There are many reasons you’ll enjoy working in Singapore. The EL team loves it and we’re sure you will, too! However, no matter what life stage you’re at – fresh out of uni and keen to work abroad; already living in Singapore with a partner as a trailing spouse; or working here already and looking to change ‘direction’ – you’ll want to know how to make it a reality. We answer some common questions about the job search in Singapore, and get views from a panel of residents who’ve already gone through the journey. There’s also a 5-step plan to finding a job in Singapore, and what you need to know about work permits and setting up a business.
Plenty of newcomers move here with their work, but what about those who arrive with working spouses or partners, and later decide they’d like to be working in Singapore? If that’s you, here’s a fact file of things you’ll want to consider.
Here are five fundamental steps you can take to improve your chances of finding a job in Singapore. (For a deeper dive into the process, scroll down to “A Headhunter’s 5-Step Plan for Finding a Job”, below.)
- Have all your official documents including birth certificates, personal identification and university transcripts at the ready. Singapore-based employers will likely ask for these and you may need to provide original copies. They may also ask for a photograph with your CV.
- Make sure your LinkedIn profile and CV are both up to date. Your LinkedIn profile is a marketing advertisement for you, so it needs lots of appeal – and it also needs keywords that HR or recruiters may use when searching for candidates in your space. Your CV, meanwhile, should be short and simple (two pages is ample) – but scatter it with appropriate keywords too.
- See which recruiters are specialists in your field and go straight to them (via LinkedIn, for example); then find out which companies are posting jobs you’re interested in and get in touch. You’ll have a much better chance of breaking through the noise if someone has identified you as suitable talent.
- Spend time searching for a job every day until you get one. Searching can be a full-time job in itself – just stay determined and active. Be realistic about salary, too – remember that Singapore’s low tax rate will often offset a lower base salary.
- Attend interviews or take Zoom calls even if you’re not 100 percent sure you want the position. Many companies can create roles for the right person, but they have to meet you first.
Starting a Business
Many expats come to Singapore with a fresh business idea; others discover an entrepreneurial streak once they’re here. But how do you turn it into a real-life proposition?
First, you’ll need to apply for an EntrePass through the Ministry of Manpower (MOM; mom.gov.sg). This involves writing a detailed business plan and financial projections, plus meeting certain requirements (see mom.gov.sg/passesand-permits/entrepass/ eligibility). The application fee is $105, and successful applicants are issued an Approval-in-Principle letter within eight weeks. There is an additional fee of $225 once the pass is issued.
The business must also be registered with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA; acra.gov.sg) as a private limited company and be less than six months old on the date of application. This can be done online using a SingPass (apply at singpass. gov.sg).
Registration fees are $15 for the name application and $300 to incorporate the company. Registration is usually approved within 15 minutes for online applications. Get more information for setting up a business here.
Getting a Work Pass
You’ll need a work pass (work visa) to get on the payroll in Singapore, and recent changes by the MOM have added extra complexity around this for expats.
The Fair Consideration Framework allows affirmative discrimination, and employers are required to consider Singaporeans fairly before hiring Employment Pass (EP) holders. A quota system regulates the ratio of foreign and local workers in the workplace.
Dependant’s Pass holders used to be entitled to work after obtaining a Letter of Consent (LOC), which their employer applied for – a relatively easy process. However, LOCs for DP holders were phased out from 2021. You’ll now need to apply for an EP or a S Pass instead – and it’s more complicated. For one thing, there are qualifying salaries, a strong emphasis on educational background, and a requirement to work full-time hours.
To check your likelihood of obtaining an EP or S Pass, use the MOM’s online Self-Assessment Tool.
Got any advice on finding a job in Singapore or career matters in general? Anything you’d do differently as a newcomer?
“I get asked this a lot as I’m active in women’s groups. Having hired many expats in the past and worked with many women owned businesses especially, I see the struggles people have. I think the main challenge is you need to be realistic; if you don’t know the region, the culture and local clients, your skills might be relevant but you need to work harder to be better than someone local with the same skills – not just to get the job but also the visa.
