Career, Self-Improvement

3 Interview Mistakes You May Not Know You’re Making – Vanessa Tai

Whether you’re seeking your first job or are planning a mid-career switch, it’s always helpful to have a few interview tricks up your sleeve. Vanessa Tai speaks to two recruitment experts on some less known interview no-no’s. 

material world_job interview 2

1. Before the interview: Asking about salary, overtime, and work culture 

Before you join a company, it’s only natural that you’ll want to know about its culture as well as the job perks you may receive. After all, a solid organisation is one that is provides a transparent hiring process and will have programmes set in place for up-skilling and flexible work options.

However, according to James Tan, a consultant with the Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI) and a member of the SHRI HR Advisory and Consultancy Panel, “Employers are not obliged to answer such questions through phone calls or emails. Asking such questions before an interview may put the interviewer off, and the jobseeker is likely not be shortlisted for interviews.”

Michael Smith, country director at recruitment agency Randstad Singapore, recommends the following instead, “The company’s website is an important first step when researching a potential new employer. It can provide you with information about the company, the management, company stability, workplace culture, and what to expect as an employee when working there. Also, more companies are using social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to engage with current and prospective employees, clients and customers. Reading blogs and comments, reaching out to current and past employees are all great ways to find out more details about the company environment and potentially the job scope.”

2. During the interview: Telling a potential employer, “I’m here to learn.”

It’s an employee’s market at the moment. A competitive salary and good benefits package are no longer the only factors that jobseekers today are looking for in a new employer. According to the 2013/2014 Randstad World of Work Report, 56 percent of employees are looking for leadership development and 43 percent are looking for career growth and training opportunities.

However, as much as the desire to learn is a good thing, is it really a trait that employers are looking for? After all, wouldn’t it make more sense for employers to hire someone who can hit the ground running?

Smith says, “A willingness to learn is an attractive trait. However, apart from demonstrating that you have an aptitude for learning quickly, you can also back this up by demonstrating other transferable skills such as team work, computer skills, communication and leadership. These are all highly valued by employers.”

To demonstrate that you’re in for the long haul, you could tell your potential employer something along the lines of, “I am eager to contribute to and grow with your company.” This shows you’re loyal and tenacious, instead of giving off the impression that you’re just here to pick up some necessary skills before jettisoning off.

3. After the interview: Being over-persistent

The days right after a job interview can be a nerve-wracking, nail-biting affair. As much as you want to know the company’s answer right away, refrain from following up too often lest you come across as a nuisance. If you’ve already sent a thank-you note right after your interview (which you absolutely should have!), the next best thing you can do is to create a “follow-up schedule”. Draw up a plan on how often you will follow up with the interviewer, but only allow yourself a set number of attempts over a limited frame of time. If you get your feedback within this time frame, great. If not, just move on. As frustrating as it can be, always remember to maintain a level of graciousness and professionalism when communicating with your potential employers.  Remember, just because this door doesn’t open this time round does not mean it will not in future.

Good luck!

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 27-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.

Career, Self-Improvement

10 Productivity Secrets You’ll Wanna Steal – Vanessa Tai

Everyone has days (or even weeks) where you just lack the drive to get anything done. Of course, “not feeling it” is not a good enough reason to be inefficient. 10 women share with Vanessa Tai their secret to powering through the day and ensuring things get done.

Browse through any productivity or self-improvement blog and you’ll find scores of articles along the vein of “Habits Of Highly Successful People” or “The One Thing Famous Leaders Do Differently”. As much as I get that these articles are supposed to motivate me to get off my lazy bum, I still experience a sense of disconnect between myself and the people in these articles. To me, they are people who have already “made it” in their field of work and as such, are probably dealing with work situations very different from mine.

Which was why I started to wonder about the everyday woman — women like you and I — and what she does to keep herself motivated on sluggish days. I spoke to women across different age groups and industries (there’s even a full-time mum in the mix!) and here are their top productivity secrets, just for you:

Start Your Day Right

“I have a routine of going for a swim every morning before work, even on days when I don’t feel like it. The mechanical motion of going up and down helps empty my mind of those annoying negative thoughts and allows me to start the workday with a clean slate.” – Wyn-Lyn Tan, artist  

Space Your Day Out With Incentives 

“When I write out my to do list, I will set myself a reward for every few completed tasks. For example, once I complete tasks 1 to 3, I can walk to the canteen for a coffee. Once I complete tasks 4 and 5, I’ll allow myself a break to read some fun articles online. If it’s an especially bad day, I’ll buy movie tickets online so I can look forward to something nice when I leave the office.” – Shila Naidu, writer

Use The Power Of Visualisation

“On days where the pressure at work gets overwhelming, I will start thinking about and planning for my next vacation. I even have a calendar on my desk that I use to count down to my next overseas trip. It helps me put up with the stress at work because I know that as long as I persevere now, the sweet rewards will come soon enough.” – Lin Yongsi, web designer 

Find External Inspiration …

“When I’m feeling down or discouraged at work, I’ll search for inspirational videos on YouTube about successful people who went through multiple rejections and struggles in life before reaching where they are today. It helps me feel less alone and gives me the strength to deal with work problems more effectively.” – Lee Desiree, financial advisor 

“There is a section at the back of the Straits Times Classified pages, which dispenses a lot of work-related tips related to confidence, determination, and so on. When I find myself getting bogged down, I find it motivating to to have a coffee and read through these tips.” – Viviene Goh, early childhood educator

… Cute Works Too!

