Opinions, Self-Improvement

I’m Graduating. Now What? – Matthew Fam

Are you in your early twenties and still deciding what you do with your life? While staying focused on a single ambition early on can give you a headstart among corporate ranks, there’s nothing wrong taking your time to decide which career is right for you. By Matthew Fam.

There is a rumbling in the air: a brand new wave of people is surging forth into the workforce, like an impending tsunami. Alas, the first batch of post-80’s Millennials are done with university; Facebook feeds are being flooded with graduation gown selfies. And the top remark I hear from most of them?

“I don’t know what I want to do.”

Myself? I have a year till graduation, and- with my devotion of time to studies, copywriting, arts administration, and performing on stage for various young theatre groups- I have too many things to do!

Here’s where things get complicated. Friends advise that I should decide on a career path. My university lecturer tells me that I “need to focus”. When this happens, I’m thinking:



(Before triple somersaulting my way out of the NUS AS5 General Office.)

The fact is, graduates and students alike are facing the same pressure: pool your energy and resources into a set career path for maximum mileage. By principle, you would be able to devote your focus on work at hand, and rise up the ranks faster than someone else who takes her time to decide.

A one-track path to success

This early decision to decide on a set career path does reward people.

A fellow intern at a women’s magazine I used to work for- who has established her passion in journalism and the media industry early on- has landed a full-time stint at another publication since. Similarly, friends who have channelled their time into theatre have been awarded prestigious arts scholarships from government boards to study overseas.

At this point, I’m thinking, “Am I missing out on something??” Is it truly better to stick to a single path since it’s a more convenient route to success?

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to follow through with an early decision. But my contention here is that it shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach for everyone else.

5869903627_e8acd44f69_zI am a closet wanderer!

Right now, I would classify myself a closet wanderer. And despite dabbling with various jobs over the past two years, I haven’t made up my mind on what I want to do.

For example, I’m not 100% certain if I will work in a women’s magazine in five years time because of 1) the rapidly changing nature of print publishing, and 2) the long-term prospects of being a male working up the ranks of said publication type in Singapore.

This uncertainty scares me. It almost feels as though I will never be able to live life to the fullest if I keep up with this indecision.

However, for those who wander- fret not. Heed these three pieces of advice, and you have a shot at being just as successful as those who make early decisions.

junglegymSometimes, wandering can boost your career. 

According to Sarah Robb O’Hagan, President of fitness chain Equinox, “Careers are more like jungle gyms than ladders- sometimes a sideways or backward step can propel you forward.” Likewise, don’t feel limited to stick to a specific career path. Your exploration could reward you with the numerous transferable skills picked up along the way.

Your journey is yours to make, and should not be influenced by another person’s definition of success.

Try being a freelancer first before deciding to go full-time.

Grounding yourself in a desk-bound job straight after graduation can be daunting- especially if you later find out that this isn’t a career you like.

Try freelancing. Take up an internship and (politely!) ask your supervisor if there are opportunities for you to contribute on a part-time basis. Don’t feel as though you need to dive head-first into the corporate jungle. Who knows? You might even enjoy the freedoms afforded by being a full-time freelancer!

Sharpen your skills.

Wandering can be seen to benefit you in more ways than you think. But how can you match up to other people who have been taught skills in their vocation-oriented university course? This is where self-teaching is crucial. You need to do your homework. Be proactive in eating, sleeping, and breathing the very industry you want to try out; talk to people who are already working in them.

That old adage of ‘practice makes perfect’? Your new mantra.


Sure, at some point, a focus on what you want to do would be beneficial (you can’t do 20 things at the same time!), but don’t succumb to the pressure of making that decision right now when you don’t feel ready.


About the Author: Matthew Fam is a contributing writer of Material World, and has worked at Cosmopolitan Singapore as an intern and Contributing Beauty Assistant. He writes, teaches, and performs for the stage. Matthew enjoys museum visits, Singaporean Theatre, and spends too much of his undergraduate allowance on magazines. Follow him on Instagram @mattjfam.

If you liked this post, you might like:

1. 20 Things You Will Learn In Your 20s – Deborah Tan

2. 7 Lies You’ll Hear About Millennials – Matthew Fam

3. Myth: Job Hopping Is Career Suicide – Tan Lili

Entertainment, Lifestyle

7 Lies You’ll Hear About Millennials – Matthew Fam

Millennials are not as bad as they’re made out to be. Seriously! Contributing writer Matthew Fam debunks the  7 negative traits commonly associated with this generation, and insists that this misunderstood bunch has much to be celebrated for.

#Justsaying, whenever I read articles of why Millennials are lazy, selfish, entitled, or [fill in negative trait], I’m like:

But on the inside:
There are major misconceptions out there about us, okay? And I think it’s easy for people to discount the capability, passion, drive and resilience that we have within us. It’s just expressed in different ways from generations past. Here are the 7 lies you’ll hear about Millennials:

1. We want to be mutli-hyphenated everything because we’re fickle.
We are the generation most prone to job hopping. Forbes listed that 91% of Millennials expect to stay within a job for less than three years, which translates to over 15 jobs in our entire career! Unfortunately, this gets misinterpreted as us being fickle for not being grounded in our ambitions. However, with a plethora of transferrable skills learnt, job hopping is hardly career suicide or disadvantageous, as this article will tell you.