Be flexible about what you could do and network, network, network; there are lots of chamber of commerce events, sector-specific events and women’s networking groups like Athena where you can network. But remember that it’s a two-way conversation; if you’re only there to get a job, then you won’t build relationships, so think about how you can help others and what you bring to the table too.” – Charlotte
“I came here because of my job. However, I think researching before you make the move would be wise. Otherwise, there are networks of people who can help you connect. I’m from Australia, and there is one organisation called Austcham (austcham.Org.Sg) that connects Australian members in the business community.” – Richard
“I currently have my own gig – a wine import, distribution and online retail business specialising in South African wines. Prior to this, I had my own recruitment consulting company when I first arrived in Singapore 17 years ago. As a newcomer back then, I probably should have started work in a company as an avenue to meet people and build connections before going into solopreneurship.” – Cherie
“After being an air hostess with Singapore Airlines for seven years, I’ve been running my own dance fitness company for the past 10 years. I would say, if possible, find a job you love, and continue upgrading your skills through courses and training – there is no end to the self-improvement available.” – Namrta
“I just started working at the beginning of this year. Before that, I was taking care of our kids and being a housewife. When we arrived in Singapore, it felt like a long vacation, and I convinced myself I needed a career break. I wasn’t right about that. I would suggest looking for volunteer opportunities right away when you arrive. This will help tremendously in getting a job later.” – Emőke
“Before I arrived in Singapore. I’d already lined up a job through a friend in France who connected me with a chef here. So, my advice would be to get connected with people that you already know and use them to build up more connections that in turn help you find a job and grow your network.” – Nicolas
“I’m a finance lawyer and I work for a bank, but when I moved here I didn’t have a role lined up. I think if you haven’t worked in Asia beforehand then it’s important to try and gain some Asian market experience; one way I did that was to join a legal platform and provide some consulting services for a few months before securing a permanent role.” – Talia
A headhunter’s 5-step plan for finding a job in Singapore
What will help you access the key people as well as highlight your strengths? Whatever your starting point, here’s a five-step strategy to supercharge your job search and leapfrog the competition to start working in Singapore – straight from the playbook of former headhunter DEE KHANDUJA ALLAN. She provides tips on how to find a job plus how to job search for foreigners. Alternatively, if you want to try something new and start a business, this article has all the contacts you need.
STEP 1: Research for your job search
Put on your detective hat, you’re going on a research mission! All good job searches start with a solid research phase. The following approach will give you clarity on possible career paths and companies you haven’t heard about. You can then create a “target” list. The idea is to try and network to find non-advertised jobs. This method is an old-hat headhunter staple!
Be proactive on LinkedIn
Often our skills can be transferred to another industry we may not have considered, so use LinkedIn to create a target list of companies and industries. You can use the search and the filter functions to go through all available industries from A-Z.
I recommend targeting two industries to begin with. Next, look at companies within them that excite you. Place the leads into Excel so you can keep track of who you are approaching. You should end up with a list of companies you may never have heard of.
Another great research trick is to search for contacts at a particular company who are positioned at a more senior level than your target job. Then, go through that person’s employment history to see where they worked before, and what career path they took. You’ll end up with powerful market intel. And your creative juices may start flowing when you see possible career paths and companies you hadn’t considered before.
STEP 2: LinkedIn profile and CV fixes that will help with finding a job in Singapore
Of course, your LinkedIn profile is a key tool during your job search in Singapore. But did you know it could be more important than your actual resume?
Did you also know that your LinkedIn profile is really a marketing advertisement for you? And marketing ads need to ooze appeal. So, upload that professional image and don’t forget to use the banner space to upload an image or quote that adds to your personal branding. Spend some time working on your profile description, loading it with keywords (so your profile can get past those pesky algorithm bots). You can show your sparkly personality in your profile description too. Don’t be shy, be memorable!
