Transition from school to office

school to office

(The story below has been submitted by Justina Lee, student)

Like many students, I started contributing to my CPF at the age of 16, after completing my O level exams. This was my first leap into working life. The experience shredded away financial innocence. No longer was I a mere student, trying to cram information into my brain for the sake of exams. Every piece of information now had a corporate agenda. I even recall clearly one Monday afternoon, the surprise phone call I suddenly received, commanding me to an interview later in the day, leaving me with zero time to prepare.

Having since left that company to further my studies, I had time to step outside of myself and examine what exactly I was worried about: the concerns, the fears, the doubts and to evaluate my overall job experience.

I do not speak legalese

Stepping into a cold (literally and metaphorically) interview room after filling up a 6-page long application form, was daunting maximus. Faced with page after page of terms and conditions, I might as well have read a copy of The Illiad. In Greek. What in the world was I signing?!  Sure, you’ve read all the terms and conditions listed in the contract, but I wasn’t so sure what my rights and obligations were.

For example – what if I received another killer job offer tomorrow? If I “resign” and take it up, would I be subject to compensate the company? I haven’t worked a day, but I do have obligations to fulfill contractually.

My friend shared with me a story: After graduating from University, she signed on her first job. The contract she signed had a clause that effectively bonded her for 3 years. Like most eager new hires, she signed the contract hastily. In the first week, she decided that she did not like the organisation and tendered a resignation in the 2nd week.  The management didn’t take kindly to her resignation and sent her a legal letter demanding compensation for 6 months of pay for breaking a bond. At a loss of what to do, she sought advice at an MPS (Meet-The-People).  She was then advised to seek The Law Society legal aid for help.  Cut a long story short, the organisation decided to give her a 50% discount (amounting to a couple of thousand, though a handsome sum for a fresh grad with an education loan to pay-off).

To be safe, you can poke around at related sites that will help sharpen your knowledge on your rights, concerns and what to be careful at.

Your rights as PMEs:

Your rights under the Employment Act:

Or you can just attend a legal workshop, here’s one by the NTUC:


(just quickly read through and sign on page 1243 please)

How much to ask for?

Everyone has varying reasons for applying for a job, but most of the time, the reason is money. As a fresh-faced student cheerily graduated from school, I did not know what kind of pay to expect from a job. But what really dogged me was the much nagged rhetoric: Study hard now, get a good job next time and earn a lot of money. I have studied hard, now it is time to make lots of money is it not? Well, many a classmate of mine have had financial dreams jaded because of this.

I urge my peers, talk to veterans in the field, ask around. What salary should you expect? Keep it real, it’s your first job. Don’t freak the interviewer out.

Financial expectations aside, it would be useful to also discover what drives you. What else do you want to achieve. Is it to sharpen your skills? Would it be to develop rich knowledge and networks in a particular industry? Would it be to build yourself a strong reputation?  When difficult times confront one, it is the passion and the purpose that keeps one going.


(i only want this much money. not too much for a fresh grad right?)

Social stigma

Being the youngest girl, with absolutely no experience can be daunting. I remember feeling like a helpless little fish in a pond teeming with big, mean, nasty fishes. All my colleagues then were at least 2 years older than me, most were awaiting their A level results.

How should one overcome this stigma? Stay humble and always be willing to learn. Accept that many of your colleagues are more experienced and use it as an opportunity learn from each of them. Enthusiasm and effort are vibes easy to detect and these are sure means to dispel negative stigma. Do not have the expectation that you will start on equal corporate footing. Over time, your colleagues will come to respect your effort, eagerness and enthusiasm.

Politics and competition

Office politics – some hate it, some dread it, some relish in it. My take is that it is a hole at the bottom of the productivity tub. A problem that needs to be plugged. Try your best to stay out of office politics, taking sides and talking behind colleague’s backs. But don’t confuse politics with competition. Competition is unavoidable in the workplace as everyone competes for the best results, the boss’s attention and popularity among colleagues. Do not be discouraged; treat every challenge as a driving force to push for greater heights. In fact, a bit of healthy competition is good to keep things exciting and work, sharp.

Are you afraid of failure?

I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.

–       Michael Jordan


Being ever the perfectionist from young, I can understand what it is like to stop trying anything new, because of the fear of failure. It is a hollow shell that one never seems to get out of once one is trapped in it. This may sound a bit of a cliché, but treat every failure as a learning experience. You never know what the outcome will be until you try. The famous physicist Schrödinger proposed a scenario with a cat in a sealed box, wherein the cat’s life or death depended on the state of a subatomic particle. According to Schrödinger, the Copenhagen interpretation implies that the cat remains both alive and dead (to the universe outside the box) until the box is opened.


A mystery the outcome remains; only until the box is opened will you find the conclusion.


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