Career Preparation Programmes – An Update

Two years ago, I shared about the importance of career preparation workshops, and making them as accessible and convenient for students to attend them. I thought it would be good for me to give an update on how these workshops have been progressing.


The NUS Career Centre (NCC) introduced the HeadStart Module in AY2012/13. This is a 5-week tutorial module specially designed for freshmen, and it aims to guide students in thinking and preparing for their future careers. Students can then start to plan their education journey and projects, hone their expertise and cultivate experiences to develop a portfolio in line with their career goals. The topics covered include maximising student life, winning resumes and cover letters, effective interview skills, and mastering the art of networking. HeadStart was piloted in AY2012/13 for Faculty of Science (FOS) freshmen; the module was extended to Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) freshmen in AY2013/14, and from AY2014/15, freshmen from the School of Computing (SOC), School of Design and Environment (SDE), and the Faculty of Engineering (FOE) will get to read this module. At steady state, we hope that all 5,300 freshmen from these 5 Faculties will complete the HeadStart module.

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For the pilot run, nearly 1,300 FOS read the HeadStart module in AY2012/13. Participants shared honestly that they could not initially reckon why the HeadStart module was pre-allocated in their timetables. Deanery members had to prod and encourage students to attend, convince them of the benefits, and urged students to give the module a chance. Some students were sceptical; others were apprehensive. Certainly, the onus was on NCC to deliver an outstanding module, so that students can see the value of the experience.


The NCC rose well to the challenging task of organising career workshops on a large scale. The feedback received to date from course participants has been overwhelmingly positive. Participants felt that the HeadStart module has been effective (score of 5.02 out of a 6-point scale), and they are satisfied with the module (score of 4.97 out of a 6-point scale).  On hindsight, having gone through the module, many understood the need for such courses; some have asked for more sessions, and some even suggested for career preparation courses to be made compulsory! NCC will continually review and improve on the HeadStart course content. NCC is also exploring how certain segments of the HeadStart programme can be put online, perhaps on IVLE, so that students beyond the 5 Faculties can also access them.



Apart from the HeadStart module for freshmen, NCC also launched the StepUp module, which is designed to help graduating students identify the careers that best align with their profiles and interests, and to equip them with essential skills to differentiate themselves in a successful transition to their first jobs. StepUp was introduced in AY2012/13 to graduating students from the 5 Faculties in their 3rd or 4th years. StepUp is an opt-in programme and about 30% of graduating students attended StepUp in the last two academic years. Students’ feedback for the StepUp module has also been highly positive. The StepUp module will be phased out after AY2016/17 in tandem with the expansion of HeadStart programme.


The support from NCC does not end with the HeadStart and StepUp programmes. NCC offers a suite of other more purposeful and targeted programmes and advisory support that students can attend and consult for their career preparation, throughout their time at NUS. In addition to offering career preparation and development programmes, the NCC also provides Faculty-based Career Advisors at FASS, FOE, FOS, SOC, SDE and Faculty of Law. There is also a dedicated Career Advisor for postgraduate students. Career Advisors engage students at a personal level to work out customised career action plans; they also advise students on how best to present themselves and to acquire soft skills and practical work experiences. In AY2013/14, more than 3,000 students consulted their Career Advisors for mock interviews, career advice, resume critique and job search strategies; more students are coming forward to consult with Career Advisors. If you have any questions about your CV, or about careers, feel free to make an appointment with your Career Advisors.


We certainly welcome all feedback from students who have attended the HeadStart and StepUp programmes. May I also encourage graduating students to attend the StepUp programmes. To the freshmen from the 5 Faculties, I wish you a fun and fruitful learning experience for this year’s run of the HeadStart programme.



  1. yep this is definitely a move in the right direction — the employability of an NUS graduate is often overlooked in the Mad Rush for Good Grades. I finished my final set of finals in May this year. 3 months later, I’m still looking for a job. would have signed up or “opted in” for these courses if I weren’t already swamped with coursework&labwork in my final year…(seriously I was forced to take e equivalent of 9 mods in my final SEM! partly because the admin folks didn’t let me clear it a year earlier)

    My take: such career-oriented programmes has to be integrated into the curricula, and not exist apart from it. Also, how can these progammes be tailored to the specific faculties as well? especially those with more demanding&compulsory final year projects?

  2. I am one of the many students who had benefited much from these initiatives of NCC. While I might not have enrolled into any of these courses, I had on a few occasions approached the career advisors on how to stand out for resume writing etc. They were no doubt highly useful.

