Project Y to Z: Take Your First Step—An Interview with Gen Y-er Chen Weili

This is the second of a seven part ‘Project Y to Z’ series

Project Y to Z is a ground-up initiative spearheaded by three university students—Jessica Lee and Ray Leow from the Singapore Management University (SMU), together with Lim Xuan Zheng from Nanyang Technological University (NTU). They may be a small team of three, but their ambitions for this initiative are far from small. Their hope is for Project Y to Z to be a community catalyst that brings Gen Yers and Zers closer together by sharing experiences, encouraging interactions and sparking conversations. In this project, they lay bare the realities of past job search experiences told by Gen Y 2008 graduates in Singapore who survived the Global Financial Crisis and lived to tell the tale. 



By Ray Leow Wei Jian, Class of 2020 Graduand, SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business

Joining us for our first-ever Project Y to Z sharing is SMU alumnus Chen Weili. Weili is currently a Marketing Manager at Bayer and a class of 2008 graduate from the SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business. After a day at work, during the COVID-19 Circuit Breaker period, he allowed us to virtually-accompany him as he went about buying his dinner while walking us through his post-graduation experience. Weili was a great sport, being extremely honest and candid, as you will see in his responses to our burning questions over the call.


What went through your mind when you first heard about the recession back then?

I remember first hearing about it during my graduating year and I heard people saying things like, “Oh no, I haven’t gotten a job.” Some of my peers were quite lucky to secure a job before they graduated.

Actually, I had a six-month internship at ExxonMobil during my last semester, and I thought that I should perform to secure something. I was looking forward to joining them full-time but, unfortunately, it didn’t work out so it was quite a bummer.


Your first reaction when the internship didn’t land you a job at ExxonMobil?

Disappointed. Actually, none of the batch of interns stayed on after the internship ended.


After you completed your internship at ExxonMobil what was the first action that you took in finding a job?

I continued to apply for jobs and went for interviews. Initially, I went into the last few rounds of many of the job applications but they failed to work out as I was picky and only chose to go for roles that I was interested in. After that, I started to open up to more possibilities based on what I have—it is just the first job. The most important thing is to get experience.


May I ask how long was your job search?

Three months.


By being less picky, you ultimately went on to take on a role at Toyota as a Demand & Supply Planner, which was very different from your main interests in marketing. Could you share more about your motivations behind being open-minded?

I took it as more of a stepping stone to what I wanted to do. I have an interest in the automobile industry. Toyota’s a big name, and most of my peers wanted to go for big names as they are thought to be more secure.

My idea was to go into this role first, and then perhaps get into a marketing role next time. At the end of the day, you may have a plan, but the plan changes and you may not get what you want. So you have to be flexible as well and be daring to try something else.

To be honest, I still wanted to focus on my marketing role, it is just that I decided to go for the role at Toyota. For marketing, it’s very broad and not just doing commercial sales and advertising; it’s much more than that. Other aspects such as logistics and forecasting are all part of a marketing brand manager. These skill sets are things that you can acquire as well in other roles.


What’s one highlight during your entire job search?

When you receive any call for a first interview—which is always the interesting part. But that’s also the part which gets you worried because it’s not easy, given the competition. You always have to maximise the opportunity and prepare yourself by researching the company, talking to people, and really understanding the company. One thing that I realise every time I attend interviews is to always put in the effort to know more about the company—it really impresses the interviewers.


Among all your friends, were you the first few or last few to secure a job?

Last few.


How did you feel when you realised that more and more of your friends were getting jobs except you?

Of course, you will start to doubt yourself and ask what is going on or what went wrong. But eventually, once you get the job, you will tell yourself, “Oh it’s okay, everything’s all right now.” *chuckle*

It’s just a short period of disappointment. I would say, have faith in your education, and just hang in there. Don’t focus on the negative stuff.


If you could go back in time to 2008, what is one thing that you would have done differently?

Hmm… let me think.

I would have gone to the University for help, ask for referrals, reach out to professors for connections. A lot of jobs are landed because of networking. You know someone, and someone connects you to the hiring manager, and you get an interview. It really shortens the process and makes it easier. Alternatively, you could ask friends who are already working in the companies to connect you.


In your opinion, what would be the key differences between finding a job back in 2008 and finding a job now?

More online job portals of various kinds. LinkedIn is another tool to use as well, where you can connect to others and get recruiters to reach out to you. We did not have the luxury of using such tools and we relied on only a few job portals.

Also, there are so many startups these days. Although they may not be fancy companies, I’m sure the learning curve would be steep, but that is good in the long run.


What’s one key action that graduates of 2020 can take right now?

Don’t be lazy, keep looking. *chuckle*

I always believe in not closing the door on yourself. Sometimes when you look at the job description, you feel that the role’s requirement is beyond you and you are underqualified. Don’t close the door on yourself, let them close it for you. There’s no harm sending the resume. If you don’t hear from them, so be it. But it is quite foolish if you fail to submit the resume—you’ll miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take. If you like the role, just try it.


Key Takeaways:

  • Be open-minded when searching for a job.
  • Leverage on your existing network and build new ones.
  • You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take. Keep trying!


This article was originally published on LinkedIn and has been republished with permission. 


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