Dipping your toes in the workforce

College life tends to be about hitting the books and getting a social life, but why not add a job into the mix? Priya Kulasagaran speaks to young adults on the benefits of juggling work and studying.

Chilling, catching movies with friends, and trying out new skateboard tricks — that’s what Mohd Asyraf Muhammad Yunos thought his post-school life would look like before he started university. Instead, his parents decided that it would be a good idea for him to get a job. “My first thought was, what, seriously? I was really against it — I thought I could get a break from getting up early in the morning!” said the 18-year-old.

After some coaxing from his parents, as well as the promise of some extra cash in his pockets, Mohd Asyraf found himself working in an IT store at his neighbourhood in Shah Alam. Despite his earlier misgivings about having a job, he continued working part-time even after starting his A Level course. “I’m interested in computers, so it felt like a good fit,” he said. “I’m lucky to have a cool boss, he lets my friends come over; as long as I handle customers and be punctual, he’s not too strict.”

While it’s no easy task to juggle the responsibilities of work and academics, he has grown to appreciate the experience as well. “I feel a lot more like an ‘adult’; like, I don’t have to rely on parents as much to pay for things. I still struggle to wake up in the mornings, but the job forces me to have a bit more discipline. I may quit if it starts to interrupt my studies or anything, but I think I’m managing it so far.”

The idea of holding down a job while studying full-time can be a daunting idea for most, but there are some clear benefits in doing so. Although there is the immediate plus point of having some extra dollar bills to spend, the more intangible perks may be even more long-lasting.

Real world skills

The desire for extra pocket money was what drove Mikhaela Panacherry, 19, to get a job. Having worked in retail throughout her foundation studies, she has learnt some other important life skills; one of which is how to spend her time wisely.

“I used to be quite bad at managing my time, but with a job, you’re forced to do it,” she said. “One downside is it affects your social life, because I tend to work weekends and that’s usually when my friends want to hang out. But you learn how to compromise and prioritise; you can’t afford to just waste time.”

About to continue her studies in communications in September, Mikhaela aspires to be in the public relations industry — given that her job at a jewellery store involves dealing with customers, she’s already picking up the skills she needs for her chosen career.

“You have to learn how to deal with different types of customers; the worst ones are the angry ones! But you have to figure out the best way of dealing with them, and get them to calm down. It’s the same for bosses and colleagues — at a previous job, my boss was not very understanding when I needed time off for exams or things. So you learn to find ways to manage people,” she said.

Unlock more opportunities

Most tertiary institutions now have some form of work experience programme as part of their degree courses, usually spanning from three to six months. But in today’s competitive job market, it really doesn’t hurt to have more experience. Given that most employers expect fresh graduates to not have actual working backgrounds, they tend to look for other clues about who you are aside from your grades.

What’s more, even if your job experience may not be directly related to your field, it may still give you an added edge over others. Just ask Darren Lau, who worked his way through law school at various part-time jobs, including stints as a waiter over term breaks. “When I applied to do my chambering — at a big law firm, so it was quite competitive — I was surprised when one of my bosses later told me that they had picked me because of my work experience. According to him, those jobs showed that I had ‘real world’ experience and proved my maturity,” said the 26-year-old.

Lau added that his time spent waiting tables taught him the ins-and-outs of dealing with difficult clients. “At college, your lecturers see you every day, and they’re a lot more sympathetic to your case. In a busy restaurant, the customer doesn’t care if you’ve had a bad day, or that you’re sick — if you mess up, you’re going to get it from them. You still have to put on a smile and deal with it.”

Making it work

When looking for work, one of the main things students look for is flexibility, particularly when you need to reorganise your schedule around examinations and major assignments. Marketing student Alicia Yee, who currently works as a sales associate in a clothing store, warned her peers to weigh all the pros and cons of a potential job.

“You also have to calculate how ‘expensive’ the job will be,” said the 20-year-old. “My first job was at a really cool cafe, and it was fun. But I realised I was spending more than half my pay on transportation to get to work! Try and think about how much you have to spend daily, and measure that against your pay.”

Lau meanwhile said that part-timers should also be aware of their rights as workers so as not to be exploited. “This is particularly for things like getting compensated for overtime and being entitled for leave days, depending on how long you have worked. If there’s a contract letter, make sure you read it!” he said.

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