“On days where nothing seems to go right, I’ll just step away from my cubicle to watch cute videos of dogs on YouTube. It cheers me up and helps me get back in the right frame of mind for work.” – Charmene Phang, marketing manager

It can be helpful to take 15 minutes to clear your mind and prepare for the tasks ahead.

It can be helpful to take 15 minutes to clear your mind and prepare for the tasks ahead.

Just Take A Moment To Breathe

“When I feel myself start to get overwhelmed and pulled in all directions, I’ll take a step back from the situation and remind myself, ‘You’re doing the best you can.'” – Deborah Giam, freelance writer

“Stepping away from a stressful situation is very helpful for me. I usually duck out of the office to a nearby cafe for my favourite cake and coffee. It clears my mind and gives me the mojo to power through the rest of the day.” – Sheryl Koh, senior associate 

Get Back To Nature

“Going for long walks on the beach helps me to focus on coming up with constructive solutions to the issues I’m facing, instead of dwelling on negative (and unhelpful) emotions.” – Lydia Toh, stay-at-home mum

Run Your Problems To The Ground

“If I know I have to work overtime, I’ll pop out of the office to go for a quick run. As you know, you can become quite brain-dead after sitting in your cubicle for 10 hours! Running refreshes my mind and gives me the energy to power through the rest of the evening.” – Lynette Wong, PR consultant 

What are some of YOUR tips to power through lethargic days? Share with us in the Comments section below!

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 27-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets


Career, Character & Soul, Health & Fitness, Self-Improvement, Wellbeing

10 Signs You Need A Break – Tan Lili

But if you find yourself agreeing to all 10 of them, Tan Lili reckons you might want to consider going on a year-long sabbatical. 

We may all be busy running the same rat race, but some of us are so hellbent on completing it (haha) that we forget to stop and rehydrate along the neverending journey. Here are 10 telltale signs you need to take a break before it’s too late.

1. You find yourself vacillating between stewing in unbridled rage over non-issues …

Need. To. Strangle.

Need. To. Strangle.

2. … and laughing hysterically for absolutely no reason.

This clicking pen makes the funniest sound!

This clicking pen makes the funniest sound!

3. And heaven forbid last-minute changes to your schedule.

I can't.

I can’t.

4. You live for Beer O’Clock.

Did someone say "beer"!?

Did someone say “beer”!?

5. You’ve forgotten how your best friend looks like.

What she said.

What she said.

6. Instead of counting sheep, you mentally check off your to-do list.

6. Checking off to-do list - check.

6. Checking off to-do list – check.

7. You are seriously considering the feasibility of snorting coffee powder.

Because, why not?

Because, why not?

8. You wish someone could pee on your behalf.

Peeing is so overrated.

Peeing is so overrated.

9. The energy it takes for you to summon up a smile has officially become your way of keeping fit.



10. Vacation pictures make you want to curl into the foetal position and drown in your own pool of tears.



Jokes aside, though, I’m sure you don’t need any reminders about stress and its link to a myriad health problems. Apart from physical illnesses like heart-related diseases and weakened immune system, stress can also lead to mental disorders. “If you don’t end up identifying a method to handle your stress then it eventually can lead to a heightened sense of dysfunction,” says Dr Steve Bressert, author of The Impact of Stress on Psych Central. “This may result in increased anxiety or a sense of depression because you’re not mastering your world.”

Know that taking a break every now and then is a necessity, not a luxury. And I’m not just talking about work; we all need some time away from the hustle and bustle of life to recharge our mind so we can come back and take on the madness with renewed vigour.

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as (now, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction.


Career, Deborah Tan, Self-Improvement

Your Full-Time Job Is Not More Important Than My Freelance One – Deborah Tan

Recently, Deborah Tan took on an assignment that would only pay her if the publisher uses the materials. She has a (not so) few words to say about that.

I wish there is a nicer way to say this but I’m not known for mincing my words so I’m not even going to try.

About a month ago, I was approached by the editorial manager of a media company to “curate” their beauty section for them. The word “curate” itself raised a red flag in my head because I had known – once I saw it – that it meant “cheap, or free, labor in return for credits in a supposedly glamorous collaboration”. The manager said I would be paid $10 for every item they publish and I was asked to contribute 8 beauty products and services that I think would suit their super-luxury title.

When I sent across my stuff, I explained to aforementioned manager that while I had sourced from credible high-end beauty brands and services, admittedly some items fell short of her “at least $500” requirement. To me, as a beauty person, I felt it was more important to submit good beauty products than to just throw stuff in because they were ridiculously priced. I didn’t hear back from her and it was only after some persistent sms-ing did she finally acknowledge receipt of my work.

A week later, I emailed her asking to whom should I send my invoice. No response. When another email failed to elicit a response, I resorted to sms-ing her again only to be asked to approach her colleague who has taken over all matters relating to that title.

One more email to her and her colleague and this was what ensued:

A perfectly legit reaction to such an email response.

A perfectly legit reaction to such an email response.