    This was further reinforced as I worked as a HR personnel in a HR firm during the vacation. It led me to realise the importance of the various programmes initiated by NCC in assisting graduates to find a job in the “outside world”. For example, the techniques and style of writing a CV could really determine if one would at least secure an interview or not. Now, this is highly important as securing an interview is the first step towards obtaining a job for the future. Hence I am glad that NUS has offered such courses/programs for its students.

    However, having said that, I would like to bring everyone’s attention to another essential skills that I believe is still relatively “untouched” in NUS. That is, the people skills – the ability to mingle and engage in lively conversations with professionals/interviewers.

    Why this is important:

    Working as a HR personnel has made me became aware that the CV merely acts as a report card that helps to filter candidates for a job position. It gives the employers a rough gauge on the competency of the candidate in performing a particular role. However this is not a very accurate gauge. Hence, upon confirmation of the candidate’s competencies via resume, a face-to-face interview will be conducted. This is where the problem arises.

    Many candidates, upon interview, were unable to substantiate the kind of “good impression” their CVs had otherwise projected. This does not mean that the candidates are incompetent skills wise. It’s merely that perhaps, more polishing work has to be done in terms of communication skills, interpersonal relationship skills etc. (ie, the people skills I was referring to). This would definitely reduces the probability of the students being shortlisted for a job if they had proved to lack any of these.

    Why this is an “untouched” segment in NUS:

    I must clarify that the term “untouched” here does not mean that it is non-existent. I also have to acknowledge that these skills were also taught/conveyed to students by the NCC and many other clubs and societies from time to time. What I mean here is that, the people skills could be further emphasized on.

    In my humble opinion, these courses offered by NCC act as a training institute that equips students with these set of people skills. However, there is a lack of a platform to ensure that these skills are constantly utilised and practiced on a regular basis. Hence, like any other skills we picked up, if it is not utilised often, it will gradually “unlearn” on its own over time.

    Thus, I would like to bring your attention to another student group that I believe would help nus students develop and actively practice the people skills. That is, Facilitators@nus.

    Facilitators@nus is most commonly known for its teambuilding programs it conducts for other student organiations. However, not everybody are aware that it is a platform for its members to practice people skills on a regular basis. They also conduct programs that aims to inculcate such people skills to the general nus community as well. Some of the program includes the “listening workshop” where, facilitators & participants learnt how certain micro behaviours would deter/encourage one from continuing a conversation with another. This would improve one’s interpersonal skills as they engage in a conversation with others in the “outside world”. I can in fact vouch for its usefulness as I am a beneficiary of this program and many other programs held by the student group. While my exposure is primarily limited to what Facilitators@nus has to offer, I am confident that the experience I had has prepared me better for my future, alongside the advises provided to be by the career advisors from NCC.

    I believe that by striking a balance between the people skills and the career-oriented skills provided by NCC, nus students would be more prepared and ready to pursue their respective careers when they graduate.

  3. Am encouraged that NUS is helping us prepare for our post education career search through the headstart module. As a business student myself, I took a similar module in my home faculty in my freshman year and found the course extremely useful. This is definitely a step in the right direction for NUS.

    However, the support needs to be a full-blown, concerted effort by the support staff, professors and university. Otherwise this initiative can simply be dismissed as pure tokenism.

    A concrete example some students are facing is that some summer internship opportunities tend to follow the US semestral system. It starts later in the summer and runs later into the term, forcing the student to miss 1-2 weeks of school.

    This makes it extremely difficult for students to bid for modules and catch up in school. On top of this, professors often penalize these students for not beng able to attend classes and this materially affects their grades in the semester. This is extremely demoralizing for the student as it feels that the school, professor and system does not support our efforts in finding our dream career.

    I believe that if NUS can push towards integrating the various stakeholders so that NUS students can be more prepared and ready to chase their passions

  4. I do hope that more emphasis will be done on coping with office politics and office environment.

    Getting a job is only part of the battle. Sustaining interest and coping well in your job is the second part of the battle.

    I have met too many people and experienced too many abusive bosses until it becomes a nightmare.

    I have friends who earns more than $5000 a month in a high flying govt sector job but due to politicking and bad boss, she had to resign 6 months later. She liked the job scope as it handles HR performance management and talent attraction but hated the office environment.

    I have another friend whose job was to do troubleshooting of IT problems. He had to stay late until 10pm to do server maintenance but as the boss was quite good, he persevered.

    Personally, even if the job scope is boring but if the boss and colleagues are good, I will try to stay on.

    Another good lesson is to know more Singapore Airlines cabin crew. I have some friends who are former Singapore Airlines Air Steward and Stewardess and they can easily nab another job due to their charisma and charm. Perhaps NCC can employ these former cabin crew as Career Advisors or steal tips from them as well.