2. We MUST have our sacrosanct weekends. (Don’t touch them!)
We’re said to demand work flexibility and leave at 6pm on the dot every day. In fact, the statistics from a study by Cisco backs this up: with 69% of Millennials believing that office attendance is unnecessary on a regular basis, heaven forbid that you touch our weekends!

Sure, we value free time and a work-life balance. But we also know how to manage our expectations to find a compromise, and don’t shy from hard work- even if it means clocking in overtime. We make those hours at the office count and work. It. Out.

Why? Because we are…

3. We expect to climb the corporate ladder at an abnormally fast pace.
Entry-level position today, CEO tomorrow. Truth be told, detractors tend to view us as entitled little brats.

This suggests that we lack the patience to gain adequate experience in a job before being handed bigger responsibilities. Yes, sometimes our inflated ambition gets the better of us, but if there’s one thing this generation must be lauded for, it’s our undying idealism. We don’t settle for mediocrity.

4. We’re selfish because we take gap years and spend our first paychecks on holidays.
Q: When does taking gap years and travelling the world become a bad thing?
A: When delaying a salaried income and not providing for your family unfairly labels you as selfish.

YOLO (you only live once), people! Besides, often times, Millennials make use of their gap year to take up internships, part-time work, or volunteer for a cause. The extra income earned from these ventures go into our vacation funds. So we’re not leeching off from parents, mm-kay? #Independence


Sorry, we do not all behave like Miley.

5. We’re reckless, and we pride bad behavior above anything else.
“Oh, that’s how the youngsters these days behave.” (While commenting on Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball music video.)

First of all, it’s funny how people make assumptions on our generation’s behaviour solely based on Miley’s bare bum. Secondly, NOBODY twerks in the streets for fun or enjoys public nudity! Miley Cyrus is not our spirit animal!

6. We speak in nothing but hashtags, emojis and tumblr gifs.
Okay, fine. So we can get a weeee bit overdramatic with the way we communicate. But seriously, just because we pepper our speech with these humorous titbits doesn’t mean we have forgotten how to speak eloquently! The English Language has not been butchered, RELAX. #Itiswhatisits #Sorrynotsorry

7. We are all experts in technology.
According to a study by PayScale and Millennial Branding, online marketing and social media are reportedly the most common job skills among Millennials. However, that doesn’t mean we’re complete whizzes with technology. It’s one thing to be able to update our Twitter accounts, or make credit card payments on ASOS. But no- if you expect us to programme a phone application from scratch, then this is what we have to say:



What other misconceptions of Millennials do you know of? Share with us in the comments section below!

About the Author: Matthew Fam is a contributing writer of Material World, and has worked at Cosmopolitan Singapore as an intern and Contributing Beauty Assistant. He writes, teaches, and performs for the stage. Matthew enjoys museum visits, Singaporean Theatre, and spends too much of his undergraduate allowance on magazines. He is also a proud Millennial! Follow him on Instagram @mattjfam.

If you liked this post, you might also like:

1. I Miss How Facebook Used To Be! – Matthew Fam

2. 4 Strategies To A More Decisive You – Deborah Tan

3. The 17 Emotional Stages You Go Through At Beerfest Asia – Tan Lili

Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

10 Reasons Why It’s Great To Be A Diva – Matthew Fam

I never got the hate with divas. I mean, has a healthy level of confidence ever been bad? (err… no.) Sure, diva behaviour is frowned upon if you throw a hissy fit every five seconds. But there’s so much greatness in being this wonder woman archetype that even you have to give it a try. Here are 10 reasons why: 

tumblr_inline_mvr3smiHni1s59yix 1. You know you’re good
B*tch please, you are confident in your capabilities and talents without resorting to arrogance. And because of this self-confidence, you are decided on your goals. Promotion in 2 years time? Set. Rule the world? Oh yeah, sure, like it’s no big deal. You know exactly what you want, so you go get ’em, baby.




2. You look fabulous 
Haters gonna hate, but you know you’re looking drop dead gorgeous. You keep appearances well, and never let your fab-o-meter go south. Even when you leave home without makeup, you work it like it’s the next big trend, #BareFacedBeauty.

3. You are unfazed by setbacks
Failure doesn’t exist in your dictionary, mm-kay? You don’t have time to entertain it, and your ego is certainly above it. A diva is an optimist: you merely see failure as a work in progress, and a constant refinement until you achieve perfection.

tumblr_myilyvB3Sl1sixq5yo1_5004. You don’t hide in the shadow of your man 
It is one thing to put aside your own ego to compromise and form a loving relationship with another man. It is another to be completely eclipsed by him. In the diva’s code of conduct, you are not defined by your man- his job, how much he earns or his social status. Instead, you have equal placing on the mantle.


tumblr_inline_mv1x89p9yv1s59yix 5.You crush your enemies like a cockroach 
Losing face doesn’t sit well with you. And neither does anyone who thinks that badmouthing is ever a good idea. Sure, confrontation is never desired; but when push comes to shove, a diva doesn’t even need to sharpen her claws. Her caustic wit will be quick to redress anyone who dares sass her out.