1. It turned out that the manager had left the company. Wow. No goodbye email? No handover?

2. The team had decided not to use the stuff I recommended because they fell short of the new “at least $1,000” requirement that was instituted the day before my deadline and never told to me.

3. No apologies from company, new colleague or ex-manager regarding the shoddy communication and treatment towards a freelancer. In fact, her replacement had asked me to keep contributing so I may eventually get published in their magazine. Wow! THANKS FOR THIS WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITY!!!!! I’m so grateful for this graciousness!!!!!

The most I would get out of this “curation” is $80. It is an amount I’m happy to overlook because the “collaboration” involved a topic I am deeply passionate about (beauty). But here’s why this entire experience has further cemented my belief that no freelancer should EVER have to take on a job that pays “only if your work is published”.

Because A Full-Timer Would Be Paid Regardless
A full-timer gets paid for his time. He gets paid for the 8 hours of face-time he gives to his company. It doesn’t matter if he is underperforming, overachieving, committed or lazy, a paycheque is deposited into his bank account at a fixed time each month. A freelancer, on the other, gets paid for services rendered. In short, we sell articles, stories and services. We should get paid because the job has been commissioned and because time and effort were put into doing these jobs. If it ever fell short of your expectations, the first resort should be to ask us to redo it. The worst case scenario would be to negotiate a kill-fee (a percentage of the full fee).


We work hard for many reasons; “nothing” is not one of them.

Because It Forces Companies And Editors To Commission With More Consideration
The practice of paying a freelancer only if his work is used often leads to publications commissioning work without thought. Some editors hang on to the work for an indefinite amount of time, so the freelancer ends up not knowing when he will see the payment. Some editors end up not even using the work, meaning the freelancer has “worked for nothing”. If this practice is abolished, it may mean less work is floating around but it means more work would translate into actual payments.

Because Freelancers Are Not The Serfs Of The Publishing World
Many people write for free, contribute for credits, etc. But such arrangements should always be aboveboard and, if ever a freelancer accepts such collaborations, they should be accorded respect and dignity. If I submitted an article without solicitation, sure, feel free to trash my email. But, if this is work that YOU, the full-timer, have asked for, I think it is only courteous to (a) acknowledge you have received the piece and (b) tell me if you decide not to use it. We freelancers are running a business and every project we take on means another project has been “given up”. There is an opportunity cost involved and you need to recognize that what we are doing is giving you the GIFT of our TIME. Fine if you don’t want to pay for it but at least show some f___ing appreciation.

I realize this article may step on a couple of toes, and may be construed as a declaration that we will not be taking work from certain companies. However, the Material World team is confident that the work we produce is of high quality (ask our clients) and we always make it clear to our clients that they can request for us to redo each piece if they are not happy with our first submission.

I believe all freelancers, especially creative ones (because it can be so hard to ‘quantify’ our work sometimes), should band together and put forth a set of industry rules and regulations that we serve to our clients. This isn’t a cry for revolution. We just want to be treated fairly and with the respect we deserve for spending years honing our craft and for our commitment to producing good work for those who believe in us.

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She thanks her lucky stars that all her paying clients so far have been very professional and a joy to work with. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

Career, Self-Improvement

Myth: Job Hopping Is Career Suicide – Tan Lili

One of the secrets behind long-term relationships is this: The belief that there is only one person in the world for us is flawed because, in our misguided search for that “perfect someone”, we are likely to give up too quickly on who could have been our life partner. Tan Lili wonders, can the same be said of job hoppers? 

job hopping hopscotchSomeone once told me my resume looks bad. Apparently my list of past work experiences signals I’m a serial job hopper – a major red flag for potential future employers. Considering I was about to submit my resignation letter to said person, her words haunted me for nights.

I’m 110-percent committed to my decade-long relationship and I’ve learned – and am still learning – to love every single part of my boyfriend, warts and all. The grass will always be greener on the other side; you’d merely be in a perpetual pursuit of an impossible dream. So why couldn’t I apply the same groom-your-own-grass-first mentality and stick it out at one job for more than three years? Was she right – was I really a job hopper?

Lucky you.

Lucky you.

Of course, that was before. After days and nights of self-questioning and reflection, I realised that I had been drawing a faulty parallel between the two. It’s true that the idea of finding a perfect partner is flawed because no one is perfect. It’s also not wrong to liken the notion to your job search. “A healthy relationship is about finding alignment. Once you feel there is interest and likeability, you and your partner can work things out,” says Chan Ngee Key, career management coach at Springboard Talent. “The same can be said of those looking for the so-called perfect job. It doesn’t exist. As long as you are interested and you enjoy your role and the company, you can make the best of your choice.”

And there lies the one difference in my case: My relationship is constantly growing; professionally, I wasn’t.

A surefire sign to consider a job change.

A surefire sign to consider a job change, I’d say.

I’m not so sure I like the label “job hopper” because it implies the person is a fickle-minded wanderer. Like my previous jobs, the decision to leave wasn’t made on a whim. As much as I was attached to my then-company, there wasn’t any room for growth – and that was reason enough for me to move on. “A lack of career growth within the organisation, when you can no longer effectively contribute in your role, when your job is taking a toll on your health … these are all legitimate reasons for you to explore a new job,” says Chan. “Job hopping was markedly more frowned upon in the past, but the mindset has evolved over the years. If you left your previous jobs with valid reasons, your resume shouldn’t reflect badly on you as an employee.”

