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How to get a PR job in Singapore

12th August 2013


In 2002, I sat in front of a computer in Mumbai and applied for a job on a Public Relations agency’s website. Two weeks later, I was on a plane to meet the Managing Director. In the next month, I moved to the Lion City with one suitcase.

Today, there are a number of Indian nationals here in junior and senior positions here across the island state. You don’t get the chance to miss home much. English is the lingua franca. Business is efficient. Taxes are low. The quality of life is good, albeit expensive. You have vegetarian food options, movies, house help, spices, and ghee readily available. So you’re thinking you’re going to take the plunge and make the move.

Unfortunately, it’s a lot harder to apply directly from India, particularly in the last five years. As Singaporeans get more frustrated with the influx of foreigners from around the region, the Government has passed stricter rules on the application of work permits and employment passes. Freshers are finding it almost impossible to apply directly, so work experience is key.

With the crush of people on trains and on the street, rents and general expenses have sky-rocketed. A S$3,500 salary went a long way in 2002 but won’t get you very far today.

The pace of work is fast, and demanding. In Singapore, we pride ourselves on speed but this is back-ended by long hours, dealing with colleagues in Europe and the US while Asia sleeps. Cultural differences are sometimes pronounced and HR departments are focused on mixing up their teams for greater balance.

The easiest way to get here is to work your way into an international transfer with your current company. This reduces the stress of acclimatizing to both a new company and country at the same time, while keeping career progression at the forefront.

However, if you are still keen on moving to Singapore, here’s what you can do.

Update your profile

I highly recommend a well thought out and nicely populated LinkedIn profile. It’s free, easy to use, it helps you find people and be found. And it can be used to showcase your achievements in a visual way. Add logos, presentations, your social handles, interesting projects and accolades. Stay away from naming clients without their permission. Tap into your network for referrals and wear them like a badge of honour.

In a similar vein, update your resume; try to stick to a page, at best two pages.

Start a portfolio. You know that great interview that got carried, or the contributed article you wrote from scratch? The fabulous strategy document the client loved and you spent nights and weekends on? Keep a copy – a hard copy preferably. Pull it all together; it will come in handy some day when you are asked to share samples of your work.

Do your research

Once you have built up some good work experience in India, start researching the market in Singapore and the jobs available. Over time, you will see what the options are, and what you are willing to consider. LinkedIn, Brand Republic, Recruit.Net, STJobs, JobsDB, Monster and JobsStreet are good starting points.

You can also scout the pages of well-known recruiters like Hudson, Michael Page, Robert Walters and connect with the communications recruiters at 33Talent, Font, VMA, Xpand and others.

Check out Institute of Public Relations Singapore and Campaign Asia that list some agencies based in Singapore and you can visit the sites independently to get a flavour of corporate culture, management and client profiles. On the agency side, it’s a vibrant marketplace – all the big guys are here, many mid-sized and little guys too. They have each developed their specialties based on their growth areas and team skills, and their client portfolio will reflect this. Most corporate websites have an HR section with contacts.

Subscribe to newsletters from The Holmes Report, Marketing Magazine and Campaign Asia to keep updated on industry news and developments. Also spend time going through news at The Straits Times, The Business Times, Channel NewsAsia and other news sites.

The websites for Ministry of Manpower, Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore and Immigrations and Checkpoint Authority of Singapore are great to get pointers on the legal and administrative sides of the move.

Invest time to target

Employers hate nothing more than copied generic emails that start “Dear Sir/Madam” and are likely sent to the whole world and their dog. If you’ve followed the first step of research, you’d know better.

Personalise and customize as much as possible. You could be applying directly either to a recruiter, to an agency or an in-house HR person. Take the time to craft a descriptor that would help you stand out.

Another pet peeve is grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. I would delete a mail from a communicator which has basic mistakes – no point taking the conversation further, regardless of the person’s experience. This may sound harsh – but your employer is already aware of the initial investment in helping you assimilate into the organization and market without having to stress about simple skills.

Now some roles are advertised but may not actually be open. Companies do this to build their candidate databases so when the position is actually open, they have a ready bank to consult. This is particularly true of some recruitment firms. There is no way of knowing, unless you have inside intel, so do your best and submit anyway.

At the same time, be cognizant that the chances of being shortlisted increase if you check off the boxes. There is not much point for a B. Commerce graduate to apply for a job that has an MBA requirement.

And be prepared for a number of positions advertised to end with a simple line: Singaporeans and Permanent Residents only. Sorry, but you’re out of luck on these if companies have reached a quota for their foreign workers, are not interested in going through the application process (and potential rejection) for a permit, or have some other business constraints that require them to be this specific.

Nothing beats face time

Public Relations is big on impressions and personality, above core skills and experience. Recruiters have been burned in the past by hiring candidates over the phone that oversell themselves and don’t deliver once on the job. In order to avoid this, most employers prefer to have met the candidate in person.

I think what helps is to send off a note that mentions you will be in Singapore and request time for a meeting. I do believe it is worth the investment to see first-hand both the city and meet the employer or recruiter.

You may find that in some cases you don’t hear back even after repeated follow ups. In these instances, having someone introduce you can go a long way. Personally, I have made time to meet people who have contacted me directly, not asking for a job, but looking to learn about the market, but more so when the person has been referred to me.

Build out your network

I am a great fan of building out a network. Strangely, I am not the sort who can work a room full of people and walk about with a bundle of business cards. I am better when introduced face-to-face, or connecting online via Twitter and LinkedIn (not so much Facebook for work).

Find peers and introduce yourself, build a relationship and seek advice. Recently, I’ve seen an increase in connection requests on LinkedIn – and the first thing that happens when I accept a peer request, is a mail saying “I am looking for a change. Please advice me if there is a suitable opening matching my profile. Eager to hear from you soon.”

I have barely gotten to know you, and you’re asking me to find you a job. Without knowing the difference between advise and advice, it’s not going to happen.  

If you plan your career a couple of steps in advance, you will have built your connections over time, and turned them into bridges to help you across.

And once all of this is done, book a ticket to Singapore and come visit.

About the author: Sonya Madeira (@sonyamadeira) is an Indian national living in Singapore since 2002. Having worked with local and international PR firms in India and Singapore, she now heads Rice Communications, a boutique marketing communications consultancy based in Singapore, with a team of 15.


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