Outside of tiffs, this quick wit serves especially well when forming positive impressions and thinking on her feet (Career & Relationships: 1, Enemy: 0).

6. You will be envied

Fact: you can’t please everyone. Some people will absolutely hate your guts, and that’s okay. But know that deep inside, everyone just admires you for your confidence and, you know, just being so darn amazing. You may even inspire those around you to emulate your fabulosity. So trust in your identity, and be proud to be a diva.

7. You are fearless
Despite the brazen attitude divas are known to have, there will still be times when fear sets in, for example, during a major career decision. However, what makes a true diva is her ability to maintain inner poise and think clearly. Seasoned divas have this down to a tee by breezing through sticky situations, but don’t discount the younger ones- they bite down hard on insecurities and rise to the occasion.


Maybe a teeensy bit more subtlety…

8. You get straight to the point 
Divas are efficient and will tell it like it is. Forget passive aggression (who has time for that??) you just zero in for the kill. Being straight forward spares everyone the time and trouble trying to figure out what the other party wants. However, do note that being straightforward doesn’t give you the license to be rude. The difference lies in how you craft your message in a respectful manner.

9. You know when to say ‘no’
“I’m not your b*tch, don’t hang your sh*t on me,” once sang Madonna in her 1995 hit, Human Nature. Make this your mantra. Internalise. Apply. You will not be treated like a doormat. Your shining sense of self worth doesn’t allow you to squander precious seconds doing something that is not worth your time. *Three snaps in a ‘Z’ formation*


10. You will be remembered
When played correctly (read: totes not acceptable to be a full-out monster 24/7), the diva card is your biggest bet to being remembered for the right reasons. In a sea of cookie-cutter personalities, standing out is not a problem for you. Plus, with the magic combination of poise, class and grace, you will be respected by those around.



So, what other ways is it great to be a diva? Share with us in the comments section below!

About the Author: Matthew Fam is a contributing writer of Material World, and has worked at Cosmopolitan Singapore as an intern and Contributing Beauty Assistant. He writes, teaches, and performs for the stage. Matthew enjoys museum visits, Singaporean Theatre, and spends too much of his undergraduate allowance on magazines.

If you liked this post, you might also like:

1. The 8 Times You’re A Total Biatch Without Knowing It – Matthew Fam

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

3. Unleashing My Inner Competitive Side – Denise Li

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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Character & Soul, Deborah Tan, Entrepreneurship, Opinions, Self-Improvement

When You Have Been Listed as “Competition” – Deborah Tan

Do you get upset whenever someone says you’re their competitor? Deborah Tan says you shouldn’t and in fact, you should learn to see it in a more positive way.

armwrestlingI used to cringe at the words “competitor” and “competition”. Why? Well, let’s just say I’m the sort who would pick running a marathon over a 100m sprint just because in the former, you are encouraged to “run your own race”. And even though many of my friends have described me as a competitive person, my brand of competitiveness focuses on improving myself rather than taking people down.

Recently, a friend brought up how her boss told her that we – Material World – are their “competitors” and she was therefore not allowed to do business with us. It didn’t come as a shock – we weren’t expecting to be received with open arms in the first place. But what surprised me was how well (as in, I didn’t lose sleep over it) I took the news.

In another life, I would have taken to being called a “competitor” very badly. It would have hurt my feelings to know that there was a person out there who thought my presence in his life was unwanted, a nuisance, and something to be crushed. The old Deborah would have wanted to find out how I could go back to being “liked” by this person, I would have done all I could to be viewed as an ally, a friend, and a partner.

As I mulled over what my friend told me, something lit up inside me. Her boss had, unexpectedly, paid us the ultimate compliment.

The Unexpected Compliment
When and why do we see someone else as competition?

Imagine this: You’re dating a guy and you find out another woman has her sights set on him. Upon further investigation, you discover that (1) she’s not attractive (2) her personality isn’t that great either and (3) she’s just not his type. Would you worry? Would you see her as a worthy competitor?

To call someone your competitor, you are actually paying that person a compliment. You are:

1. Telling her that she’s doing something right

2. Telling her that she worries you

3. Telling her that you are thinking about her more than you care to admit

You only see someone as the competition when you feel threatened.

Are You Afraid?
Predictably, most people react to competition the same way Margaret Chan’s character in Masters Of The Sea, an old TV series in the 90s, would – crush them like a cockroach. While loathing and despise are two of the emotions most of us would bear towards our competitors, the one we don’t like to acknowledge is FEAR. Fear that the competition would do better, fear that the competition would prove us wrong, and fear that the competition would make us irrelevant. The more negatively we approach competition, the more it shows how great our fear towards it.

Cos honestly, there are more than enough love to go around ...

Cos honestly, there are more than enough love to go around …

Dealing With Competition In A Healthy Way
There is definitely a better, healthier way to deal with competition. Lisa Firestone, Ph.D, on Psychology Today states that, “… feeling competitive is 100 percent natural, and it is impossible to avoid it. The trouble comes when we start to express these feelings by lashing out at others or turning on ourselves. … Listening to and acting on our critical inner voice is the worst thing we can do when we feel competitive.”