Here are some benefits of regular job change (for the right reasons):

  • You build a valuable network of contacts
  • You become familiar with the inner workings of your industry
  • You adapt quickly to new surroundings
  • You get to pick up new skills
  • You tend to make more money

As for me, leaving a salaried job for Material World is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my career. It’s been more than a year since its inception, and the room for growth still seems infinite. In hindsight, I don’t regret any of my career choices. The lessons I’ve learned from every one of them are invaluable, and I carry them with me as I move forward along my career path. So, no, I wouldn’t say I’m a job hopper; I’m a smart worker.

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as (now, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

Career, Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

Killer Career Advice From The Women Of Game Of Thrones – Deborah Tan

Resident Game Of Thrones fan Deborah Tan reveals the important career lessons one can learn from the awe-inducing women of George R.R Martin’s epic story. Yep, even the crazed Cersei Lannister can teach us a thing about being great at our jobs!

The bloodletting, the lusting, the plotting, the scheming, and the thousand gruesome ways to kill a person … Game Of Thrones feeds our inner beast so well, Sunday nights without it will not be like Sunday nights at all. We are one episode away from the end of Season 4 and I’m already feeling the withdrawal symptoms.

While the men get plenty of air-time, Game Of Thrones rock my socks because its women are in a class of their own. They often appear helpless and deranged (yep, Cersei, you), but you won’t last long in the world of GoT if you pissed them off. On this Monday, take a leaf from their books (maybe more George R.R Martin’s) and put these career advice to practice now:

1. Draw The Lines
Don’t ever be afraid to lay down the boundary. Some people will always try to push their luck, give them an inch … Don’t even let them have a millimeter. You know what you can accept, you know how you want to play the game. So …


2. Build Relationships, Forge Alliances
Feel free to play the “family” card. It attracts loyalty, it fosters trust and it builds team spirit. Of course, if your definition of “family” is more Lannister than Stark, I recommend you leave that till after office hours.


3. Be Tough
When the going gets tough, the tough … sucks it up. There is a time to feel sorry for yourself and there is a time to put on your bravest front and show your enemies what you are truly capable of. If you really want to let rip and cry, save it for a time when it will really matter.


4. Don’t Settle For No.2 
Aim to be at the top of your game. There’s really no point in just eking out an existence. When you step into the office, I want you to chant this to yourself 10 times:


5. Show Off Whenever You Have The Chance
If you have it, flaunt it. In the corporate world, you need to know how to toot your own horn, market yourself. Don’t count on anyone – your boss, the HR people … – to make that promotion happen. You need to go in there and tell them how wonderful you are and why you deserve to be [see Point 4]:


6. Don’t Mince Your Words
You know how when women work together, and they are not happy about something, they tend to beat about the bush and go all tongue-tied? Well, let’s Ygritte the Wildling show you what the meaning of being direct is:


7. Thicken Your Skin
Even if you’re offended, don’t show it. People at work going out of their way to irritate you? Show them you’re above it all by showing how little you think of their antics. If all else fails, hit back:


8. Stop Caring
When you realize you can do so much better elsewhere … just make sure you leave with your head held high and don’t allow any old loyalties and alliances to change your mind:

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She thinks all the men in Game Of Thrones are rather grubby-looking. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

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Career, Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

Before You Reach Breaking Point, Read This. – Vanessa Tai

Do you find yourself working extra long hours and falling ill often as a result? Be careful, work-related stress is a slippery slope towards a mental burnout. Vanessa Tai finds out how we can get a handle on stress. 

material world_tired office workers

It’s not news that Singapore is a stressed-out nation, but a series of reports have recently emerged about how more young professionals are facing burnouts and depression. In a survey conducted by Regus in November 2013, 67 percent of Singaporean workers said they’re experiencing more stress-related illness due to economic volatility. A recent report in The Straits Times also revealed that psychiatrists are seeing more patients with mental health disorders due to work stress.

Although most of us understand the importance of downtime, there’s still a sense of guilt and perpetual fear of missing out that holds us back from fully relaxing. I guess this is in part due to our work culture – we tend to associate ourselves so intrinsically with our jobs that we feel out of depth when we’re not working. Then there’s also “the busy trap”. This phrase was first coined by The New York Times’ columnist Tim Kreider, and it points towards a culture where being busy is worn as a badge of honour. It’s a #humblebrag, if you will, about how your life is so full and productive that you don’t have time to slow down.

However, living a life that’s constantly in full throttle mode comes with a slew of unpleasant repercussions.  In 2012, a study of more than 6,600 Singaporean adults found that the most prevalent psychological problems here include anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, and alcohol abuse. According to mental healthcare professionals, a big reason for these disorders stem from work-related stress combined with living in a densely populated area like Singapore.

While Singapore currently has the fourth-highest life expectancy rate in the world, we shouldn’t get complacent and assume this will always the case. One just has to take a look at the USA. From being in the top five countries for life expectancy, the US has plummeted in recent years to its current 35th position. According to Dr Mark Liponis, Corporate Medical Director at Canyon Ranch* Lenox, this dismal ranking is due to skyrocketing stress and productivity levels as well as a decrease in exercise and healthy eating in the US. In a recent interview with the doctor, he told me sagely, “Don’t let Singapore become America.”

