Working Abroad: How to find a job in Singapore

Job hunting. It’s always a rollercoaster. Job hunting in Asia?  Is in a whole new league.

This post is my own comedy of errors over the past 7 weeks, and to also share everything I wish someone had told me.

The sitch
You’ve done it. The ultimate act of bravery: You throw caution to the wind and quit your 7 year UK marketing career to go travelling. And it’s awesome, life changing, something you’ll have forever. But unless you go too far and turn into those guys in tie-dye who make their own jewelry/tambourines/organic yoghurt on Luang Prabang market, (in which case there’s no coming back…) then it’s only a window. The day comes when you have to re-join the rat race again.

Part 1/2: Cut off the ‘I heart tubing in Laos’ wristbands. Part 2/2: Buy interview clothes and get in the zone to pretend you have a 5 year plan (shudder!)

My mission
…Was to find an advertising/marketing  job in the city of Singapore. I did some research. Well, I googled: ‘jobs in Singapore’ – Great, there are loads. How hard can it be, right? So I jumped on a plane with 8 weeks contingency dollars. No contacts, nothing lined up.

Oh yes, before you get too carried away thinking you can viably work for Saatchi or Ogilvy from that remote beach in Koh Samet (we all wish) let International visa restrictions narrow down your country of choice – Working Holiday Visas.

In a nutshell: Singapore allows UK citizens aged under 30, with a degree, to apply for a 6 month working holiday visa. My approval email only took 6 days, plus you don’t pay the$120 until you’re already here to pick it up. Check out Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

So deciding where to go & getting yourself there, it turns out, is the easy part.

The Hard Part:

CV (or should I say resume)
Dust off the cobwebs on that word doc. Thank god I drafted one before I took off around the world. Believe me after a year your brain has replaced the name of every client you ever worked with, with the names of far-flung islands in the Philippines. Reading something you wrote a year ago, it feels bizarre be reminded you were once were an adult with a vocabulary of BS like ‘KPI’s’ & ‘PRINCE2.”

So write it. Then re-write it 20 more times. Hone it, re-format it, and adapt it for the Asian market. Bump your education qualifications up to page 1 even if they were 10 years ago. Asia is big on academia. In Singapore you are fully expected to include a (sober!) photo, your age, and even your marital status and religion. Yes it breaks every anti-discrimination law in the western world, but that’s how it’s done in here. Ideally, you should have a local +65 mobile number on there too.

Recruitment Agencies (aka a necessary evil)
In advertising/marketing a huge percentage of companies use 3rd party recruiters. This was all pretty new to me.

Now I’d always presumed that recruitment agents invite you round for coffee, get to know you, give you a cuddle & broker you the best deal. I was wrong. They kind of do some of this, (not the cuddles) but most are driven by their client and their own commission. You need them, just don’t be fooled into thinking they really are your BFF’s. Keep some cards (like salary) close to your chest.

I wasted loads of time uploading my CV to generic sites like Street/Jobs DB, thinking it would miraculously set the world alight through that ‘keyword’ SEO software that everyone talks about. Definitely write with keywords in mind, but you can’t just upload it and expect employers to flock to you. To get recruiters attention, apply individually to one of their listings. The aim is just to hit their radar. If they like you, they’ll call you for a pre-interview. They move pretty quickly. If you haven’t had a call within 48h, move on. They are just not that into you. It’s harsh but true.

The problem is, there are tons of Singapore recruitment agencies. Literally hundreds. And the secret is – only 10% of these won’t click you straight into the recycle bin. Very few are high-end enough to place foreign talent. The good ones I would recommend include:

Xpand Singapore
Randstad Singapore
Savvy Creative
Celina Lawrence Global Recruitment

Singapore & PRs only

Get used to this phrase! As a non Singaporean/Malaysian citizen it’s near impossible to get temp work here, and cash in hand even less likely. 90% of all job ads will include this phrase at the bottom, and they mean it. Singapore has tight government quotas on foreign workers. This was probably the hardest lesson to learn as it seems the odds are stacked against you.

Steer clear of Temp Team, Recruitment Express, BGC. They are not geared towards Working Holiday Visa applicants. Plus, you have to also weigh up whether trying to do casual work is counter-productive to your aim for finding a career job (it is!) The best advice a recruiter gave me is – “value yourself!”

Where to look for jobs? was my daily bible. I practically memorised their ‘A-Z recruiters tab.’ Painstaking but worthwhile.

Aggregator sites like are also useful at first. They pull in all searchable key words from the whole web including the expat forums, Craigslist & Gumtree. It’s a little like a jumble sale but saves you searching individual job sites. Plus if you do it daily, you can quickly spot the new ones.

Linked In (cue the light at the end of the tunnel music)

I can’t over-estimate the mileage I got from it. If I had one piece of advice it would be: (Politely) Stalk the ass off people! Every single interview I had in Singapore came about directly or  indirectly from Linked In.