To deal with competition in a clean and healthy way, Firestone recommends these steps:

1. Accept the competitive thought for what it is. Don’t rationalize or justify it. Allow yourself to take pleasure the angry thought. We are all just only human.

2. While competitive thoughts are acceptable because we are not infallible, being cruel to someone is not. Don’t start building a case against the person you’re feeling competitive with. Learn to let go.

3. Compete by challenging your inner critical voice, and not by diminishing the worth of the other person. Why try to slow your competitor down when you should aim to be faster and better?

One of the questions I’ve always hated answering is, “Who do you see as your competition?” If you have ever asked me this, you will know one of my favorite answers is, “There’s no competition because there is no one like me.” I never believe in competing with other people because I believe I am unique and what I have to offer is always going to be different. I believe in being the best I can be so people would find it hard to one-up me. To my friend’s boss, I would like to end this by assuring you that, as always, my greatest competitor is myself and while I thank you for seeing me as your competitor, I would like to say you’re definitely not mine.

Have a great week ahead!

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 likes liquid eyeliners, bright red lipsticks, tattoos, rock & roll, Mad Men, and Suits. She doesn’t believe in spending her time plotting and scheming to take the competition down, she believes in getting so far ahead, no one can catch up. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.



Career, Character & Soul, Entrepreneurship, Self-Improvement, Skills & Workshops

Hate Delegation? Here’s How To Overcome It – Deborah Tan

Your inability to delegate could cost you a promotion. Let Deborah Tan explain why it is important to learn how to delegate well and what are some of the points you need to bear in mind.

“You know, you don’t have to do it all. You can delegate,” an ex-boss told me this after giving me a 10page feature story to write.

It wasn’t until she brought it up that I realised I had a problem with delegation. I would take on a job and, not ask for any help. Management and leadership experts will tell you that people with an inability to delegate have trust issues. I did (and sometimes, I still do). Back then, I assumed that (1) people had their own shit to settle; (2) no one really wanted to take orders from a lowly assistant; and (3) somehow or other, I’d be disappointed with their contributions anyway.

Overwhelmed? Then start learning how to delegate!

Overwhelmed? Then start learning how to delegate!

I hated to be told to delegate because I saw it as just another “job” to do – one that would eventually require me to pick up after people and put up with their mediocrity. I detested the whole “briefing” process – explaining to someone what they must do because I couldn’t explicitly say I was really hoping for the sky, that he/she needed to surprise me by going beyond my expectations.

Do you feel the same way about “delegation”? Then you have come to the right place because I’m going to explain how I finally got the hang of it.

A Change In Mindset Is Required
If I didn’t learn to delegate, I think I probably would not have been promoted through the ranks. Delegation is an essential leadership quality and if you can switch from “it’s about cleaning up after people” to “it’s about providing the big picture for everyone to follow”, you will find it easier to learn how to delegate. Want that promotion? Then start delegating.

Good Delegation vs Bad Delegation
Over the years, I have learnt that there are differences between good delegation and bad delegation. The latter throws a list of To-Dos at his team members, sits back and wait for the finished product. To be a good delegator, you need to fulfill the following conditions:

1. Provide a Big Plan
You will find that the work delivered will be much closer to your expectation if you give your team a Big Plan. Whether it’s helping them visualize the workflow, planning the deadlines together … a Big Plan shows everyone how they are the sum of all things, emphasizes their importance in the grand scheme of things.

2. Work with Strengths and Weaknesses
As a leader, you are privy to what each member in your team can or cannot do. If someone has a bad eye for design, don’t give him the job of designing a logo. If someone lacks an eye for detail, don’t pass the contracts to him. When you exploit the strengths of people, you’ll also give yourself less stress.

3. Set Milestones, Targets and Deadlines
Don’t be vague about your expectations. If the project requires someone to put in two hours every Saturday, say it. If the job needs to be done by a certain time, write it down on a piece of paper and stick it on a place everyone can see.

Specificity Never Hurts 
Every job you delegate is made up of several small tasks. That’s why you need to draw out a job scope. If you are delegating the job of social media marketing to another person, you need to list down what “Social Media Marketing” consists of.

Aim for Specialization
Train people for roles they have a potential for. The beginning may be bumpy – the person may be resistant, he may not want to take on the role – but be patient. It is every leader’s nightmare to have many Jacks of all trades. If two people have similar skill set, you either have to fire one and hire someone else OR train one of them to do something else.

If you are the one being trained to do something else, I advise you against feeling resentful. It is not because your boss doesn’t appreciate your talent. Rather, by entrusting you with a job no one else can do, he is making you more indispensable to the company.

Be On The Same Page
Delegation is unattractive to many of us because we are often uncomfortable about imposing our standards on the person now doing the job. It is important to be on the same page EARLY ON because (1) no one gets surprised; (2) it reduces resentment and second-guessing; and (3) the brand message stays consistent. Of course, be careful of refusing to consider other points of view or trying new ways of doing things. When you delegate you have to be mindful that you are not delegating to robots. You are delegating to people who want to contribute and want to make a positive impact on the team and the organization.

At the end of the day, delegation is important because it not only helps an individual grow, it also helps a company focus on the things that matter. If chasing payments is getting in the way of you meeting clients and closing deals, it is time to delegate that job out to someone else.