Dr Mark Liponis, Corporate Medical Director at Canyon Ranch Lenox

Dr Mark Liponis, Corporate Medical Director at Canyon Ranch Lenox

Okay, got it. So how does Dr Liponis propose we lower our stress levels?

Get Stronger

“Many people think getting stronger is just about the physical aspect. However, even as you build your physical strength, you’re also getting mentally fitter. You become more determined and resilient, and you don’t get as worried about things happening to you because you know you’ll be able to handle it. This is why I always recommend women to work on strength training when they hit the gym – it helps create confidence and grit.”

Slow Down

“People in the city always seem to be running, seemingly from one place to another, but many of us are actually running away from something. Perhaps some of us are running at full speed at work because we’re afraid of being seen as lazy or incompetent. Whatever it is, you need to slow down. There are two main causes of anxiety – one, being worried about something that might happen in the future; and two, being unable to let go of something in the past. It’s important to always bring your awareness back to the present. Here’s a trick – every time you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, take a couple of moments to breathe deeply. For each inhalation, take twice as long to exhale. You’ll soon find your stress levels going down.”

Get Proper Rest

“People don’t seem to appreciate the importance of a good night’s sleep. When you don’t have enough sleep, your mind isn’t as equipped to deal with problems later in the day, which can lead to even more anxiety.”

Make Small But Significant Changes

“Living in the city brings about plenty of other insidious forms of stress; namely pollution, a lack of access to whole foods, and constant exposure to noise and light. One way to combat air pollution is to install an air filter or air cleaner into your bedroom and work station. After all, these are the two places where you spend the most time.

I understand dining out is a big part of the local culture, and while it’s great that dining is such a social experience here, try to make discerning food choices as much as possible. Apart from knowing the type of ingredients that go into your meal, it’s also good to find out how the food is being prepared.

To deal with the problems of excessive noise and light, I highly recommend switching your phone to ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode before going to bed. You don’t want to be interrupted by a late-night email or someone replying to your Tweet! Also, try to ensure your bedroom is in an optimal state for restfulness – it should be quiet, cool, and dark.”

*Canyon Ranch is an award-winning brand of wellness retreats that include fitness, nutrition, and stress management services. From 2015, Canyon Ranch services will be available a hop, skip, and a jump away at Treasure Bay Bintan, an upcoming luxury resort development. Watch this space for more updates! 

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 27-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.

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Career, Self-Improvement

3 Steps To Getting The Most Out Of Your Career – Vanessa Tai

Do you sometimes feel stuck or like you’ve reached a plateau in your career but are unsure what to do? Vanessa Tai speaks to career coach Yasmine Khater on how to get yourself out of a career rut. 

According to the recent “What Women Want @ Work” study conducted by LinkedIn, 54.3 percent of respondents in Singapore said one of their main career challenges was being unable to see a clear career path. Incidentally, says Khater, that’s the first step to achieving career success.

Step 1: Know What You Want

Yasmine Khater, Chief Fearless Officer at Transpiral

Yasmine Khater, Chief Fearless Officer at Transpiral

Having worked with women from all over the world, Khater says a common trait she notices among women across cultures is that we often don’t know what we want. There exists a dichotomy between what people around us expect of us and what we want for ourselves, so we often feel pulled in many different directions. How do we silence the opinions surrounding us and dig deep to figure out what we really want?

Khater suggests coming up with three lists – 1) Should be; 2) Ought to be; and 3) Want to be. The first list is what the people around you  boss, partner, family, friends expect from you. The second is what you think you should be, based on these people’s opinions and expectations. Finally, the third list is what you truly want, which may have nothing to do with the first two lists. This may be a simple exercise, but it can illuminating to see the disparity between your wants versus other people’s expectations. From there, it’s up to you to find your voice and not bow down to outside opinion.

To illustrate this point, Khater shared with me about one of her client’s experiences. Her client is a working mother of young children who happened to love her job. Because her husband didn’t enjoy his job anyway, they made a joint decision that he would be a stay-home dad while she continued working. However, her parents were so unhappy that their daughter was being the sole breadwinner that they actually wanted her to divorce her husband. It was not easy for Khater’s client to convince her parents about the validity of her decisions, but ultimately, because she was clear about what she wanted to achieve in her career, she was able to stand by her decision with conviction.

Step 2: Communicate Your Wants

Women tend to be less vocal in the workplace, which makes it harder for bosses to know about your achievements or career aspirations. If you want progress, you’ll need to ensure you’re visible. Khater cited another example of her client who had managed a big project on her own. After the project was completed, she walked into her boss’ office and said, “I’ll like you to congratulate me.” Of course, her boss was initially taken aback, but after she explained to him about the project she successfully managed, he was impressed at her capabilities and confidence. From that incident, he took more notice of her and assigned her bigger responsibilities.

