Like every other Singaporean son, I spent every bit of my two years wishing for the arrival of my Operationally-Ready Date (ORD). ORD-ing essentially means the completion of 2 years as a Full-time National Serviceman (NSF) and transitioning into a civilian. As I described to my friends, NS oftentimes felt like an opportunity to switch off and have fun indulging in silly stuff with your peers. When the time finally came, I found myself having trouble adjusting to life outside because after all, only seeing the world on weekends deprived me of a lot of real world experience. Hence I found myself looking for a lot of help, regarding job-seeking, learning opportunities and about life’s directions in general.
Finding A Job
With job-seeking, it was a mundane rinse and repeat of applying for multiple jobs and crossing fingers hoping for a positive reply. From Jobstreet to Indeed, I scoured for every opportunity for a marketing internship and applied for countless number of jobs before even one job offered an interview. Knowing that I was a freshly ORD-ed personnel coming out from NS, the competition against my army friends and peers in university meant that I needed to differentiate myself and market myself better to be more employable. While disheartened from the cold responses, this experience taught me the importance of working harder on myself to be set apart from the rest.
To maximise my time while job-seeking, I focused on upskilling to pick up skills relevant to marketing. YouTube’s online tutorials became the best resource as it was free and detailed. From there I picked up basic Photoshop, Premiere Pro and even simple coding, and applied them to some personal projects that I had in mind. Working on these projects also meant building up my portfolio which was important in helping the employers visualise what skills I had. What I could have done differently was to start building my portfolio throughout the two years of NS. With the increasing pockets of time throughout serving NS, I regret not upskilling when I had the time to. This resulted in a lot of rustiness and the need to “warm up” again after ORD. That said, there are many (subsidised) resources available to NSFs that help to upskill such as CITREP+ and e-Prep credits, so utilising those resources will be crucial in making your life much easier.
A while after, Culturally’s co-founder, Jacin reached out with an offer, which I very gladly accepted as it had been close to a month of job-searching at this point in time. Furthermore, Culturally’s vision and ethics as a local start-up offering unique cultural experiences resonated with me, making it an easy choice. Although there were lots to pick up and adapt to, Jacin and my fellow intern Lois were very patient towards a newcomer like me, constantly offering advice and guidance. With questions always welcomed and discussions encouraged, this made my first working experience with a team a breeze.
NS vs Internship
Life in NS was systematic yet rigid. There was always a schedule to follow everyday, things to do, which made autonomy very hard to come by. Waking up and sleeping at a certain time each day, having everybody follow a schedule bred discipline but also conformity. It was in the army that I felt the gradual decay of creativity and intellect. In a place of compliance, creativity and uniqueness is not rewarded but rather seen as a liability, an inability to adhere to instructions.
Working in a start up on the other hand rewards creativity and the ability to innovate. Indeed, standing out from the crowd is the name of the game when looking to gain the attention of the audience. Encouraging discussions also meant coming out of my shell with novel ideas while also learning to understand the ideas from others. So this sudden spur in the need for novelty took a while to get used to, as compared to the usual stifling nature of NS.
For those ORD-ing soon, keep an eye out for opportunities that may be available early, focus on upskilling and setting yourself apart. There are many resources out there online that will provide great help to you in transitioning to a student or into the working world. While it may be tempting to “switch off” your brain in the army and let things take their course, I would advise for you to do otherwise. Free time is in abundance in the army especially for most second-year soldiers so use it wisely, keep your brain active, pick up skills, read books, keep upskilling and your future self will thank you! This also helps put you on a headstart compared to many of your peers who will take a while to be warmed up to the real world, so don't let this time go to waste!
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