Are you still unconvinced about the virtues of delegation? What is the thing that is stopping you from doing it? Share your thoughts with me in the Comments section below. I would love to read what you have to say.

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 likes liquid eyeliners, bright red lipsticks, tattoos, rock & roll, Mad Men, and Suits. She still has problems delegating and admits she has to learn to let go sometimes. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

This is not the end …
1. 4 Employee Benefits You Should Ask For

2. [Infographic] How To Conduct A Successful Meeting

3. What Your Boss Wants You To Know

Career, Self-Improvement

4 Employee Benefits You Should Ask For – Vanessa Tai

With the entire year sprawled out ahead of you, you’ve probably spent some time thinking about your career, and the changes you hope to make. Whether you’re looking for a new job, or have been in the same company for the past 10 years, it’s worthwhile asking for tweaks to your employee benefits package. After all, you’re probably spending the majority of your time working. Wouldn’t it be a morale booster if you could work more on your terms?

It may not always be easy to ask for a higher pay, but there are other things you can ask for to beef up your employee benefits package.

Be confident in your negotiation!

Be confident in your negotiations!

1. Additional Days Off
Most working professionals get between 14 and 21 days of annual leave. You’re probably familiar with trying to work around public holidays to maximise your vacation days. Well, wouldn’t it be easier if you could simply ask for a few more days of leave? Getting a few extra paid days off boosts your compensation package, and doesn’t put much of a dent to your company’s bottom line.

When negotiating with your employer, instead of just saying you want more leave, help them understand how a few additional days of rest is crucial for you to recharge and ultimately be more productive at work. Remember, the key to negotiation is to always make the outcome seem mutually favourable.

2. Flexible Working Hours

While flexible work schedules have been widely practised in most developed countries, workers in Singapore are still feeling their way around this arrangement. There are several ways in which you can enjoy flexi-work. For example, changing your daily schedule, so that you either come in a few hours earlier or later; or requesting to work from home once or twice a week.

If you’re a mum looking for flexi-work options, check out this website. Mums@Work (Singapore) is a portal offering information on flexible work solutions, as well as career advice for mothers who’re seeking a balance between work and family.

3. Transport Allowance
If your employer is unable to give you a raise, see if the company is able to give you a token sum each month to offset your transport expenses. Even if you don’t have to travel often for work, the daily commute can take quite a toll on your emotional wellbeing. If your company is able to pay for your daily cab fares (even if it’s just for one-way), it would definitely ease your stress, and loosen your cash flow.

4. Professional Development
Before asking if your company is able to send you for professional development courses, work out a list of options (be it courses, seminars or workshops) that are beneficial to your job scope, and be prepared to explain to your boss how each course can help you do your job better. It’s a win-win situation – you gain the knowledge and skills needed for career advancement, and your company gains a well-trained employee who can enhance the company’s efficiency.

If your employer is unable to give you a raise, and is also unwilling to meet you halfway with regards to your employee benefits package, you may want to consider another company that will. After all, your wellbeing and personal satisfaction is a vital ingredient for career success.

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

“So, What Do You Do?” – Vanessa Tai

"So, what do you do?"

“So, what do you do?”

When you’re meeting somebody for the first time, one of the first few things you’re likely to ask them is, “What do you do?” After all, it is a perfectly legitimate (and harmless) question right? Well, I thought so too until a recent Huffington Post article made me think twice. In the article, the writer says, “While the inquiry might seem harmless, it perpetuates a dangerous habit: The tendency to associate who we are with what we do.”

Most, if not all of us put in at least 8 to 10 hours a day into our jobs. Even when we’re not at work, our minds tend to be on some work issue or other, whether consciously or not. Which is why it’s become so easy for ourselves – and others – to pin our entire identity on our work identity. However, being overly reliant on your job as your main source of personal identity could lead to you feeling a sense of loss and emptiness when you eventually leave your job and have to look elsewhere for a sense of worth.

Surely there’s much more to ourselves than our jobs? Take me for example. I’m a writer who also runs her own business, and while the work is interesting, I would like to think there’re other facets of my identity that are valuable too. The question is, how do we extricate our true identity from our work identity?

Chan Ngee Key, career management coach at Springboard Talent, says it’s important to know your personal brand. He says, “Most people I’ve come across tend to hide behind large organisations. For example, one might say, ‘I’m the marketing manager at Microsoft.’ Those working in the IT industry may know a bit about your job scope, but for those outside the industry, it might be alien to them. This is why I always ask people to remove their organisation and their title when talking about themselves, and really think about who they are.”

material world_2

Celestine Chua, founder and life coach at Personal Excellence, agrees. She says, “To identify what your true identity is, you’ll need to identify the underlying values that drive you. For example, if you get excited when faced with challenges at work and get bored with routine, perhaps you’re someone who enjoys being in a highly competitive work environment. Your self-identity is likely to be tied to personal growth.”

So instead of seeing yourself as merely an engineer, perhaps your self-identity is someone who’s passionate about analysis. Or instead of merely being a journalist, perhaps you have a passion for learning new things. Chua adds, “We can change four to five careers in a lifetime, but our self-identity stays more or less consistent throughout, so it’s important to identify what is your core purpose in life.”