I understand not all of us may be gutsy enough to pull off that move. Or perhaps your office culture is such that marching straight into your boss’ office may be frowned upon. That’s okay. You don’t have to be “in-your-face” when it comes to highlighting your successes. The most important thing to remember is, you need to be proactive in keeping your bosses updated on what you’ve been doing. Also, be open with them what else you hope to achieve during your time in the company. Khater says, “In my experience, people are generally pretty supportive if you tell them exactly what you want.”

What does success look like to you?

What does success look like to you?

Step 3: “I Am Enough” 

This final step is actually an ongoing process, which all of us have to keep at no matter how long we’ve been in the workforce. And that is to always remind yourself, “I am enough.” Different experiences or circumstances can throw us off and lead us to thinking things such as, “I’m not capable enough,” or “I’m not experienced enough.”

You’ll be surprised at how many sub-conscious messages we have lingering at the back of minds, colouring the way we think and behave. For example, according to the recently-released Cetaphil Skin Confidence Report 2014, 38 percent of women in Singapore chose to stay at home when they had a bad skin day, and 28 percent of women even postponed an important event because they didn’t feel beautiful enough.

To combat this defeatist mindset, you first need to be aware of all these lingering thoughts. When you have some quiet time, sit down and make two lists:

1) “I am _____ enough.”

2) “I am NOT _____ enough.”

In these two lists, fill in all the messages you’ve been telling yourself, whether consciously or sub-consciously. It can be anything, from the way you look to how you present yourself. Once you’re aware of all these messages, you’ll get a clearer picture on how they affect your behaviour. From there, it may be easier to take corrective steps.

Apart from creating awareness of these thoughts, Khater also suggests three tools that can serve as tangible reminders. Once you’ve decided what you want from your career (see Step 1), create a vision board that will spur you on when you’re wavering or feeling unsure. You can also start something what Khater calls her “Love File” where she files away emails and letters from satisfied clients, and a “Gratitude Jar” where she drops in notes on the things she’s grateful for. These three tools are especially useful whenever she needs a confidence boost or a reminder as to why she’s _____ enough.

material world_inspiratinal quote career

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 26-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.

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Career, Self-Improvement

Is Passion Overrated? – Vanessa Tai

When it comes to your career, most people would tell you to “Follow your passion”. However, this is increasingly being viewed as unsound career advice. Why?

During a recent work lunch, I had a very interesting conversation with someone from a similar industry. She was sharing with me how the turnover rate among her younger team members is very high, with a lot of them saying they want to “follow their passion”. For some of them, they do a complete career switch and end up thriving in their new position. For the majority though, “following their passion” entails travelling for a bit or and then returning to a regular job before losing their mojo and quitting again.

I can certainly relate to this desire to have a job I was “passionate” about. Back when I was still a bright-eyed student, I was 100 percent convinced that I wanted to pursue Advertising as a career. Yes, I was attracted to the glam factor of the industry but I was also intrigued by how ad folks were able to craft such fascinating stories about individual brands. Even though I knew junior executives in Advertising didn’t earn much, I didn’t care because hey, “it’s my passion!” However, after graduating with a degree in Advertising and working in the industry for over a year, I realised it wasn’t all that it was cut out to be. I was tired of telling the same old brand stories and felt like I wasn’t going anywhere in my career. Apparently, I had lost my “passion”.

After I left Advertising, I found myself in journalism almost by chance. Someone mentioned an opening in a women’s magazine, I applied, got the job … and as they say, the rest is history. Prior to joining the magazine, I had never really considered being a journalist, but surprisingly, it felt like a perfect fit almost from day one. I loved meeting new people and finding out about their lives. I loved figuring out the best way to tell their stories, one that would resonate with whoever was reading it. Of course, it wasn’t all cotton candy and poetic justice. I had my fair share of disappointments and eating of humble pie as a young writer, but that only fuelled my determination to improve myself and my writing.

material world_love my job

Nobody loves their job THIS much … do they?

What I’m trying to say is, to be passionate about your job is not about feelings of excitement or enthusiasm. It’s not so much about “doing what you love” but learning to love what you do. While you definitely shouldn’t be in a job you hate, not everybody goes to work each day feeling pumped up and ready to save the world … AND THAT’S OKAY! Sometimes, a job is just a job and we shouldn’t feel like it is THE thing that will give us that ultimate sense of fulfillment.

It’s more important that your job challenges you and continuously gives you room for growth and development. When you’re too comfortable in your role, it can be easy to become complacent or uninspired. Whatever your job role is, you should always look for ways to push yourself out of your comfort zone. I’m not exactly the best example of this, but my fellow Material World co-founder Deborah is. She’s a shining example of someone who’s always expanding and improving on her skill-set. Besides writing and editing, she’s taught herself plenty of other skills such as design, website development, and even creating simple mobile applications. I daresay it’s all these little successes that make her love her job the way she does, even on days where things seem bleak or uncertain.

American cartoonist Scott Adams articulates this phenomenon best in a column he wrote for TIME:

In my experience, success requires a minimum amount of brains, energy and ambition. You need a plan that makes sense on paper. And you need luck.

Passion is optional.

But if you want to experience passion, you’ll have plenty of it after success. Over the course of my eclectic career, I have felt excited every time I tried a new business venture. As the venture failed — and most did — my excitement drained away. But for the few that worked, success made me feel something that one might call passion. In other words, success causes passion more than passion causes success.

