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Keep Moving: SK Ong on How Millennials Can Advance Their Career in the COVID-19 Workplace

·7-min read
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SK Ong
SK Ong

After spending over four years growing a career in banking and a short stint in the e-commerce industry, Ong Shen Kwang switched to Singapore’s fintech industry, a sector poised to become the “next big thing” in driving jobs and revenue in Southeast Asia’s tiger economy. “The opportunity came, and I decided to take it up,” Shen Kwang, or SK tells JobStreet, adding that he was keen to pick up new skills in a new role.

However, things were not easy as SK’s move came just months after COVID-19 struck. The need to cope with many unforeseen changes in the workplace added to the usual pressures of adjusting to a new work environment. As a senior project manager at a fintech firm then (now project director), SK had to adjust to the fast pace and tight deadlines common to the industry.

Fortunately, a positive frame of mind and adopting habits that keep him productive have proven practical in adapting to a new industry, as well as a new world of work. Learn about SK’s tips for coping with change at work and how millennials can build and thrive in a new career.

What prompted you to switch to a career in the FinTech industry? What were the challenges you faced while making the switch?

Prior to pursuing a career in the FinTech industry, I had worked as a process facilitator driving cross-functional process transformation initiatives in a local bank, and also as a marketing project manager driving special projects in an e-commerce firm. I made the switch mainly because I had wanted to better align my skill sets to a role in a familiar industry that would allow me to deepen my transferable skills and pick up new ones.

Having made the switch just months after COVID-19 struck, one challenge I faced was the remote working environment. Unlike those days where we worked in an office, I was working mostly from home as a new joiner, and initially, I was not used to it. However, my boss (we call him Chun) and colleagues made me feel very welcomed through regular check-in calls, so I quickly assimilated into my new work environment.

Another challenge I faced was getting used to the pace of the FinTech industry. In this industry, we do things real fast, sharp, and of quality – and as a project manager, meeting timelines can get stressful at times. Thankfully, despite the virtual environment, I have a very strong support ecosystem within the company. My team members not only transferred their knowledge to me, but also guided me along patiently when I first joined.

Throughout these changes, what are the most important lessons you have learnt?

First: Maintain a positive frame of mind – because our mindset drives our actions! When I first started my career as a fresh university graduate in 2016, I was overwhelmed with stress and there were times I felt like giving up. I began feeling more confident at what I do only when I adopted more positive thinking, which tided me through the tough times.

Second: Find a mentor – because a good mentor will share their past experiences with you to avoid going off-track, deal better with situations, and make more informed career decisions.

Third: Recognise that soft skills are as important as hard skills. Many people place a huge emphasis to pursue technical competencies. However, I feel that we need to place an equal stake in honing our soft skills, such as connecting with people and being empathetic.

SK Ong and Yuen Wah (1st Supervisor + Mentor)
SK Ong and Yuen Wah (1st Supervisor + Mentor)

Photo: SK with his ex-supervisor and mentor, Yuen Wah, who frequently keep in touch and catch up over meals to update on each other’s life.

Do you remember your first day of work at your current workplace? What was it like and how did you feel?

I had the chance to report to my workplace on my first day. My HR business partner brought me around the office, settled me in, and ensured that I was equipped fully with what I needed. That afternoon, I had a catch-up with my manager, who walked me through the company business lines in detail and my upcoming assignments.

It may not sound like a fanciful welcome. But what I felt was a very genuine and sincere welcome by my HR team!

You write for a column on TodayOnline called “Gen Y Speaks”. As a millennial, how do you think millennials are seen in the workforce? Do you have any thoughts on what makes millennials special as a generation?

In my perspective, “millennial” is just a term. We are not vastly different from other generations, so I think we are generally viewed quite the same as the others.

Perhaps, just perhaps like what my colleagues would share with me – we are a little more vocal in our words, expressive in our actions, and open in our thinking.

How do you think work-life balance can be achieved?

Work-life balance is about allocating our time between work and leisure activities.

Now, I lean more towards the concept of “work-life harmony.” It explores the broader context of how we can incorporate work into our lives in a fashion that elevates happiness in both our home and our office. Work and life can co-exist.

Personally, I feel you can achieve work-life harmony through the power of timebox and prioritisation. By prioritising and timeboxing our work activities, we tend to stay focused on completing our tasks on time, leaving us with more undisturbed time after knocking off!

SK Ong and Chon Hsing (Mentor)
SK Ong and Chon Hsing (Mentor)

Photo: SK with his mentor, Chon Hsing, who inspired him on the concept of timeboxing our work activities to achieve concentration for productivity.

Can you recall moments that were pivotal to how you developed your career? Did you have any mentors that provided you with guidance?

I entered the banking industry as a fresh graduate, under the bank’s Young Banker Programme (now known as Graduate Talent Programme). As part of the programme, we each had a mentor assigned to us from a different department.

During the 3rd year of my career, I was appointed to lead a huge project. I became overwhelmed with stress, resulting in a lack of focus on whatever I was doing. Viewing everything as a chore, I almost wanted to throw in the towel. Thankfully, a conversation with my mentor came in timely. He said, “Lamenting only reinforces a negative mindset.”

That phrase struck me hard – how true it is! Being negative will only lead to further unhappiness. He then advised me to think positively, before breaking down complex challenges into smaller chunks of problems. Lastly, to overcome the problems by setting milestones for myself. It might seem like simple advice, but it was extremely useful guidance for me to tide through this really tough period.

Could you share some tools/habits that you have found to be extremely useful in ensuring you live your best life every day?

I exercise daily to keep myself physically and mentally fit. Most of my friends know that I sometimes go for a jog during lunch hours so that I can reset myself and stay productive at work for the rest of the day.

SK Ong, After Run
SK Ong, After Run

Photo: SK frequently runs over lunch hours to recharge and reset himself for the rest of the day.

At this stage of your career, what does success mean to you now?

From a career perspective, success means that I can bring significant impact to my organisation, for instance, delivering high business value and advocating the spirit of excellence. From a life perspective, success means that I can still spend a significant amount of time with my endearing family outside of work. Work-life harmony, eh!

Have you used the JobStreet platform in the course of job searching before? How was your experience of using the platform?

Yes, during my university holidays while looking for a part-time job. The platform is sleek and user-friendly!

Any words of career wisdom you would like to share with jobseekers in Singapore?

One of my favourite life quotes is – “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving”.

Drawing parallels with our careers, we must constantly upskill ourselves, take on new challenges, and move ahead with times. Venturing out of our comfort zone may seem scary. But once we are courageous enough to take the first step, things will eventually fall in place. Never give up on your career pursuit!

At JobStreet, we’re on a mission to inspire your desire to believe in yourself. We’re ready to create awesome possibilities for all the game makers and game-changers. Unlocking your potential to get a job can feel tough. We understand. That’s why we’ve got people to support you. #LetsGetToWork

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