UNCERTAIN economic conditions do not make for the best of career starts, and students graduating in the next few months have every right to worry.
Job market surveys conducted in recent months point to fewer hiring opportunities, as employees prepare to stay put until better prospects appear.
While it does seem like a picture of gloom and doom, companies say they still plan to hire in the next 12 months.
In such an environment, where there are fewer jobs for graduates, standing out in a crowd is essential. An eye-catching resume is the first step towards getting noticed, but this does not mean printing it out on scented or coloured paper.
Mr Francis Koh, managing director of Capita Staffing and Search, said it is better to buff up that resume before graduation.
"Employers look out for key highlights like internship experience, and credentials such as extra certification in specialised skills."
But he added that some job seekers need to up their game, as many candidates come armed with prior industry experience.
"The differentiating point, however, is in a fresh graduate's ability to absorb, how malleable they are to new ideas, and how willing they are to learn."
The ability to adapt is becoming a key skill that many hiring managers are looking out for, especially as businesses often have to change at a faster pace to thrive.
Mr Sam Kok Weng, a human capital partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), said applicants need to demonstrate the values they can bring to an employer and how such values match the company's requirements. PwC is one of the largest graduate employers in Singapore, with up to 1,500 applicants vying for 220 to 250 vacancies offered each year.
Mr Sam noted that PwC is increasingly receiving applications from graduates who are not from the accounting and business disciplines. He said applicants who are sincere and comfortable with themselves usually do well, as they create an enjoyable interview experience for themselves and the prospective employer.
"As an interview does not last very long, the candidate should strive to present himself or herself positively, communicate clearly and demonstrate value that he or she can bring," he said.
Companies are grappling with a talent shortage and it may be difficult to hire candidates who are a perfect fit in terms of experience and job skills.
It is a situation, Mr Koh said, that job seekers can turn to their advantage by showing versatility in various fields. "For instance, an engineering graduate can show he is not just able to work in an engineering position, but also in other sectors that require logical thinking and good mathematical skills, such as the finance sector."
While grades and technical abilities are important, he emphasised that cultivating soft skills, such as communication and problem solving, is also key.
Mr Koh said graduates need to manage their expectations: "There is no such thing as a perfect job. Graduates should consider taking up positions which are not exact fits of their ideal jobs.
"There are always opportunities for job rotation and more learning opportunities once an employee has settled into a company."