The next time you feel bored or uninspired at your job, don’t immediately start scrabbling around for a new job. Ask yourself what else can you learn at your present role, or are there skills you can pick up that will take you to the next level in your career? More often than not, passion is not about a change in environment. It’s about a shift in perspective.

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 26-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.

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Career, Self-Improvement

How To Find Meaning In Your Work – Vanessa Tai

Whether you’re just starting out in your career or are a seasoned professional, it’s likely you want a job that you find fulfilling. 

Do you love what you do?

Do you love what you do?

According to recent graduate employment data from the three universities in Singapore, the employment rate among graduates has dipped and salaries have also remained stagnant from 2012. While several academics and university staff have expressed puzzlement as to why this is so, there’ve been a number of theories put forth to explain this drop. One of the reasons posited by consultant Richard Hartung is that “too many students are too narrowly focused for jobs today that require broad-based knowledge”. I reckon there’s some truth to that. Today’s fast-moving and unpredictable job market means you need to be well-equipped with skills and knowledge across multiple disciplines, not just the ones you picked up in your major.

Another reason I believe is causing the dip in employment is that many millenials (people born after 1980) are holding out for “meaningful” jobs. Recently, a study done by Net Impact indicated the millenial generation expect to make a difference in the world through their work, with more than half of millenials saying they would take a 15 percent pay cut to work for an organisation that matches their values. Even among my friends, I often hear them say things like, “I want a job that makes a difference.”

Surprisingly, it’s not just the young and idealistic who are seeking meaningful work. Several articles have been written about how career veterans are also increasingly seeking out new career paths that they enjoy and provide them with an environment where they feel valued.

I guess it’s not hard to see why. The bulk of our time is spent at work, so it’s only natural that we want to do something that resonates with our values or has a positive impact on society. The knee-jerk reaction would be to seek out work in a non-profit organisation whose causes you champion, but very often, circumstances do not allow it. There are bills to be paid, dependents to be taken care of, and so on. So if you’re unable to make a career switch, are there still ways to find a sense of purpose in your present job? Yes, if you heed the following advice.

Amidst a sea of unhappy office workers, you can make a difference.

Amidst a sea of unhappy office workers, you can make a difference.

Connect To The Broader Contribution Of Your Company

When you work in a non-profit or public sector, it’s pretty straightforward to see who benefits from your work. However, if you’re in a job that doesn’t involve firsthand interaction with the end-consumer, you probably don’t have a tangible reminder that what you do provides some sort of meaning to them. In this case, you’ll need to pinpoint the contribution your company makes and how your job scope enables that contribution. Write down a list of the ways your job is part of this contribution, and stick it somewhere you can always see. As they say, every cog in the wheel is important.

Recognise That Finding “Meaning” Is A Long-Term Project

You may have a crystal-clear idea of what positive social impact looks like – “I want to set up a social enterprise for young, single mothers” – or perhaps you just know that you “wanna make this world a better place”. Whatever it is, you need to be prepared for plenty of trial and error. After all, you’re probably not interested in scaling the traditional career pyramid anymore, so things will no longer be as straightforward. It will be a series of projects and jobs, each taking you one step closer to your “ideal”.

If you’re looking for a job, look out for opportunities or company whose values excite you and inspire you to wake up in the morning. If you’re already in a job, find out about your company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme and how you can get involved. Your company doesn’t have one? Hey, this is a perfect opportunity for you to get one started!

Look Beyond Your Workplace

As much as our identities are intrinsically linked to our jobs, we should also remind ourselves to step outside the professional arena and get reacquainted with the things we love. It can be as simple as indulging your hobbies (be it gardening, watching films, baking, etc) or something that requires more commitment such as being a volunteer. These activities put you in a positive state of mind, which then spills over to your overall attitude at work.

For me, I really enjoy watching TED talks and attending courses. (I’m not even kidding.) Over time, I’ve found that all these seemingly random interactions with new ideas and new people have helped me be a better worker. I’m able to see the link between two seemingly disparate ideas more quickly, and whenever a project requires specific contacts, I’m able to call upon a more diverse group of people for help.

Ultimately, I believe there will never be a perfect job or career path. You could be in your “dream job” and there will still be piddling issues that bug you. The important thing is to bloom wherever you’re planted, and from there, you can stretch your branches outward and create that positive influence you desire.

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 26-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.

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Career, Character & Soul, Entrepreneurship, Self-Improvement

The Surprising Secret To Success – Tan Lili

Poor Denise recently admitted to reaching her breaking point, but she’s also learned quite a bit from the ordeal and has since gotten a better handle on stress; Deborah wrote a poignant piece on our innate need for love and support, and how she’s found it in her boyfriend during a recent almost-breakdown; and Vanessa reminded us it’s okay to not be okay, that we can gain strength from weakness.

Going by our posts on Material World the past couple of weeks, it’s pretty telling that all four of us are feeling more than a little stressed out. We are up to our necks in work, yet there’s never enough to ensure a steady cash flow. Sometimes, the office feels like a pressure cooker of financial worries and personal pride, and it’d take just one tiny setback for it to burst.

