you skip that question. After you’ve exhausted the questions in which you’re an expert at, you come back to those you’ve skipped and then do them.

Those who do well in tests are those who can answer the easy questions and the difficult ones. Persisting in trying to answer questions you have no clue about is not going to make you an expert. Learn how to tackle those questions after the test!