This brings to mind a TED talk that I watched recently. In the talk, clinical psychologist Meg Jay talked about the importance of identity capital. Identity capital is doing something that adds value to who you are. Be it taking up a new job, taking the plunge to start your own business or even just signing up for a course, you should invest in things that motivate you and give you a sense of purpose. As Jay says, “identity capital begets identity capital.” The more you invest in yourself, the higher your returns.

I truly hope this article motivates you to dig deeper to discover your core identity, one that runs much deeper than what you do for a living. Share with me your thoughts/experiences 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 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, Self-Improvement

Why Are We So Afraid Of Working Hard? – Deborah Tan

We’ve heard them all – the reasons why one should not pour himself into work.

“Life is short.”

“There is more to life than just giving your all to work.”

“You need to spend time with the ones who matter.”

“Money can’t buy you happiness.”

“Are you living your CV or are you living your eulogy?”

So many statements that demonise WORK, so many articles telling us why it is a necessary evil, why it is something we humans put up with, why it is something that should be done within a set period of time every day and not be brought home. We get it … to a large number of people out there … WORK IS A VAMPIRE THAT SUCKS ON OUR SOUL UNTIL WE STAKE IT IN THE HEART.

We even have movies and TV shows playing up the workaholic stereotype: a person who has spent his every waking hour working, neglecting his family, and when he finally wants to spend them with them, they treat him like a complete stranger. Or, the stereotype of a parent who realises – often too late – that she has missed out on her children’s growing years, and now is regretting how empty and meaningless her life has become.

Here’s what I really think about this whole “Work is a monster that needs to be kept on a leash” mentality:

You are afraid.

Before I explain more, allow me a couple of lines to elaborate what I see as “working hard”.

quote_hard-work-makes-you-luckyDefinition Of Working Hard
I do not mean a person who slogs away with no idea what his end-game is. I do not mean a person who reports for work at the office at 8am and knocks off at 8pm just to clear his in-tray. By “working hard”, I’m talking about investing your energy into growing a career, into becoming a force to be reckoned with in your chosen field of work. By “working hard”, I’m talking about you pouring your all into becoming the best. You hating your job because your boss is demanding, you having no choice but to work because you have bills to pay … that is not the “working hard” we are talking about in this article.

So why won’t we work hard?

We Won’t Because We Are Afraid To Fail
Those who fall into this category will attempt to explain their “disdain” for working hard in one of the following ways:

“You can never finish work”

“I have a family”

“I have a life”

And I’m sorry you feel that your loved ones do not support you in your quest to becoming great in your career.

I don’t know if I’m alone here but why is it that so many of us think that “family”, “love” and “friends” have no place near “career”? That they can’t all exist peacefully side by side?

I think it is awful for anyone to believe that in order to have a semblance of a fantastic career, one has to “sacrifice” these heartwarming, gooey aspects of life, and become a cold-blooded robot with no emotional attachments. The idea that we all have to “go at it alone” if we want to have a kickass career is antiquated and due for a makeover.

We don’t have to choose. Why should we? Is it not possible to have a great career AND a great family/love life?

The picture that so many TV shows paint, that of an alienated family standing in the shadows while the protagonist toils away at his work desk, is … silly. It forces people to think they have to make a choice, it pigeonholes people, making them think they are either pro-family or pro-career, and it provides people with the convenient excuse to “opt out”.

If you don’t try, you would never fail. If you don’t give your 110%, you would never be disappointed if you don’t win. Choosing your loved ones over your work may seem like a noble reason for not excelling. But let me tell you one thing: you are making them look bad.

Your loved ones is not an excuse. They are your reason for excelling, your motivation, your cheerleaders.

The truth is: if you want it, you can have them both. Because as sure as the sun is going to rise tomorrow, your parents don’t want you to have a career that sucks. Because, for certain, your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend want you to be proud of your work. Because your kids need to be educated that you are working to be a parent they can look up to.

No one can ever fault you for putting love over career because no one wants to look like The Wicked Witch Of The West. But have you thought about how perhaps the ones you love would also take pride in your achievements and hard work? Stop using them as a shield to cover your fear of failure. If anything, they should be your reason for busting your ass at work so you can become the best.

How-Working-Too-Hard-Can-Hurt-Your-Site3We Won’t Because We Are Merely Existing
You are reasonably good at what you do. You are doing reasonably well. The only thing that you are not giving to your work is your soul. Why work so hard to exceed your target when you can meet it and leave the office at 5pm? Why go all out to convince the boss of your proposal when you can simply do what he wants and continue drawing a salary?

Once upon a time, in my life, I was told that I should stop putting up a fight and go with the flow, no matter how stupid I think the ideas may be. While it was tempting, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I either become a zombie or slit my wrists out of frustration.

If you have a better idea, why keep it to yourself? If you have to endure countless late nights making sure your plan is well-executed, why won’t you do it?

While it may be tempting to maintain status quo, it’s mind-numbingly boring too. I can never understand why people use SOP or paperwork to explain why they won’t try to do things differently? I can never accept “red tape” as an excuse for not being innovative or creative.

If your work is not making you feel you want to go the extra mile … why not leave it?

My ex-CEO used to say, “If it’s good enough, it’s not enough.” You comfort yourself by saying, “I just do my job and get out of here”, believing it’s no point working so hard to beat the system.