Fill in your work history and skills. No skipping this, please! A complete profile is best – if you leave out information, your profile will easily be missed by recruiters or hiring managers screening you.
The big tip is to carefully consider the keywords that HR or recruiters may use when searching for candidates in your space. Use these keywords within your text, so the search algorithms capture your profile within their search results.
Your CV is a marketing document, and a marketing document has to spotlight your best features. So, remember to keep your CV simple, without fancy typography – ideally two to three pages, with short paragraphs and succinct bullet points.
Again, scatter keywords in the text particularly at the top near the beginning of your resume, to make it algorithm-friendly. The bots love keywords, so feed it to them to increase your chances of being shortlisted.
STEP 3: Finding job opportunities
This headhunter tip has you doing regular job-sweeps across job boards, company websites and LinkedIn. Set up job alerts so you don’t miss fresh opportunities when they’re uploaded.
Did you know many headhunters and employment agencies access jobs that are never advertised? Their trick is to network their way into a company to pick up leads. Scary? Possibly, but this is the key game-changing tactic that recruiters use every single day. If you can’t beat them, join them.
Different types of job searches
Broadly speaking, you can use the reactive job-search method, the proactive job-search method or a hybrid of both. Each has its own pros and cons. However, a proactive method is more likely to land you a role that is aligned to what you want, while a hybrid method may jump you a few rungs above the shortlist.
The reactive method tends to be crowded with job seekers.
Reactive job search
Reactive job searching is the most common way that job seekers go about searching for a job. You search for online or print adverts, and then email your CV across. Then you wait till you get a response. Then you rinse, repeat, and rinse, repeat until you hopefully land a job. If you want to lose the competition (or leapfrog them), supercharge your reactive job search efforts with a proactive push.
Proactive job search
A proactive job search involves you directly targeting key decision-makers and hiring managers on LinkedIn or email. This is called the networking approach. If it works for headhunters, it will work for you.
A networking approach is the best way to become “acquainted” with someone. Start by using your personal and online network, to get an introduction into your target company/contact.
Make LinkedIn and Excel (to track your leads and conversations) your new BFFs. Find companies you want to work with, locate the key decision-makers at those companies, and start to connect and engage them into a conversation.
STEP 4: Making contact
The key here is to make connections with the right people, ideally with decision-makers. A word of caution: you shouldn’t message a stranger asking them for a job outright. That’s a no-no.
Start by introducing yourself and cite a shared interest, skill, shared group, PR, or other genuine reason for reaching out to them.
Once they’ve replied and the conversation is warmish, you can ask them for help in directing your enquiry or CV to the right person. Voilà! – you’ve now used the networking approach to be able to name drop when you reach out to the right contact.
Headhunters often use LinkedIn to get the name of a contact, and then proceed to make a phone call to that person; or they will send a warm-up message on LinkedIn, and then quickly follow it up with a phone call. It’s worth following this approach if you want to grow your network and access jobs faster.
Don’t be shy about phoning a decision maker or hiring manager. Have your reason for calling and your CV in front of you. Speak with confidence and state that you’re interested in exploring openings at their company. Then ask for advice on how to progress your application.
STEP 5: Organising yourself
If the above steps are done correctly and you are constantly networking online and offline, you should find your diary filling up with scheduled phone calls, coffee meetings, interviews, Zoom chats and follow-ups.
Stay organised, and follow up your actions with a phone call, thank-you email, or physical card depending on how much time a contact has given you. This conveyor belt of repetitive actions involving research, mapping contacts, networking, sending messages and following up will result in leads, contacts and job opportunities.
Good luck with your job search!
If this guide to working in Singapore and how to tackle the job search was helpful, read on for more on employment and business in Singapore. Need a new computer if you’re finding a job in Singapore? Here’s a guide to choosing the right one.
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