#HI2020: A Journey of Growth with Lee Chaehyun

Hindsight is 2020 (#HI2020) is a ground up initiative founded and led by SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business Class of 2020 graduate Jessica Lee Yi Ling. In this series, she uncovers personal stories of resilience, courage and love amidst the crazy year that was 2020. Through the reflections and learnings shared in #HI2020, she hopes to empower internship and job seekers to improve their status quos and encourage aspiring entrepreneurs and volunteers to pursue their passions in 2021.



By Jessica Lee, Alumna, SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business

Calling this Year 3 SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business student a hustler would be an understatement. Passionate about humanitarian causes, she actively contributes back to the community through student clubs such as SMU VERTS, the university’s official environmental sustainability club, and SMU PAW, an animal welfare group. This week, we speak with Chaehyun, who took on more than a pro bono internship in 2020 summer.


Here are three key takeaways from Chaehyun:

  1. To get ahead, you need to get started first.
  2. Asking is the beginning of receiving
  3. Your network is your net worth



Let’s dive straight into your life as a workaholic: what did you work on during 2020 summer?

Summer 2020 was probably the busiest time of my life; I took on a pro bono internship, worked part time job at Korean mart six days a week, spent my weekends tutoring kids, and I also planned events and kept an oversight of CCA operations as CCA Exco. As hectic as it sounds, I think I liked that it kept me busy.


What are some new things you did in 2020 to try to boost your employability?

I bounced off ideas with some of my friends on how to boost employability, like swapping resumes and exchanging tips. I also spoke to people who already secured internships at that point to find out what works and what doesn’t. Going through countless intern applications also let me connect with and learn from new people as well, even recruiters.


Fill us in on the details of your internship application experience.

Before the lockdown happened, internship application processes were largely the same. But once Circuit Breaker kicked in, all the interviews had to shift online. I did have one interview with a company I genuinely liked, and they seemed to like me as well. But eventually I didn’t land the position, perhaps due to the Covid-19 situation. On a positive note, I also came across companies that were still hiring in spite of the pandemic, and recruiters who reached out to students facing difficulties finding internships. Although the competition was tough, I could still attend interviews and many recruiters actually shared insights about their recruitment processes in the face of the pandemic.


What did you learn from this round of searching for internships?

Three key things I’ve gained out of the experience:

1) New knowledge about the different companies, their employees and the recruiters that I picked up when networking with them.

2) Even if I didn’t end up with an internship, I gained lot of confidence through the experiences.

3) I learnt to better tailor my applications. I found that the personalised applications were the ones that responded to me. Many recruiters liked the unique pointers I included, like how I am a big advocate of environmental sustainability—which was a surprise because I’d thought they would focus more on my technical skills rather than my interests and passions.


How did you feel when the companies did not make you an internship offer?

I couldn’t help but felt demoralised, and I doubted myself on a daily basis, wondering if I just wasn’t worthy of a job. While I tried to tell myself that the job market was made difficult by the pandemic, it was still difficult to accept. At some point I was willing to take on any offer that was available.


Tell us about your pro bono internship.

Bamboo Builders is a social enterprise that aims to alleviate poverty through education, social entrepreneurship, and empowering the next generation to build change. As a marketing and business development intern, I mainly helped to manage and strategise social media campaigns and track the marketing traffic to capture whether the team was meeting its targets.

Despite it being a pro bono internship, I was keen to learn and grow in a role that was meaningful to me and helpful to others. I’ve been passionate about various social causes and the right to education since young, so Bamboo Builders’ mission and values aligned very well with me.


Bamboo Builders


How do you think you’ve grown as a person through this experience?

I think I grew to be a lot more organised, especially in terms of project management. Having to assume multiple roles in the internship, while not neglecting other commitments in my life forced me to organise my time and my to-do lists. I also became more clear-headed about what I want and don’t want in a job, probably because my internship was flexible enough to let me explore different roles and departments to see where I fit in well.


What was the interview experience like for your 2021 summer internship?

For my summer 2021 internship role, the company conducted an hour-long assessment that I had to complete over email, then followed up with a face-to-face interview. During the interview they focused on the culture fit as well as my level of commitment to the job because they were looking for someone committed as well as someone who can gel well with the rest of the team.


Having gone through this experience in 2020 summer, what did you do differently to secure your 2021 internship (confirmed as early as November 2020)?

I definitely started the job hunt a lot earlier, around late August. I applied to different types of companies, across various industries and company sizes. This is despite the common tactic being to apply to the big MNCs first, and then the SMEs and startups if you don’t get an offer. This would have made sense if one is aiming to get into MNCs, but I guess I took a different approach by disregarding company size in my search. I was just looking for a place that would allow me to grow through different challenges, no matter the size of the company.


Knowing what your concerns are, what steps are you taking to improve your employability?

I’m definitely excited to learn more on the job next summer to strengthen my skill sets further. In the meantime, I’m taking online courses and participating in case competitions with my friends, so that I can gain more experience and knowledge.


What kept you going in 2020 despite the different challenges and setbacks that you faced?

As cliché as it sounds, staying positive helped. There really is a bright side to everything if you look hard enough. Even though I didn’t get a paid internship, I’m still thankful to have gotten chances to grow through my internship with Bamboo Builders and the people I’ve met along the way. I’m also incredibly grateful that I had people like my mum and my friends who believed in me and gave me so much support last summer.


If you could change one thing in 2020, what would it be?

I’m not really one to regret, but if I could do things differently, I would have started the job search earlier, and sent out more applications. I think I was wary of sending out multiple applications last year, only to receive one rejection after another. But if you think about it—it really is just one person wanting to connect with another person. And if the recruiter turns out not to ‘like’ you, then that’s fine too, I should not have let it cripple my sense of worth.


Share with us your final pieces of advice for juniors applying for internships in 2021 summer.

  1. Start your job search early—there will be more recruitments open, and you’ll even grow comfortable writing cover letters and going for interviews.
  2. Dare to ask for reviews, or help for resume and interview skills—you’ll be surprised how much your peers, seniors, or even professors are willing to help you out! There’s no harm in asking, really. If you feel shy in asking the people around you, try the in-school career counsellors!
  3. Leverage connections—they say job search through networking is the most effective way of getting a job, and I can’t disagree with it. Minimally it’ll get you through to the interview a lot easier than the standard job application funnel.

Ultimately, don’t be scared or lazy to send applications just because you think the probability of getting selected will be low. You ought to see everything as a learning experience. And you never know what kind of people you’ll meet along the way.



This article has been adapted from LinkedIn for republishing on The SMU Blog with permission. Learn more about Hindsight is 2020 here.

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