  5. I would like to add on to that. I think Pharmacy students usually have no problems finding a job as there is a severe shortage of pharmacists. It might be good to exclude them for the time being from FOS.

    For those students who are unable to find jobs 6 months after graduation, it will be important to identify them and help them as they have tuition loans or bills to pay. Sometimes, it could also be their interpersonal skills that hinders them and usually these students may not cope well or get along with their colleagues if they ever land a job.

  6. Exclude from FoS… from Faculty of Science? Or from StepUp?

    Pharmacy has its own crash-course version of StepUp for students by the NCC under the current syllabus, in general you won’t find a single pharmacy student in StepUp. I’m an exception as I elected to take StepUp in advance, since my job applications are not going through normal channels – I’m not applying for ‘normal’ jobs.

    After attending the course, let’s just say that this is an area where many people don’t know that they don’t know. I’m flying off for a barrage of interviews overseas in two days, being able to secure the interview in the first place was undoubtedly helped by the resume-writing training in StepUp, and the interview skills will be relevant when I’m there.

    In terms of usefulness per hour spent, this is one of the most worthwhile mods I’ve taken in NUS.

  7. Some tips on graduating students, based on some of my experiences. Do feel free to disagree with me if I am wrong

    1) Try to submit at least 5 job applications per day. Reason being that the competition is very tough. One job application can easily attract more than 50 job applicants and this includes job seekers who are trying to change jobs as well.

    2) Many jobs are re-advertised due to picky employers so it makes landing a job even tougher.

    3) Aim for the jobs that you like most but you may need to aim lower if you don’t get your dream job. My dream job was in NParks, AVA and NEA but after I realised that I cannot get in after 3 months, I had to set my sight lower and aim for any job as I had bank loan and CPF education loan to settle and pay the bills.

    4) Your interest/ passion may not land you a job. And you may need to settle for a job you may not like and so your interest/passion becomes your hobby. I had my profile done and my interest is in creative arts but I made that as my hobby. My real job is in the laboratory which is something I may not like but then, I am willing to do as long as the work environment is good and supportive.

    5) Do not be afraid to walk out from a job where the boss / colleagues are abusive.
    Being stuck in a bad working relationship is like being stuck in a loveless abusive relationship.
    If you are a fresh graduate and encountered abusive bosses, take the courageous step and walk out. The longer you stay, the longer it leaves an ugly stain on your CV. Walk out and don’t declare it on your CV.

  8. A lot of times, we hear of bosses from hell., while that may be true there are workers who also deserve a wake-up call. I have my fair share of bad bosses (female and male) and below are my version of 10 Ways to Pass Probation When you First Start Work.

    1) Do not assume your boss will guide you or teach you. Most bosses are promoted because they have done their work well as juniors and not necessarily because they are good leaders. When they are the boss, they already have a fixed way of doing things. Even simple things such as how to place stationery, how to align text properly in a Word document, etc. If you have a poor sense of situational awareness, always ask some colleagues and do not deviate.

    2) Keep away from bootlickers. In any organisation, there will be bootlickers. These people suck up to bosses and will carry tales. These are fake people and will be nasty towards you if you are a nobody.

    3) Always hand up work 100% perfection and this includes free from spelling errors. Bosses are very unforgiving and can form negative opinions once you submit even only 80% of the work and they assume that you will expect 20% help from the bosses.

    4) Always hand up work on time when bosses ask you for it or when there is a deadline. Submission of work earlier doesn’t mean that you are efficient. Bosses sometimes have a very negative mentality and if you submit too early, it probably means that you have not check your work thoroughly. Besides, if you hand up too early, bosses may also just give you more work for you to do! Too efficient is also no good…

    5) Stay away from rumour mongers. They may be fun loving and bitch about other people but they will also carry tales about you to the boss for entertainment purposes. Best to stay away from a group of rumour mongers who are always out to source for the next juicy tale to spread around.

    6) Do not have lunch with bosses too much and if possible, avoid lengthy lunch with gossipy colleagues. Lunch time is the best time for you to slip up and say the wrong things so take some time to be on your own if possible and rest your mind.

    7) Never question bosses orders or instructions. When an order is issued, just follow them. Even a simple question such as ”Why do you do that?” will irk them off because they are already very used to the routine. You can question all you want when you have pass your probation.

    8) Never cybersurf or go on Facebook at work. These are huge distractions and will definitely lead to more errors. In addition, most bosses have the ability to check your emails and websites to see where you have gone to during office hours.

    9) Always volunteer to organise social events or parties. Happy events make you memorable and well-liked. The extra effort used to organise office functions will earn you bonus points when your probation is due for review.

