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  • Mei Anne Foo

Real People Stories: Starting New Jobs During COVID-19

Three people in three countries recount what it’s like to search for and start a new job in the midst of a pandemic.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: I feel incredibly blessed to be able to start a new job, in a new country, in the middle of a pandemic. And though I know many are now unemployed, while thousands, probably millions, are worried about job security at this point (me included!), I still want to celebrate the little victories of being hired, and not being immediately let go due to COVID-19.

Still, I know many, including my freshly graduated classmates, are not confident that they would find a new job within the next six months or so. Yes, this coronavirus has forced millions of businesses to close their doors and shrink workforces across the globe; but amazingly, I’ve heard of a number of individuals from my social circle who managed to clinch full-time jobs and can say that they've had the weird experience of having first-day jitters... at home.

Here are their stories, starting off with my very own youngest sister!

The not-so-fresh grad

Mei Belle Foo

Mei Belle Foo graduated with a Bachelor of Communication late last year and had to endure a gruelling job-hunting spree since then. The job market in Malaysia was already tough for fresh graduates, pre-pandemic. Ironically, she secured a job on 18 May, right smack dab in the middle of Malaysia’s Movement Control Order 2020 to curb COVID-19 cases.

She sat through two interviews with Smobble, an Internet marketing firm, through Skype. Her tips for acing virtual interviews? “Do what you'd normally do in a face-to-face interview… Do your make up, dress up appropriately, wear pants.”

Belle got the good news a few days after her second interview and was expectedly, a little surprised. “It was hard for me to imagine that they'd hire when other companies were letting go of people.”

Her first day was spent at home, where she was introduced to the whole team through Zoom. “It was a bit weird but it was all we could do… My new colleagues tried their best to help me feel comfortable.”

As for what advice she’d give to anyone still looking for a job right now, this not-so-fresh grad says, “Be persistent, never give up. I applied for this job months ago and they only got back to me [recently] so all I can say is be patient. Good things come to those who wait.”

The new Assistant Regional *inhales* Marketing Manager for GrabAds at Grab *exhales*

JayDee Lok - new job during covid 19

JayDee Lok is a self-professed existential tech marketer based in Singapore. The former radio announcer for Malaysia’s Fly FM, Red FM and Mix FM got a part-time stint with Google Singapore in 2018 to organise a global summit and has been managing marketing campaigns for other tech giants in the Little Red Dot ever since. Though she was let go from her last role, and was obviously upset when it happened, she sees it now as a blessing in disguise.

“Thankfully, I started interviewing at different companies back in February [before Singapore's "Circuit Breaker" took effect; weird how different countries have different ways of saying "lockdown"] so I managed to do a few different types of interviews. Some were phone calls with HR, video calls with stakeholders, and in-person interviews with hiring managers.”

JayDee says she was lucky enough to have gotten not one, but two job offers. She took the liberty to decide which would be the more “pandemic-proof” career to go with.

She grabbed the position at Grab, Southeast Asia's top ride-hailing service provider. Having had to onboard remotely, and not being allowed to collect her work laptop yet, the company sent an induction kit, prior to her first day of work, with instructions on how to set her own personal computer up.

JayDee adds, “On the first day itself, there were back-to-back induction sessions via Zoom. There were only two other full-time newbies when I joined, so the sessions ran smoothly and fairly quickly.”

Asked about the biggest challenge of onboarding remotely and working from home, JayDee replies:

“I think I’m missing a lot of context and nuances. On a regular first day of work, you’d go into the office and meet an office manager or your onboarding work buddy who will show you the ropes and tell you little things that you need to know. I didn’t get to speak to my boss and buddy till my third day of work, and then suddenly I had to hit the ground running without knowing a lot of tiny details. It’s strange because I need to book a meeting with someone to ask them basic things instead of tapping them on a shoulder for a quick question.”

The new Assistant Regional Marketing Manager for GrabAds at Grab says she tries to overcome the lack of connection by scheduling lots of little 15-minute “coffee dates” (presumably online) to get to know her teammates better. “We’ll see if this works!”

The engagement extraordinaire

Sobir Djalilov comes with more than 10 years of experience in customer service, retail operations, process improvements and project management, having climbed the shopping ladder to oversee Bloomingdale's and Harvey Nichols in Dubai as the department stores’ Head of Operations in 2017.

This talented sales and operations manager from Uzbekistan is also an engagement extraordinaire, recently conferred this year’s Dr Michele Schoenberger-Orgad Award for MBM Class Engagement as voted by his past Master programme lecturers at the Waikato Management School, New Zealand.

From all accounts, Sobir seems destined to succeed. So, it was no surprise that by April 2020, during New Zealand’s harshest alert level to manage the COVID-19 outbreak, Level 4, Sobir secured a position as the Business Manager of Milkio Foods Limited, a relatively small local manufacturer that has big ambitions.

“My initial interview was over the phone. I submitted my resume online and then had a call within an hour. Therefore, I was not really prepared and perhaps that was for the better. I believe the key tip for any interview is to be yourself and be genuine. I think it is also important to position yourself as an equal counterpart during the interview so that during the interview, you should not only tell what you can bring to the company but be able to ask questions on what the company can do to fulfill your aspirations. It should always be a two-way discussion.”

According to Sobir, his excitement for securing the job didn't last very long because he was inundated with a lot of assignments that needed to be delivered by a certain deadline. “For the first three to four weeks, I was working from home. The biggest challenge was to work on the company’s projects without proper induction or knowing the company’s way of doing things.”

Sobir also encountered another challenge that seems all too familiar for those currently having to work from home. "During the nationwide Level 4 lockdown, I had to work with an old laptop that was extremely poor in performance. I could get it fixed or buy a new one but hardware and tech shops were closed at that time as there were not considered essential businesses."

Still, the key is to keep calm and carry on. Now, Sobir spends most of his time arranging his desk, walking around the company's factory and understanding the production process on-site. New Zealand is looking forward to the "new normal" soon.

His advice for would-be workers? "I think staying calm and optimistic is crucial. It may also be worth to narrow down the focus by applying for fewer jobs but spending more time on customising your resume for each application."

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