We aren’t the only ones trapped in the proverbial pressure cooker. In this success-hungry culture, we’ve been conditioned to believe that overworking is not the exception but the rule. To succeed, we have to continuously push forward, set unrealistically high goals, achieve the impossible, and then strive to meet the next big target. We can’t stop; the moment we enter a lull period, something must be wrong. Stress is the only way forward. Stress is good.

But what if I told you the secret to success is to work less?

girl happy

A whole slew of studies has confirmed it. According to a US study on working memory capacity, too much focus has a negative effect on our creative problem-solving skills. A brain-imaging research found that relaxation leads to enhanced memory and intellectual understanding. Another study showed that play improves our vascular health and makes us present – which translates to us being in a state of true happiness.

Most recently, a University of Toronto research discovered a new pathway of attention in the brain that, when engaged, improves our emotional well-being. Known as interoceptive awareness, it involves the evolutionarily older parts of the brain that are associated with emotions and physical sensations – unlike the newer and more often used parts of the brain that help us distinguish humans from other species and from one another. By training our interoceptive awareness, we tap into bodily awareness that is more instinctual and less affected by social or self-judgement. In other words, it separates us from our thinking mind and helps us calm ourselves down in moments of stress.

Conclusion? By working less, you will achieve so much more. Prioritising your work is always the number-one step. After you’ve made a list of what needs to be done in order of importance, take a look at the list and be honest with yourself: Can you handle everything on it, or would it save your sanity if you delegated certain tasks or outsourced them to a freelancer? Like Denise wrote, there is no shame in asking for help. We are humans, after all – we have our limits.

Even though all four of us at Material World have been feeling rather strung out lately, we make sure to take a break every now and then so we don’t crack under the pressure. For starters, we will be eternally grateful for the Happy Hour promo at Unusual Palate, an eatery located within our office building. Not only does the beer break help take our minds off work for a while, it also makes for great team bonding as well as reminds us that, at the end of the day, we all share a mutual desire for happiness.

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as (now, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

Career, Self-Improvement

5 Career Lessons From Oscars 2014 – Vanessa Tai

You can’t go on the Internet without reading all about Oscars 2014. Aside from learning how to take a highly shareable selfie (tip: just cram in as many celebs as you can), there are actually several career lessons we can take away from the entertainment industry’s biggest night. 

You will fall (and fall again)

She may have won the award for Best Actress in 2013, but Jennifer Lawrence sure isn’t winning any prizes for poise. After tripping on her way up the Oscars stage last year, the American Hustle star took another spill on the red carpet this year, and very nearly took down the woman in front of her. But in typical J Law good humour, she laughed it off and went her merry way.

Lesson 1: In the workplace, we will stumble, make mistakes, and perhaps even look like a fool once in awhile. It’s normal and that’s what makes us human. Don’t take yourself so seriously! I’ve always believed that if we don’t want others to laugh at us, we should learn to laugh at ourselves first. Or as Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones put it, “Once you’ve accepted your flaws, no one can use them against you.”

And be disappointed time and again 

So, our dearest Leo got snubbed by the Academy AGAIN. Despite consistently delivering stellar performances, the guy just can’t seem to catch an (Oscar) break. While we may not be A-list Hollywood celebrities, I’m sure many of us can identify with this lack of recognition in one way or another. Perhaps you’ve put in long hours at work but got passed over for a promotion, or maybe a co-worker took credit for a project you did.

While Leo is the most famous for being unlucky at the Oscars, there are plenty of other great actors who always give their all but rarely get acknowledged. For example, Denzel Washington only won his first Oscar for Best Actor in 2002, after more than 20 years in the business!

Lesson 2: You can beat yourself up over the unfairness of life and grow resentful. Or you can put your head down and continue to do good work. 

Don’t forget to have fun!

She may not have won anything that night, but Meryl Streep won our hearts all over again when she locked eyes with Pharrell and shimmied along to “Happy”.

Lesson 3: It’s important to take time off work and just be goofy. Whether you go for an extended holiday or a quiet staycation, spending time away from work can actually help you perform better when you return.

Always remember your roots

Jared Leto may be a big-time rock star and now newly-minted Oscar winner, but he reveals his softer side with a moving tribute to his mum and elder brother. In his speech, he thanked his mum – who singlehandedly raised both him and his brother – by saying, “I just want to say, I love you, Mom. Thank you for teaching me to dream.”

Lesson 4: No matter what sort of career decisions we make, our loved ones are more likely than not to be our biggest fans. We may not always get along with our family members, but at the end of the day, their support is what keeps us going during the tough times. As much as you can, try and find ways to show your appreciation – be it by taking your parents out for a meal, or even a simple “thank you” to the partner who’s always stood by you.

But above all, be honest with yourself.

material world_lupita

In her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress, Lupita Nyong’o said, “When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.” As children, we may have had grandiose dreams to be successful or to save the world but as we grew older (and more jaded), these dreams may have fallen by the wayside. Sometimes, we need to step away from the rat race and ask ourselves honestly if this is really what we want to do for the rest of our lives. Are you doing work that makes you feel fulfilled?

Lesson 5: No matter where you are in your career path, it’s worthwhile to take a timeout to examine if you’re blindly chasing empty goals, goals that no longer hold any meaning for you. And if you are, what steps can you take to rectify the situation?

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 26-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets

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