Well, I’ve got news for you:

If there is no fight left in you, there is no life left in you.

I leave you this Sunday with this to think about:

Is there something you want really badly? If so, what’s stopping you from working towards it?

Do you crave change? If so, what’s stopping you from doing things differently?

Do you want to be just a blip in this massive sea call humanity? If not, why are you so reluctant to pour yourself into your work and make something of yourself?

I’m not asking you to die at your desk working. I’m asking you if you are willing to die working for something you believe in, working for something you are good at, working for something that would make you count.

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 likes liquid eyeliners, bright red lipsticks, tattoos, rock & roll, Mad Men, Suits, and works hard, plays hard, and fights even harder. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

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Career, Self-Improvement

Make LinkedIn Work For You – Vanessa Tai

If you’re like most people, you probably think LinkedIn is a site for you to list your job experiences and get noticed by recruiters. Truth is, that’s just one aspect of what LinkedIn is about. There are actually plenty of nifty features on LinkedIn that can help you get ahead in your career. For starters, when you log in to your account, you’ll see an up-to-date news feed giving you pertinent industry news, job openings that are relevant for you as well as updates your professional contacts’ careers.

LinkedIn can help you achieve career success

LinkedIn can help you achieve career success.

One feature I really like is the LinkedIn Influencer Programme, where key industry influencers and thought leaders like Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington and Guy Kawasaki pen articles on leadership and other industry-relevant pieces. These articles are often thought-provoking and offer very practical tips that help me see my work in a new perspective.

For more of such articles, check out LinkedIn Channels, which you can Follow to get interesting insights from industry influencers that may be beneficial for your career. For example, as a young female entrepreneur in the digital media industry, I’ll be inclined to Follow these channels: Professional Women, Entrepreneurship & Small Business and Social Media.

Another great feature is LinkedIn Groups, which act like discussion forums of sort. You can join existing groups, or start one on your own. With these groups, you can exchange information with other like-minded folk, get feedback on your work or even source for job contacts. For example, if you’re a freelance writer and you’re looking to work with a freelance designer, you could explore groups like this to help you.

So you see, there’s so much more to LinkedIn than just job hunting. Of course, it’s still an excellent platform to get your professional expertise recognised. According to a recent Bullhorn survey of over 160,000 recruiters, a whopping 97 percent of recruiters use LinkedIn to find job candidates. And with over one million LinkedIn users in Singapore, it’s high time you spruced up your profile to ensure you get noticed. Here’s how:

Don’t cut and paste your resume

You wouldn’t hand out your resume before introducing yourself, so don’t do it here. Instead, describe your experience and abilities as you would to someone you just met. And write for the screen – in short blocks of text with visual or textual signposts. Add a photo so that people can recognise you (Psst … according to a LinkedIn survey, profiles with a profile photo is seven times more likely to get viewed!)

Be yourself

Unless formality suits your brand, forget professional-speak. Try to speak as if you’re at a conference or a client meeting – friendly but professional.

Write a personal tagline

That line of text under your name? It’s the first thing people see in your profile. It follows your name in search hit lists. It’s your brand. (Note: your e-mail address is not a brand!) Unless your company’s brand (and your job title) is so strong that you can do away with a tagline, you might want to distill your professional personality into a more eye-catching phrase.

Point out your skills

Think of the Skills & Expertise field as your personal search engine optimiser, a way to refine the ways people find and remember you. Adding specific skills and expertise allow you to highlight particular abilities which help you stand out from the crowd. You can also receive endorsements on these skills from your connections, giving you added credibility with that third-party stamp of approval.

Distinguish yourself from the crowd

Pat your own back and others’. Get recommendations from colleagues, clients, and employers who can speak credibly about your abilities or performance. When you approach your contacts for a recommendation, it might be helpful to get them to focus on a specific skill or personality trait that drives their opinion of you. It also helps to get a variety of recommendations – from your boss to peers or clients – it makes the testimonials feel more authentic. And when you do return the favour, be sure to make meaningful comments in your recommendations too. Don’t just copy and paste.

Be active

One of your LinkedIn profile’s key benefits is that it is a living reflection of your professional life which you can keep updated with ease, as opposed to a paper resume which only shows a static snapshot of a point in time. For instance, make sure a new title or job is listed; and list key projects you have completed or professional courses you might be taking.

Staying active on LinkedIn also demonstrates that you are in tune with the going-ons around you – be it around your career, your industry or your connections. Connect promptly with new professional acquaintances to sustain the professional relationship. Express your point of view on an industry trend with a status update, or comment on a connection’s news share to build your credibility.

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, Infographics, Self-Improvement

[Infographic] How To Be Creative – Vanessa Tai

No matter what industry you’re in, it seems like everybody is on a rabid race to hit on The Next Big Idea. Bosses no longer want submissive subordinates; they’re looking for people who can come up with new ideas for old problems, to breathe new life into tired work processes, to dream up groundbreaking product lines.

According to Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen, this sort of creativity is known as “disruptive innovation.” It’s defined as an innovation that helps create a new market, and eventually disrupts the existing market through new technologies. Great examples would be Wikipedia (which shook up the traditional print encyclopedia market) or free online course providers like Khan Academy and Coursera (which changed how people traditionally got educated.)

