Finding a Career in Singapore

By Kathrine Gravrok Butt

Many women who come to Singapore with their spouses wish to find a job and continue their working career. However, finding suitable work is not always easy in the local job market and the working conditions are often not as good compared to the home country. Many positions require that you speak Chinese and that you are a Permanent Resident, which makes it even harder for western women to apply for jobs. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that it is impossible to get hired. These three Norwegian women managed to embark on exciting careers in Singapore.

Nancy Fraser
Nancy wanted a career change when she moved to Singapore, and her goal was to get into the exciting shipping industry. This proved more difficult than expected, and she remained unemployed for a whole year, before she was finally hired by a Norwegian Maritime company. She has now managed to build herself a strong career as a sales manager, specialising in broadband solutions for the shipping industry.
Nancy moved to Singapore with her Australian husband Mark in December 2006, after he was promoted to manager of Asia with his company. She had previously lived in Melbourne for 8 years where she completed her bachelor degree in Business and later worked for a finance and insurance company.
Nancy explains that during the first 6 months in Singapore, they had to travel frequently to Melbourne because her husband’s work and also to prepare their wedding which took place in February 2007. Consequently she did not have much time to look for work during the first period. However, she did manage to contact several recruitment agencies to ask for help and guidance with finding a job in Singapore. Unfortunately, none of these agencies provided any useful support for Nancy, which she found very disappointing. ‘I had previously used these types of recruitment agencies in both Norway and Australia with very good results’ she says. When she realized that the agencies in Singapore would be of no help, she embarked on a new job searching approach.
Using the online Norwegian business listing for Singapore (NBAS), she started to contact all the companies she found interesting to enquire about work opportunities. This resulted in some positive response and a few interviews, but no real job offer occurred. Various problems stood in the way for her to get hired with these companies. She explains that being a western woman in the Asian business world is seen as a disadvantage, and many companies were therefore reluctant to hire her. She also felt that many of the potential employers pre judged her because of her status as ‘expat wife’, and they wouldn’t trust her to be serious and ambitious enough to hire her. ‘There are some negative stereotypical opinions about expat wives, which is very unfortunate for spouses that are aiming for a professional career in Singapore’, Nancy says.
She soon realised that having a good network of friends and contacts can be very helpful when looking for work in a new city. Thanks to being very outgoing and social she was quickly surrounded by a group of supportive and helpful friends. She also had a girlfriend that worked at the Norwegian Embassy, who was often contacted by Norwegian companies that needed new staff. When she heard about a suitable position, she put Nancy in contact with the employer so she could apply for the job. After a lengthy process of several job interviews and meetings with both clients and company directors, she was finally accepted and offered the position as sales manager. She is now very happy with her new, exciting career and says that the job was definitely worth waiting for.
Her advice to other spouses that are looking for work in Singapore is to allow yourself some time to find out what type of industry you’d like to get into. She would also recommend new job seekers to consider taking a few courses or further education to be better prepared for a new career in Singapore.

Anne Olsen
Anne has found the profession that suits her best, by running her own business in Singapore. She is the proud owner of ‘Scandic Wonders’ which is a small candle shop located in Tanglin mall on Orchard Road. She specialises in quality Scandinavian products and her store offers one of the best selections of candles in Singapore.
Anne and her husband Morten started planning their move to Singapore almost seven years ago. ‘We both wanted a change and decided to move overseas to try something new’ Anne explains. They had already traveled several times in the Asia region and liked it so much that they wanted to live here.
Anne says that she wasn’t in a rush to find a full time job as soon as they came to Singapore. Instead she spent the first couple of years engaging in various activities such as volunteer work, studying and other short term projects. She also started to make her own jewelry which she sold via friends and networks.
In 2005 she contacted the previous owner of Scandic Wonders to enquire about work opportunities and was soon offered a part time position in the store. Two years later the owner decided to sell the shop and Anne was offered the chance to buy it. ‘I’ve always wanted to do something by my self, and this was the perfect opportunity’ she says.
With Anne as the new owner of Scandic Wonders the business has progressed remarkably. She has given the shop a modern lift by redecorating it and by offering several new products and accessories. She has also carried out various marketing activities such as developing a website which was launched last May.
She admits that all this work has taken a long time since she is doing everything herself. ‘I am in charge of all the aspects of the business, such as the finances, managing staff, marketing, importing of goods and dealing with suppliers. It is a lot to be in control of and I often feel that I’m on the job 24hrs a day’, she says. However, she is also enjoying the freedom and flexibility of running her own business. She works mostly from home and visits the shop approximately 3 times per week.
‘I have reliable staff that takes care of the shop for me, so I can concentrate on everything else that needs to be done’ she says.
Despite the fact that Anne didn’t have any previous experience in running a business, she didn’t find it too difficult to suddenly become a shop owner and manager. Some challenges and difficulties have naturally occurred along the way, such as communication problems with the local service providers. ‘I often wish that I could speak Mandarin, but luckily I have local/Chinese staff that is very helpful’, she says. She also mentions the cultural differences as sometimes being a challenge when working with local staff and business contacts. ‘I have realized that we often think very differently, because we come from such different backgrounds’ she explains.
Anne is very happy with the progress she has achieved for her business so far, and has several exciting plans and ambitions for the future. One of her goals is to open another store with the same concept, but with different or additional products.
Her advice to other Scandinavian women that are looking for work opportunities in Singapore is to stay positive and don’t stress.’ This is a unique chance to take some time off and find out what you really want to do and perhaps even start a completely different career path’, she says.

Carina Aakredalen
It took almost a year for Carina to find a job she really wanted in Singapore, and even though it was frustrating to be without work for so long, she says it was well worth waiting for. ‘Now I’m doing exactly what I want to do, and I’m happy I was persistent and patient enough to wait for the right job’, she says.
Carina is now pursuing her dream career as a brand consultant and is working for a small branding agency with both local and international clients. She started working for this company ten months ago and since then, she has worked on several exciting and challenging projects, including overseas assignments.
Carina first came to Singapore in September 2007 with her Australian partner Jonathan. She previously lived several years in Sydney where she completed a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of Commerce with major in Marketing. Both Carina and her partner wanted to start a career in Asia because of the booming market and abundant opportunities in this region. Jonathan secured a job with a finance company before they moved to Singapore, while Carina started looking for work after they arrived.
She decided to take the first few months off to get settled and comfortable in Singapore before she started job searching. ‘I began to research the job market in November and December 2007 and first applied for jobs in January 2008’ she says. She points out that it was quite difficult because most of the jobs that was advertised, wanted Singaporeans or PRs only (permanent residents). ‘I was also very picky about what I wanted to do, as my goal was to get into branding and consultancy which is a very small, niche market in Singapore’ she adds.
Her next strategy was therefore to contact all the existing branding agencies directly via email or phone to enquire about and apply for potential positions. A few months later, she finally got a job with one of these companies. ‘They had saved the application and CV that I sent them earlier and when the position became available, they contacted me for an interview’, she explains happily.
Carina’s advice for other Scandinavian job seekers in Singapore is to be persistent and don’t give up. ‘You must be prepared to spend a long time finding a job you really want’. She thinks it’s important to be selective, and to keep your career goals in mind. ‘Don’t just take any job for the sake of having a job, this won’t make you happy in the long run’ she adds.

About Gregers Møller

Editor-in-Chief • ScandAsia Publishing Co., Ltd. • Bangkok, Thailand

View all posts by Gregers Møller

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