Life as a Fresh Graduate Working in a COVID-Stricken World

Graduating during the year that the world was trying to make sense of a pandemic, Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation scholar Teo Zi Lin shares how she managed to navigate job-seeking [...]

Graduating during the year that the world was trying to make sense of a pandemic, Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation scholar Teo Zi Lin shares how she managed to navigate job-seeking and the “new normal” as a fresh graduate entering the workforce.

2020 was the fresh start of a new decade, and a year that I was looking forward to, because that was my year of graduation, and I would be celebrating the completion of 17 years of education. But alas, COVID-19 struck and drastically changed many of our lives and the society as a whole. As a fresh graduate, I was not spared as well.

My goal was to kickstart my career in multinational corporations (MNCs) so that I can learn from industry experts, build a stronger and more extensive network, and start with a solid salary base. I remember applying to over 30 full-time positions and graduate programmes offered by MNCs.

Despite the numerous applications, only two companies got back with an offer. I was fortunate to be able to land a permanent full-time role that pays reasonably well within two months of job search and interviews, as many firms had frozen their headcount during the pandemic.

I have since worked for a little over a year since graduation. Due to the COVID-19 situation, a new mode of work has emerged – remote working or working from home. This means minimised face to face interaction, and more online meetings and correspondence over text messages and e-mails. Thus far, I like working from home because it boosts my productivity and efficiency. While still delivering quality work, I often find myself finishing tasks faster, leaving me some extra time to spend with family, help with household chores or simply take a breather from work. I also save a lot of time and money on transport to and fro from office. The casual setting at home also makes me feel more comfortable and at ease as compared to the more formal office environment.

However, the new “normal” also poses a new set of challenges. Because of my hearing loss, online meetings are a struggle, especially when most do not turn on their webcam. This is because I am partially reliant on lip-reading when communicating. To exacerbate the issue, in my job, I have to work with colleagues from a wide global network, with different foreign accents that are often hard for me to understand. To navigate this, I usually try to turn on auto-generated subtitles for a better understanding, and if that does not work, I seek the other party’s understanding of my hearing loss and to speak slower. Fortunately, most have been patient and understanding, and worked together with me to get their points across.

While I think generally more people are welcoming and receptive to having PWDs in the workplace, there will still be some who doubt our abilities. There was once when I was told to be thankful that I had found employment in an MNC as most companies would not hire a person with disabilities. I was appalled to hear that as I was hired based on merit, and not disability hiring as mere tokenism. To have someone doubt my ability like that worries me, particularly about how objective my work and contributions to my employers would be viewed.

Even as Singapore progresses and becomes more inclusive, there will still be inevitable brushes with differing views or comments made out of ignorance. We need not accept the way others think, but accept that there are and will always be differences in views and perspectives. It is wiser to ignore negativity and not let those words affect you. However, if there are direct implications to your work, you should speak to someone in the appropriate position to hear you out and help you. This incident made me realise that acceptance, understanding and support from fellow co-workers and management, as well as good open communication are important in the successful integration of persons with disabilities in mainstream workforce.

Moving forward, it will definitely not be easy for graduates to secure jobs due to the impact of the pandemic. However, tough times will pass as long as you do not give up. All the best!