Getting your first job

Landing your first job is mostly about having your resume noticed by the hiring manager or your future employer and of course, acing that interview! You need to:

  • Prepare your resume: Use templates to help you get started, take the time to list down all relevant experience and don’t forget to write a cover letter as well.
  • Practice for your interview: Do proper background research, prepare the right questions and answers plus rehearse beforehand.

How to negotiate your first paycheque

An obvious reason to negotiate your salary in an interview is that you may secure a higher starting pay. But there’s also a long-term benefit – a higher starting pay in your career could lead to higher lifetime earnings. So how do you make sure you’re fairly paid in your first job?

  • Look at salary guides. Companies like JobStreet or PERSOLKELLY publish annual salary guides. Use these guides to find out how much a fresh graduate in your role and industry typically earns. You can use this information to negotiate a fair salary in your interview.
  • Wait for the right time to ask. Don’t bring up the topic of salary right away when interviewing with a potential employer – you may seem only interested in the salary, rather than the role itself. Instead, wait for the employer to bring it up and negotiate it from there.
  • Let them know about your other salary offers. If you’ve been interviewing with other companies, you could let the hiring manager know (tactfully) about the other salary offers you’ve received. The hiring manager may offer to match or beat these offers. Of course, it can also backfire against you if they decide that it’s out of their  pay range!

Budgeting your paycheque

It’s not easy to balance your living expenses, student loans and yes, even the temptation to splurge! Here’s how you can stay on top of your finances:

  • Put aside some for emergencies. Build an emergency fund that covers around three to six months’ of expenses. This helps you pay for unexpected costs like a broken mobile phone or an unforeseen medical bill – without you having to take out a loan or rely on your parents. Use our emergency fund calculator to find out how much you should save each month. 
  • Track your expenses. Consider tracking your expenses with a mobile app or a spreadsheet. This helps you figure out where your money is going, and if you’re spending too much on certain categories. 
  • Create a budget and stick to it. An easy way to start budgeting is through the 50/30/20 budget. This means that 50% of your income should go to necessities (like rent, loans and groceries), 30% to wants (like entertainment or dining out) and 20% to savings. 

Automate your finances. This makes it easier to stay on top of your bills and savings goals. For instance, you could set up auto-debits for your PTPTN loan instead of making manual payments. You could also set up automatic transfers to a savings account after you get your salary.

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Making your first investment

Once you’ve built a sufficient emergency fund, you must consider investing. But why bother investing when you’re young? 

The answer is simple: compounding. With compounding, your investment returns produce their own returns, leading to exponential growth over time. The earlier you start, the less you’ll need to invest to reach your financial goals or a certain level of wealth. 

Another reason to invest is this: You need to beat the inflation. With the cost of living rising every year, keeping your money in the bank with interest rates under 1% will not give you enough to enjoy the life you want in the long term. The only two ways to beat inflation are investing and increasing your income. 

So how do you start investing? Here’s what you need to know.

  • Your investment style. If you prefer a “set it and forget it” approach to investing, you might prefer passive investing. If you like spending lots of time researching and analysing each individual investment, you might prefer active investing. Of course, you can also use both approaches.  
  • Your risk tolerance. How much investing risk can you take on? Risk tolerance typically depends on how comfortable you are with risk, and how young you are (younger investors can usually take on more risk because they have more time to recover from losses). Generally, higher risk investments tend to produce better returns, but they can also produce greater losses. 
  • Your portfolio allocation. This refers to how your portfolio (i.e. the total sum of your investments) is allocated among different asset classes (like stocks, properties and bonds). Having a mix of low-risk and high-risk investments is important because it helps you spread out your investment risk. Investors typically use their risk tolerance to figure out what kind of portfolio allocation they need.
  • What should you invest in? This depends on your investment style, risk tolerance and portfolio allocation. For instance, if you want a passive, beginner-friendly investment, consider unit trusts or exchange traded funds (ETFs), which let you invest in many assets at once. You can also try a robo advisor, which helps you create a portfolio allocation based on your risk tolerance and financial goals. On the other hand, if you prefer an active approach, consider investing in individual stocks (after doing your homework!). 


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First job do’s and don’ts

Here are common first job challenges you should know:

  • Making mistakes. Learn from them and avoid similar situations in the future.
  • Dealing with people. Learning to work with others is a skill that takes time.
  • Feeling overwhelmed. Creating a schedule and to-do lists by priority and tools like Google Calendar or Trello could help you plan out your work more efficiently. 
  • Balancing work and personal life. Try setting work boundaries and review how you’re spending your time.

How long should you stay in your first job?

It all depends on your career and financial goals, though experts suggest sticking to a job for at least a year. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you learning skills that will increase your value to an industry?
  • Are there opportunities for advancement?
  • Does this role align with your long-term career goals?
  • Are you doing work that is meaningful to you?

If you answered ‘no’ to most of these questions, then it may be time to make a move.