Why youths choose to work jobs that are unrelated to their major
Even though they’re not working flashy internships, these four youths still found value in their part-time jobs.
At my part-time job, the question I get asked the most is: “What are you doing here?”
Working at an Obstetrics and Gynaecology (OBGYN) clinic is an odd choice for a Communication Studies major, especially since most undergraduates would rather take on jobs that are related to their major.
In theory, it makes more sense to work jobs in your field of study, as it would help build your portfolio and provide relevant industrial experience. But working at the OBGYN clinic turned out to be incredibly enriching, helping me cultivate vital soft skills.
Understanding that a doctor’s visit can be nerve-racking for patients, I made small talks to keep them calm and that helped me to hone my interpersonal skills. Being able to make people comfortable would be an essential asset in any job, regardless of its field.
Apart from that, I became better at staying calm under pressure. The clinic I worked at was small, and with only two clinic assistants around, the responsibilities weighed heavier on us. As such, I had to be efficient even in hectic situations.
So, even though this job is not directly linked to whatever I want to do in the future, it still gave me invaluable experiences, along with skills that are applicable to both my personal and professional life.
This phenomenon is becoming more common among students.
Sudhiksha Krishna, 21, is another who gained transferable skills from her seemingly unrelated job. For the past two years, the Communication Studies undergraduate at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has been working as a part-time debate coach at her alma mater – Tanjong Katong Girls’ School.
“When my old coach left, she wanted to hand over the club to someone she trained so she can continue her lineage and methodology,” she said, adding that she and her friend were handpicked.
Having been in the debate scene since her secondary school days, Sudhiksha thought that passing the baton would be fulfilling. Her friends and family’s reactions only encouraged her.
“My family was very happy that I was using my A-Levels holidays productively,” she said. “My friends always say they think it’s a really cool job and that it’s nice that I go back to my alumni school to teach.”
Additionally, Sudhiksha finds herself learning alongside the students she teaches. As her job requires her to prepare lesson plans, teaching style, content and strategy-related skills, it also meant that she also had to research world issues.
As she corrected many of her initial misconceptions and biases, she eventually found her perspectives on life changing.
Besides that, she also became incredibly meticulous. Since everyone learns differently, she has to understand the intricacies and nuances behind each student’s learning styles.
At the same time, she refined the way she presents herself. Debaters are expected to speak and carry themselves with confidence. Their tones have to be firm and calm. They have to articulate, enunciate and communicate their thoughts clearly. As a coach, she would have had to set the standard.
“I took the job up because I was genuinely passionate about debate,” said Sudhiksha. “But I didn’t think that it would be as practical as it has been.”
With aspirations to be a journalist, she found that the skills she picked up could help when she interviews people and gathers facts. She added: “It also helped me with the art of storytelling, teaching me how to phrase and frame my stories in the most interesting yet clear way.”
That said, there are students who have found alternative career plans through their side hustles.
Jolie Leong, 21, is a Business major at Singapore Management University (SMU) working at the front desk of Yoga Movement. Since starting this part-time job, she has made plans to become a yoga teacher.
With her job’s perk, she attended numerous free yoga classes and uncovered her passion for the sport. However, it was only after interacting with the Yoga Movement teachers that she realised she could pursue her passion even while holding a full-time job.
“Many of the teachers have full-time jobs and teach on weekday mornings or weekends to earn extra income, with one of them being a litigation lawyer,” she said. “I can also see myself working as a part-time yoga instructor 10 years down the road.”
While her part-time job gave her a potential career path, she was initially met with disapproval when she first started over a year ago.
“My dad wasn’t too happy because he feels that I should have worked at a bank or a ‘prestigious company’ to earn more money and build my portfolio,” she said, adding that some of her schoolmates recommended that she find a summer internship to fulfil her graduation criteria instead.
“I was only in my first year and had just completed my first semester.”
Nevertheless, the pressure built up. As Jolie’s peers started internships at start-ups and big companies, she grew insecure about her part-time job. Coupled with SMU’s emphasis on class participation and the steep bell-curve, she felt less than an average Jo.
“I would feel a little embarrassed saying that I work as a front desk at a yoga studio,” she said. “I also felt like I was underachieving as a student compared to my peers with their stacked portfolios.”
Her unease manifested in her second year. While scouring the Internet for potential summer internships, she found that many companies, especially commercial and investment banks, were looking for individuals with relevant experiences.
“This made me feel like I should’ve tried harder to look for jobs or internships more related to my major,” she said, adding that she could have tried to up-skill by learning how to code or by attaining some relevant certifications.
Regardless, she affirms that she has no regrets taking on her job at Yoga Movement.
“University can be super stressful and your part-time job can bring you a sense of joy and fulfilment,” she said. “Maybe this is also when you start to realise where your interests lie. So, if unfortunately, a job related to your major is not something you want to do in the future, you still have this experience to back you up.
“This experience can help you realign your future career plans.”
There are also students who work such part-time jobs out of necessity, like 22-year-old Neo Wei Zhen.
Her father is the sole breadwinner of her family and as time passes, he inches closer to retirement. With growing concerns over her family’s financial situation, she decided to pay off her own tuition fees by taking a bank loan and some part-time jobs.
In her first year, Wei Zhen worked two part-time jobs. In her second, she took a Leave-of-Absence (LOA) for one semester to pursue a full-time internship at KPMG Singapore.
“Most internships don’t pay well, especially when you break down the internship allowances into hourly pay,” she said. But she caveated that internships can give her a greater insight into her potential career paths.
“I’m still figuring out what I want to do in the future, so I didn’t want to compromise on gaining industry experience,” she shared.
Taking a LOA meant that she could set her worries about school and hall aside, and fully dedicate herself to working on her goal.
To make ends meet, she works two part-time jobs on top of her internship. On weekdays, she sorts out excel spreadsheets. On weeknights and Saturdays, she sits at the front desk of Revolution spin studio and on Sundays, she teaches primary school-level Mathematics.
Besides the obvious monetary benefits, working part-time jobs on top of her internship taught her invaluable skills. Since she has to plan her part-time shifts around her internship schedule, she found that she has gotten a lot better at managing her time. In addition, she gained a better understanding of her limits.
“In the past, I’d complete my internship work by the deadlines that I was given at the expense of my sleep,” she said. She added that she used to work full shifts at the spin studio on both weekends, but has since made tweaks to her schedule allowing her to rest more on Sundays.
“I only teach for an hour and a half, so I don’t really consider it ‘work’,” she said.
Taking on jobs that are unrelated to your major has its benefits. While it’s important to build up your portfolio and fill your resume with relevant experiences, there are still opportunities to seek such experiences before graduation.
Ultimately, regardless of the jobs they’re working, it’s up to individuals to make the most of their experiences.
“After graduation, you’re most likely to settle on a permanent full-time job and would no longer have time to try out different jobs,” said Wei Zhen. After all, our youth is the time for exploration. It’s when we’re free to experiment, make mistakes and find out what we’re truly passionate about.
Jolie shares the same sentiments. She said: “Just because you’ve decided on a major doesn’t mean your life decisions have to be centred around it.
“Many things can change and there is still time. The fear of the unknown is real, and you may think that that slight deviation from your trajectory is too risky but you should just take that chance lest you regret it.”