Recruitment agents, HR reps, MD’s, the Expats in Singapore group – they are all on there.  It really is not what you know, it’s who you know, and how well you can pretend to know them. Name drop people’s career histories, their universities, their interests & groups. I’m definitely not saying blanket spam anyone but do use it cleverly and unashamedly. This obviously goes for twitter too.

Interviewing (Asia Style)

There are lots of phone screenings first, as people are so busy. Hierarchy is a big deal here too. You will often have at least 2 or 3 stages with varying tiers of management. The whole process takes much longer than the UK.

Dresscode: There is no such thing as overdressed here. In England you’d do a recce to make sure you can find the office without stressing about directions. In Singapore you do a recce to gauge whether you can walk the 5 mins from Raffles Place MRT in the 6 inc stilettos us girls are expected to power dress in.

Cultural Intricacies: The ‘Why Asia?’ question will come up. Most employers just want to check you aren’t using Singapore as a Tiger Airline travel hub (wouldn’t dream of it :) ) So at the very least memorize that the Prime Minister is Lee Hsien Loong, and read The Straight Times or that morning.

Top 10 things I learnt along the way:

  • Wages for professional jobs can be good, mainly as tax rates are super favorable in Singapore
  • That said, there’s no minimum wage in Singapore so think carefully about casual work here. I spent a weekend temping on a horse riding ranch (don’t ask!) for less than $2.50 per hour.
  • And although it feels like you are in one of the those ridiculous HSBC ads, always accept business cards ‘Asian style’ with two hands, taking time to read it, and place it on the desk in front of you (never write on it or stuff it in your purse!)
  • Asia’s work ethic is way different to Europe. Average Singaporean office hours are 8am – 8pm. Official holiday allowances are 12 days a year!Western companies based here tend to follow Europe guidelines (thank god!)
  • Get used to rejection :( I lost out a couple of times to the government quotas. The fact is that foreign talent is expensive to sponsor, and local talent isn’t.  There are advantages and disadvantages of working abroad, but you have to roll with it, it’s not always personal.
  • I mistakenly sent out over 20 CV’s with my old UK (disconnected) phone number instead of my Singapore one. Doh. Name your various versions clearly, and always make sure your Linked In profile tallies.
  • Singapore is very finance centric. I had a phone interviewer fire “what’s 15% of 1.5 million at me?!” The role wasn’t anything to do with hedge fund banking, but if like me you are a words and not a numbers person, you might want to brush up. Or be quick enough to google it.
  • Expect a few expat egos. I had met a few characters here who thought they were staring in an episode of Madmen. Grin and bare it.
  • Don’t discount left field offers. I got the chance to do some paid  freelance copywriting, so although it’s hard to juggle all offers, it’s good to keep all options open.
  • Finally, I learnt what a small world Singapore can be. I had clashing interviews for rival ad agencies, who in a city of 5 million people, turn out to be flat mates! Awkward.

The moral of the story:
Last week I accepted a position for a great global branding & design agency with huge clients/campaigns that I would never have a chance to work on anywhere other than a city like Singapore. It can be done.

This came about from a single Linked In conversation with a complete stranger and well written email (arguably just the right side of stalker creepy)  about how I loved their swagger, clients, style. Like 80% of todays jobs, it wasn’t advertised.

It honestly took me hundreds of hours, at least 50+ applications, and half a dozen interviews.  I shed many a tear and it’s a huge challenge. Contingency funds, hard work, self belief & good friends are important. But like with most things; good luck & timing are everything.

19 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Nat
    Feb 01, 2016 @ 08:06:46

    Hi Anantasin!
    I am so glad I found your post! I am going to apply WHP in April and I am really worried that my application will be rejected. I am an international student studying in US right now. I actually did my secondary and junior college in Singapore. I already get an internship in Singapore will probably apply more to have my options open. Do you think that it will be a disadvantage for me to get WHP since I am still pursuing my undergrad degree? Or have you heard anyone who get rejected? Thanks in advance!


  2. Nat
    Feb 01, 2016 @ 08:05:30

    Hi Anantasin!
    I am so glad I found your post! I am going to apply WHP in April and I am really worried that my application will be rejected. I am an international student studying in US right now. I actually did my secondary and junior college in Singapore. I already get an internship in Singapore will probably apply more to have my options open. Do you think that it will be a disadvantage for me to get WHP since I am still pursuing my undergrad degree? Or have u heard anyone who get rejected? Thanks in advance!


  3. Phoebe Ho
    Mar 08, 2015 @ 21:27:43

    Hi Anantasin,

    Wow this article is really what I’ve been looking for! Its probably the most positive article about jobs in Singapore I’ve found on the internet.

    Last summer I was on the Work Holiday Programme as I was a marketing intern in Singapore, and I am graduating soon and hoping to move to Singapore for a graduate job. However I have found many articles about increased difficulty for foreign graduates to land entry level jobs in Singapore due to policies that promote local talent.