    10) Once you have pass probation, remember, you already know the work flow and culture in your office environment – you can then cut corners as when you feel you won’t get caught. All the best!

  9. In addition, e2i always organises many job coaching sessions as well. Students who may need remedial training can go to e2i. They regularly have job coaching sessions with vendors. I attended a few workshops. What they do is that they film you and playback to let you see what went wrong during the job interview. They also discuss tips on how to survive office politics etc.

    One of the better reality TV shows is Survivor and The Apprentice. All are available on Youtube. These reality game shows teaches us on how to say/ what not to say to influence people and win friends over. Something that is necessary in workplace.



    One of my friend was good in piano. She had been trained since young, and was once a second runner-up in a local competition. However, she didn’t become a piano performer because the local market was bleak. Many suggested that she should become a piano coach, but she didn’t have a key trait to be a teacher, i.e. patience for children.

    “My weekends will be burnt because many school going children are free on those days. Teaching children also requires patience which I don’t have,” she lamented. “

    She studied life sciences, and is now an administrative executive with a school.

    “It’s more practical.” She added. “Reality doesn’t really gel with our aspirations so I gotta make do with what other people have given me.”

    Every career planner or counsellor would tell you in the long run that it is more important to pursue the things you enjoy doing than the things that you are good at, especially if you don’t really like to do them.

    However, doing the things you enjoy as a career may not be optimal because of circumstantial reasons. As a result, you may have to pursue the alternatives. In this case, she settled for an administrative job because it was stable, regular working hours, and a key consolation is that she “enjoys doing administrative duties”.


    Another of my friend studied life sciences course because he could major in biology. There were a few subjects on animal biology and he loved the topics because it involved outdoor fieldwork such as sampling and monitoring of animal behaviour. However, faced with the difficulties of finding a job in the animal biology field, he had to settle for a more realistic job and became a teacher. He chose to volunteer at the zoo and the pets animal welfare charities as a form of hobby than as a career.

    “If I chose a career in animal biology research, I might end up hating it because it is a job rather than a hobby.”


    Another of my friend chose to drop out of a career in a hospital lab as it involves shift work and standing long hours. She is a working mother and having shift work disrupts her life. She liked a few aspects of the job such as clinical laboratory work and diagnostics but hated the shift hours in hospital, so she left to become a teacher instead.

  11. Below are some survival tips from an ex-student like me.
    It has been 10 years since I graduated.
    Feel free to disagree or add on.

    1) Always try to aim for good grades. Even if you are not sure what you are aiming for in your career, you need at least decent, presentable grades to get your foot into the job interview. 10 Years ago, government organisations such as IPOS, URA, PUB can still accept mediocre grades but 10 years fast forward, they need at least a second upper Honours to get a foot in the door.

    Recently, I attended a job interview and was surprised to know that the Assistant Head was my former course mate in Life Sciences. He already had a PhD and was promoted to Assistant Head rather quickly. The old saying of having good grades still ring true.

    If you are doing badly in your first year course, have a good self-reflection to see if you are really interested or in the wrong course.

    2) During holidays, try to take up hobbies that will steer you in the career path. If you are interested in social work and already in Arts, always volunteer in charity or welfare organisations to show to prospective employers that you are determined. You also have stories to tell during interview about your experiences.

    If you are interested in a career in public service/ research/ banking and finance or engineering, there are recruitment agencies where govt bodies, banks or engineering firms hire temporary staff. Temping is a good way to get an inside peek into the organisation. It teaches you to be patient and tolerance to get along with other people.

    Although temp staff pays $8 an hour and doing mundane work such as data entry or paper work, along the way, you can always steal / hear tips from other colleagues about the inner operations of their work.

    3) Singapore citizens fresh graduates should at least try for govt service. Govt service is still a big recruiter for fresh graduates and it provides a good training ground before you decide to go for private sector.

    4) Your first job will be crucial as future prospective employers will look at your CV and decide whether to hire you based on your last working job experience.

    For example, my course-mate in life sciences’ first job was in membership officer in a Country Club. Although she majored in biomedical science, her first job was in a Golf Country Club. When I checked on her Linkedin Profile, she managed to change her job to Corporate Communicates in a Govt Stats Board. Imagine the transitiong, from life sciences student to corporate communications.

    If you don’t like your first job/ boss is abusive, try to quit early and leave it out on your CV as future HR employers will base their hiring decision.

    You need a job to get another job. If you leave a job without another job, chances are the HR will not shortlist you for an interview, as they don’t really like people who cannot hold on to jobs. So try to stay put in a job for at least a year.

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