Everyone knows we need to continuously bring fresh ideas to the table in order to stay relevant in an increasingly competitive job market but the question is, how? It’s hard enough juggling the many tasks on-hand without having to constantly come up with new ideas. Well, like everything else, creativity is a muscle – you need to constantly build it up, or it’ll waste away. Use it or lose it, so to speak. Here are six tried-and-tested ways to keep your creative juices flowing.


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, Deborah Tan, Opinions, Self-Improvement

To Intern Or Not To Intern – Deborah Tan

I have been scheduled to give a talk about internships to a group of students at a polytechnic next week. Before I do that, I really want to know what the general take on internship is like these days. Recently, news of interns suing big corporations like Hearst and Conde Nast have surfaced on the Internet and the buzz surrounding the idea of an “unpaid internship” is now officially off the chart. Everyone – from students to employers – are talking about whether interns should be paid.

I started out as an unpaid intern myself. Here are some of the thoughts I had as an intern …

intern_nation_are_we_exploiting_a_generation_of_workers1. I was just grateful someone trusted me to do something
I never saw my internship as “free labour”. Rather I felt it was a fantastic chance to see what the working world was like. It was my first time working with adults and I was always worried I would screw something up. Whenever I was given a job to handle on my own, I put in my all to get it done well because I believed it was important to leave the company with a good impression of my abilities.

2. I was always scared
It wasn’t that I was being bullied. It was more because I realised how dispensable I was as an intern. My 21-year-old self believed that there was a long line of students waiting for a chance to intern with a magazine and I wasn’t about to give it up to another person by doing a bad job. In fact, once I couldn’t go to work because I had a fever … I actually went to a doctor to get an MC because I wanted to make sure things were done the professional way. It was only much later I realised that interns didn’t need to supply an MC if they didn’t show up for work.

3. I believed I was being tested all the time
Maybe because I’m such a conspiracy theorist by nature but a part of me believed I was being watched and observed all the time. I imagined everything was a test. If my editor even whispered, “I’m so sleepy,” I saw it that she was “testing” my initiative, to see if I would be sharp enough to ask, “Would you like me to go get you some coffee?” If anyone said, “We’d have to work late today,” I didn’t think it appropriate for me – an intern – to leave on time so I stayed till someone asked, “Aren’t you going home?” I must have been the weird intern.

When I was finally a full-timer, I realised how easy it was for an intern to slip through the cracks and leave without being remembered by anyone at all. The thing about being an intern is that we are – truth be told – insignificant. And, it is up to each of us to ensure we get as good an experience as we possibly can.

An internship experience is nothing like going to school. Many interns get the two mixed up because their internship is part of their coursework, and since it’s part of school, employers are therefore obliged to sit them down and take them through everything, lecture-style. Well, there is no textbook for interns, no rulebook exists either.

Some common “myths” about internship …

1. This will lead to a full-time job
No. It will not lead to a full-time job. An internship is NOT an interview, it is NOT an audition. You are an intern because you are there to learn something. If, by chance, you do make a great impression and are asked to apply for a job, that’s a bonus.

2. I get to do what the boss does
No, you don’t. Some people have shrewdly used the term “job shadowing” instead of “internship” when they apply for work experience within a company. They think that by using “job shadowing” they get to do the “fun and glamorous and important” things. No. If a boss needed a twin to stalk her around the office, she would get a twin who is a stalker, not an intern.

3. This job is too humiliating. Even for an intern!
If you are starting an internship thinking you will not be asked to do the coffee run, to photo-copy documents, to steam clothes, to buy lunch … you are in for a big surprise. Drop all self-important assumptions. You are there to help make the full-timers’ lives a little more convenient in the office. Be available.

4. I’m not going to learn anything with an internship of a month
Some people can be an intern for three months and learn nothing. Again, it’s not about the length of time you spend with the company. Rather it’s your attitude towards your internship that matters the most. I’ve heard ridiculous things like, “I’ll spend the first month getting to know the work culture … so I’ll need another month to be an intern.” Look. There is only one work culture and it’s pretty universal: GWTPASAP (Get With The Programme As Soon As Possible). Even full-timers don’t get a month to acquaint themselves with the work culture. You throw yourself right into the deep end and start swimming!

Should interns be paid then? In my opinion, no. Not because I think interns are truly free labour but because I think paying makes the internship lose its true purpose. If you want to be paid, get a vacation job. Internships are for people who want the behind-the-scenes insights into an industry. They are for those who want some perspectives about the industry before deciding if this is for them.

An internship IS NOT the “love child” of a fast-food server salary and a cushy office job.

Sucky bosses who make poor mentors are everywhere – I’m not denying some interns really get the short end of the stick. But what I would like to focus on is what you think an internship experience should be like. Did you make the most of it or did you simply clock in and then clock out?

What other things can you expect as an intern? I will touch on that in my talk next week. Meanwhile, do let me know if you have any previous internship experience to share and what you got out of it (both bad and good).

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 likes liquid eyeliners, bright red lipsticks, tattoos, rock & roll, Mad Men, Suits, and dreams of driving all the way to Russia in a Land Rover … Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

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