    I’ve also noticed that many do not have graduate schemes like the traditional system in the UK, and wanted to ask for any advice you have about graduate jobs in Singapore, is it true that it’s practically impossible to land? Would it be better off if I applied to larger foreign MNC’s or are they also strict on quotas as I have been starting applications and finding minimal response as I am not Singaporean.



    • littleanantasin
      Mar 09, 2015 @ 01:44:51

      Hi Phoebe, I don’t really know enough about graduate schemes as I was in my late 20’s when I made the move. I’d say if you already have your intern experience in Singapore that’s a great USP, use every last ounce of those contacts and connections! Maybe ask a specialist marketing recruiter to help maximise your CV? Try as many approaches as you can – MNC’s, smaller boutique agencies, start ups. You’re right, it’s not easy but hopefully not impossible :)


  4. Sumit
    Feb 12, 2015 @ 19:20:20

    Hi Anantasin,
    Brilliant article, I have been researching about Work Holiday Visa and I think this is the most resourceful information I have found all day today. I have a Bachelors Degree and three years work experience in Recruitment from London, I am planning to visit Singapore on Work Holiday Visa next month. I wanted to get your opinion on few things.
    1. Whats the average cost of Living? rent and food
    2. Whats the average salary, according to you, for a grad with 3 years experience?
    3. You said, LinkedIn was most resourceful to you in finding a job. How would you advise us to use LinkedIn?
    4. Do you think I should start applying from here itself or once I come to Singapore?

    I know I am asking for a lot but you seem to be a sweetheart for writing such a wonderful blog :) So it would be great if you could answer any/all of the questions.

    Thank you in advance.



  5. Alison
    Jan 14, 2015 @ 18:02:36

    Thanks for the great post. I am from the United Kingdom and has recently moved to Singapore in search for employment. According to your article above, you mentioned that personal details such as photo, age, marital status and religion have to be included on the CV, I am extremely concern with such disclosure of sensitive information as these are discriminatory and illegal in the UK.
    Prior to reading your post, I sent out several CVs that contained only my name, UK address, Singapore contact number and nationality. I am starting to wonder if these are a result of no calls from the companies since my disclosure of personal details are insufficient in the local context. Are photograph, date of birth, marital status and religion really necessary for Singapore CV ? I am hesitating…
    Would be helpful if you could provide your feedback on this. Thanks


    • littleanantasin
      Jan 14, 2015 @ 21:50:57

      Hi Alison, I’m also from the UK so agree it feels odd to include it but Asia really is a different ball game. I’d say it depends. If you are applying to Singaporean companies then they expect you to play by their rules. In the end, I was applying to UK/Australian advertising and design agencies so I reverted to the more ‘Western’ way. What kind of industry are you in? I can see if I have any useful contacts :)


    • littleanantasin
      Jan 14, 2015 @ 21:57:24

      Oh one tip I would add is: Why include your UK address? You have a much stronger selling point since you are based in Singapore! If you also have a valid working visa (and don’t need sponsorship) then shout about that upfront alongside your Nationality too. x


  6. Trackback: Top 5 Tips for Apartment Hunting | Little Anantasin
  7. Arjun
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 15:04:46

    hi Anantasin,
    finally found a post by someone who actually succeeded in what im gonna embark on the 5th. Iv got my I-PA work holiday pass and will be moving to singapore having just graduated from michigan with a bachelors in finance.
    i have a shitty gpa but decent internship experience and hope that the much touted largest alumni network in the world helps me out.
    in the meantime i was thinking of working part-time in hospitality or tourism.
    any advice on where all the young expats live? and any suggestions on accommodation?


  8. Trackback: Australian Working Holiday Visa | Little Anantasin
  9. Susan Beveridge
    Apr 14, 2013 @ 16:24:58

    Great, just what I wanted to hear :) Thank you for responding and for your well wishes!


  10. Singapore jobs
    Apr 12, 2013 @ 07:33:54

    wow thanks for this very encouraging post! i do hope many more find their dream job in this dream country.


  11. Susan Beveridge
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 17:37:23

    As a graduate about to start an internship in Singapore, it was great to stumble across your blog and read what you have written about Singapore. I was especially interested to read what you wrote about the Work Holiday Pass and I actually have a question for you- once you received your ‘in-principle’ approval letter, did you deal with the next stage of the pass issuance through an employment agency or just in person when you arrived in Singapore? I’m grateful for any advice you can give based on your experience, Susan.


    • littleanantasin
      Apr 11, 2013 @ 00:45:44

      Hi Susan, Definately no need for any employemnt agencies. The MOM are super friendly and straightforward. When you get to Singapore just go online to book an appointment, then turn up (it’s very central near Clarke MRT.) The whole collection of your pass takes about 15 mins. Simples! Enjoy every second of your internship – it’s an amazing city :)


  12. Trackback: Singapore for Grads and the Working Holiday Pass - Expat Edna

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Connecting to %s : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

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