Many of you might wonder, how does it feel to work abroad? What does the hiring representative abroad seek from graduates? In this article, Cindy shares her thoughts on what matters to companies abroad from her personal experience of working in Singapore.
Right after I completed my bachelor’s degree from a private university in Jakarta, I’ve been very privileged to work for a global financial data provider company in Singapore as a product consultant. I was referred in for the job by a very senior and respected regional female manager in the company after having worked together in expanding her (then) area of business in Indonesia. However, all of my Indonesian colleagues have had overseas experiences before and did not enter as a fresh graduate from Indonesia. I conclude that one big reason why Indonesian local graduates couldn’t afford the same opportunity to get overseas jobs is the lack of familiarity with the ‘battleground’. When we understand that hiring decisions are often made out of a combination of a few immutable facts about ourselves, aptitude, and working attitude, local graduates will have a higher chance to land fresh graduate job overseas.
Disclaimer: All opinions are mine and do not reflect any company referred to in this article. This article doesn’t prescribe advice to make your CV stand out or nail interview with hiring managers, rather, it aims to help Indonesian local graduates formulate long-term strategy to land a fresh graduate job overseas, by understanding how the nature of the job creates a market for their individual niche areas – especially for those who work in the financial industry. My arguments are solely based on my own experiences.
Our Inherent Advantages
Language is a real advantage. I was more of an introvert in school, so I first struggled with the idea of a customer relationship. Thanks to my first job as a product consultant, I learned that the bulk of the effort of earning someone’s trust isn’t actually an active effort at all, being able to speak your client’s mother tongue immediately lowers their guard and opens up for a more rewarding conversation. This immediately applies to any client-facing position (sales, business development, customer support, for example).
However, Indonesian local graduates oftentimes lack in the overview of regional or global business and product knowledge. It is worth considering to start in the product support or account management position, learn deeper about the company, and try to move further within the company or industry.
If you decide to go down that route, your case will be stronger in Singapore, which is the primary regional office choice for companies looking to pivot to Southeast Asia. For my last year, I was practically the only native Indonesian speaker representing my department in our product rollout and sales blueprint in Indonesia. It is not uncommon for such offices to have a very lean regional team, which means a massive learning curve by being in charge of an entire country’s business.
Prior to this job I was a generalist without specific financial knowledge, it was even a shock to me that I actually got in.
Looking back, the hiring managers might’ve looked at ‘aptitude’ which determines a candidate’s compatibility with the role, irrespective of their Bachelor degree. Aside of positions which require the non-negotiable quantitative skills, my former company (drawing from Wall Street practices) has hired graduates out of the banking and finance clique, provided that they demonstrate financial aptitude. In my own experience, it means being comfortable with numbers as well as having the patience to test out mathematical iteration and strong causal analytical thinking skills to explain the impact of a certain world event into the financial industry.
In school, I have always been immersed in social science (I was enrolled in the Social Science or IPS program in high school and studied Accounting in university). I was out of touch with upper-level math works, so I read CFA level 1 material prior to my interview. However, I believe I owe this job to my 4 years of training in the competitive English debating scene, which helped with my communication skills and foster my genuine interest in world affairs and politics. Frankly speaking, I believe financial investment is firstly an expression of your worldview before we get caught up with the technicalities. Being able to chat about the impact of certain regulations or world events in the financial market is an important skill to earn your client’s trust and credibility. With some crucial areas in a financial industry undergoing a reduction of headcount due to the introduction of newer technology and shrinking market, a personal relationship becomes a more valuable asset.
That being said, the financial industry is still a very rigorous industry. A credit sales trader is still, a salesperson and a trader after all. You still make calls, send market updates to your clients, calculate your profit and loss, among others. Being able to do those tasks efficiently and effectively, perhaps for your coding skill or knowing how to operate certain investment platforms, will give you an edge compared to other candidates. This is where financial aptitude has to be combined with hard skills.
Personally speaking, working attitude is the hardest thing to understand without having any work experience at all, yet this is something that will earn your career the greatest pay off.
My former company marries old-age hierarchical structure with transparency and open culture. As a result, it has taught me a lot about corporate culture, one of them is ‘managing your manager’.
Let’s get it right. It doesn’t mean you’re manipulating your manager or promoting unhealthy jealousy among your team members. To me, this concept means manager and representative (rep) have a healthy mutual dependency. In a global company, business in Asia tends to receive direction from the headquarters. Oftentimes your managers will also have to execute strategies without having a full say on the terms and conditions. At the end of the day, they still have to report to their own managers. My relationship with all of my managers throughout my career improved very much when I made their objectives mine.
Let me share two examples. Firstly, communication with your manager. Different people have a different style but none appreciates wasting their time listening to vague reports. Every meeting would start with an agenda, which made explaining and anticipating questions easier. I always used the first two weeks under a new manager to profile them, by paying attention to their speech patterns and reading the language used in their emails to understand how they communicate.
Secondly, the tough talk. It is important to start the habit of owning, apologizing, and offering an immediate fix when something does not work out. Our problems are our manager’s problems too, so if we don’t know how to do a certain thing, we should at least know what is needed from the company to solve it. Be a problem solver, not a problem creator. I tried changing my words from “I’m sorry but I didn’t do A because I didn’t know how to do it and I believe someone else is more capable than me” to “I don’t think I have the resource to do A within 1 week as we agreed before, but if you give me two more reps and half a day tomorrow for the team to strategize, we can still make it by the end of this week. If it’s still not enough, I will let you know and we will work around it.” I find that my managers appreciated the latter, it made it easier for them to pull a few strings around to give me what I needed.
I understand a lot of Indonesians were unfortunately not traditionally raised and educated in favor of meritocracy. I remember growing up believing that authority is derived from one’s title or seniority or influence in the company, and ideas are valued first and foremost not from its objective merits but who proposed them. It tends to be risky for your career to challenge authority, even when reps are genuinely proposing a win-win solution for the benefit of all stakeholders and articulating their ideas in a civilized manner. In some companies, it can still be perceived as humiliating or undermining the manager’s ability to be a leader.
My advice is, start small. When I started I thought I was not in the position to assert myself in front of my seniors because I was young, inexperienced, and honestly wasn’t speaking that much English. But every single opportunity given to you, no matter how small it is, is a chance to grow and deliver. Learn to evaluate yourself not only with your personal standards (the perfectionists will surely have a tough time!) but to your team and company standards as well.
I haven’t lived in Indonesia for 4 years now, but through catching up with my working friends and keeping up with the news, I know there are way more opportunities for current Indonesian students and more people unlocking their true potential out of their comfort zone. That’s a really great news! For those who are contemplating a similar path, I wish you all the best and feel free to contact me to discuss more in details.
Photos are provided by the author.