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“Don’t bother applying. We won’t be able to justify hiring a foreigner like you.”

Yep, you read that right.

I had dinner with a lovely young lady of Indian nationality last evening – and this is what the Recruiter of a renowned U.S. tech company had said to her.

“It really makes me feel like I’m not getting a job simply because I am not Singaporean.”

“I’m so sorry my country makes you feel that way,” I said to her.

Having been out on the job market for the past month, I can completely understand how demoralising it can be to apply to job after job, go to meeting after meeting only to wait and pray.

Being of Singaporean nationality, I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I can take all the time I need because my stay in this country is not bound by a legal document – a student visa, a work permit or an employment pass. For employers, hiring a local also means less processes, costs, risks; and most importantly, less scrutiny from the government – the one thing all businesses hope to avoid.

But, Singaporeans – how does that make you feel? I can’t speak for all of you, but the last thing I want is to be hired for a nationality I belong to (or not). I don’t want to be selected for a job because I was the “easier way out”. I want to be selected for a role because I earned it. I want to be chosen because I outperformed all other candidates in the running, proved my ability and ultimately emerged as the best candidate for the position.

I told this new friend of mine that I had just committed to a job offer earlier this week.

“Congratulations!” she said.

I couldn’t help but sense some disgruntlement in her well-wishes. Why?

Because she must’ve thought I had it easy with my citizenship.

Image credit: Ministry of Manpower, Singapore

Not only is the “Singaporean-first” hiring approach extremely discriminatory to talented foreigners who have so much to give; it also creates a false perception of privilege towards Singaporeans which I find unfair – I am certain that, as Singaporeans, we have so much more to bring the table that is independent of where we were born. Granted, I have heard countless accounts of poor Singaporean work ethic – but that is a story for another day.

Employers – let’s be honest. How many more foreigners would you have hired if it weren’t for such stringent regulations? Can we at least appreciate them for their abilities before we show them the door?

Singaporeans – would you rather be hired for your nationality or for real ability? Is it fair that we receive such entitlement? How would you feel if you if it were you in another country?

Lastly, if you are a foreigner looking for work in Singapore here are two things I would suggest you do –

Quit talking to HR.
HR doesn’t care what you can bring to the table. HR only cares if you tick the right boxes. HR is the culprit that puts your resume through a “Singaporean or PR” filter so you end up in “the other pile”. It is the hiring managers that will appreciate your expertise and if you impress them enough, these are the decision makers that will move mountains to get you in the door – Singaporean or not. If you’re reading this on LinkedIn, skip the “Apply” button. That only gets you into the resume “black hole” – in other words, a complete waste of time. Connect directly to the executives who are making the decisions – these are the people who can see your talent for what it really is.

Image credit: Rethink Canada

Forget about getting a job. Your objective is to meet as many people as you can.
Most people can sell themselves if granted a meeting. But what if you weren’t even granted the opportunity to meet? What if your resume doesn’t even make it past the “Singaporean or PR” gatekeeper? Never shy away from meeting new people, even if they may not have an opportunity for you. Singapore is a small town and networking with the right people will spark a ripple effect where people within the same circle will then be able to vouch for you. If they don’t have the right job for you now, they may, in three or six months; or better yet recommend you to someone who has.

*End rant*

“Shermin, you are Singaporean right?”


“Great, that makes it so much easier.”

*Hangs up*

Shermin Oh