12 October 2012


I have decided that living in a new country has allowed me to gain some perspective. I know, I know – duh. But seriously, over the last year, I have had the opportunity to experience more of life in the working world, and I have learned that there are some things that make me realize we are certainly not in Kansas anymore.

First lesson: Job searching on my own just isn’t working

I need to find an agency. I know this because the only expat wives with jobs that I know used an agency to find their position. Nicola, on the extreme end, decided to join forces with something like eight agencies. Yes, she might be crazy, but she is certainly dedicated. And, because she worked with so many firms, she discovered that most companies in Singapore only hire through recruitment companies, unlike in America.

When I began my career, I moved to a city without a job. Let me just say that signing a lease on an apartment before having a paycheck is a big motivator to find a job. So I found three. One of those jobs was working for a temp service that provided me an opportunity to work short-term jobs at varying industries, which was great because it gave me a chance to see where I might best fit.

Working in the temp sector led to my first post-graduate full-time job. I began as a member of the marketing team for a commercial real estate firm after working a two-week assignment, filling a vacancy for a team member who was getting married. When a full-time position opened up, I was contacted for an interview and then was offered the role. However, because I was discovered through the agency, the agency received a portion of my salary, which hurt me and my negotiating power in the end.

Knowing the fees would be an issue, I opted not to use a recruiting agency in Singapore. I found interesting positions, beefed up my credentials and started applying. I have applied for about 60 positions over the last year and have not had any success outside of personal connections. Nicola was hired into an incredible position in a top-notch company within six weeks. Apparently I need an agency.

When I searched for jobs, I found only a handful of positions offered through specific companies – nearly all postings were associated with a recruiting firm. Nicola advised that even when she attempted to apply directly with companies, she was advised to apply with a specific recruiting firm. O.K. Lesson learned. Recruiting agency, here I come.

Second lesson: No question is off limits

Human resources standards in Singapore are pretty much non-existent. There are no filters and no regulations that limit the hiring committee when interviewing potential employees. Curricula vitae, the alternative to American résumés, should contain very personal information such as age, birth date, personal identification numbers, citizenship information, hobbies and interests.

The most popular questions I and my friends have received when participating in interviews are as follows:
  • What does your husband do?
  • How long are you here?
  • Are you applying for permanent residency?
  • Why do you want this job?
  • Do you realize we are not going to pay you what you made in the U.S. (I paraphrase but, yes, I have been asked a very similar question)
  • When do you plan to have babies?

Third lesson: Everyone else cares more about my baby plans than I do

Paul and I made it three years into our marriage before anyone asked us about babies. Now, slowly, more and more questions are popping into everyday conversations. Paul thinks it should be illegal for anyone – including our family members – to ask when we are having babies and, in America, it is certainly illegal for a potential employer to ask an interviewee about religious or political beliefs, age, relationship preferences and family planning issues.

Maybe it’s because Singapore’s government is pushing to raise the birth rate; maybe it’s because Singapore, as a culture, is very family oriented. Whatever the reason, I reeeeaaaaallly want to reply with, “Um, none of your business!”

Fourth lesson: I don’t have to actually qualify for the job in order to be offered the job

Paul’s job-seeking philosophy is simple: apply for everything whether or not you qualify. He is not concerned with who will be seeing his credentials or what people will think of him when they consider his application. I, on the other hand, put a lot of focus on what people will think when they read my qualifications.

On two occasions, I have been offered interviews. In both cases, I had a personal connection to the companies, which immensely helped. I sat through the interviews, was surprised when the interviews escalated to the next level and then was taken aback when I received offers. In the first instance, when asked if I was interested in the position, I clearly stated that I was interested in the offer, leaving a Grand Canyon-sized distance between me and my potential new role. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure I wanted the job but the offer just confirmed my feelings.

Again, I had several reasons for turning down my second offer but one strong point is my lack of belief in my ability to truly do the job required. I know that there have to be other people out there more qualified than I but, in both cases, desperation on the part of the companies won over their judgment.

Fifth lesson: Local people do not think highly of expat wives

I am a career-minded woman, but I have learned to adapt to a more reasonable expat wife lifestyle. By that I mean I do not have the money to spend thousands of dollars on clothing, purses, shoes, dinners, balls and trips all over the world. I can afford coffee dates, a few lunches and enjoy volunteering.

I am grateful at the many opportunities I am afforded by volunteering for the RDA. One year ago, I knew nothing about the English way of riding and I knew nothing about horse therapy. To date I have served in almost every available position except stable staff. I have been in the arena, grooming the horses, exercising the horses, managing sessions, coordinating sessions, visiting schools and collaborating with global equine therapy programs on best practice initiatives.

In some people’s opinion, I am an exception. It has been made clear on more than a few occasions that most expat wives have never worked a day in their life and, therefore, they have no idea how to do things. I don’t know where this perception comes from but I have to say that the government doesn’t exactly help in educating people about the jobs expat wives really do.

I am here because of my husband. Our bank account was opened in my husband’s name. All of our bills are in Paul’s name. I could not have a cell phone service representative give me information about my own phone – I had to wake up my husband from a sleep during the night and have him give the guy on the other end of the phone verbal permission to tell me how to activate my own phone. This is not an environment where the wives of the important pass holders are held in high esteem.

Even today on a bus, a local man sat next to me and talked my ear off about a number of subjects, including, of course, the upcoming election. At one point he mentioned that Romney’s wife, Ann, was a great speaker “for a housewife.” I decided to pipe in and advise him that American housewives, specifically those in high-powered families, have a full-time job as a housewife. They often attach themselves to charities, donate time and money, serve on boards, host functions – and raise their family. The same is true here in Singapore – at least in the expat community.

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