Do not fear retrenchment. Four tips for working professionals in a downturn

With the slow recovery to the COVID-19 situation, Ukraine-Russia war, inflation and interest rates hike, one cannot imagine how all these will not impact the global economy and the local job market outlook.

At the current moment, we seem to be hanging well with an unemployment rate that has fallen to near pre-pandemic levels.

Singapore’s economy expanded by 7.6 per cent in 2021. For 2022, MTI had maintained the GDP growth forecast at “3.0 to 5.0 per cent”

With rampant inflation and rates hike, it is hard to imagine how true that scenario will play out.

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said in Mar 2022 that “Singapore economy likely to grow in 2022 but don’t rule out a recession, stagflation”

But these happened before inflation started to creep in.

The last time recession happened was during the Global Financial Crisis in 2008/2009.

Even though redundancies in 2008 remained below the highs hit in 1998 during the Asian financial crisis and in the 2001 economic downturn, it still went on to hit 16,880 workers, comprising 13,920 workers retrenched and 2,970 workers whose contracts were terminated prematurely.

This translated to 11 workers made redundant for every 1,000 employees, nearly double the 6.0 per 1,000 in 2007.


The combination of a gloomy economy and increased cost of business operations is a double whammy for employers and employees.

According to SingStats, the average wage of a Singaporean worker is $6,282 per month as of Jan 2022.

It was $5,412 the previous quarter.

For Low-Wage Workers, National Wages Council recommends a built-in pay rise of 4.5 to 7.5% for lower-wage workers over 2022.

All these are good news to employees but companies facing the onslaught of business uncertainties can only think about how to tighten their belts and survive what is to come.

Given these conditions, now is probably a good time to consider how to up your attractiveness to potential employers.


Just like a rigorous training regime to prepare you for that year-end Standard Chartered marathon, raising your employability will require regular and consistent effort.

With fewer companies hiring, each has the luxury of choice and can afford to be more selective.

From my years of experience working with thousands of fresh job applicants and PMETs, here are four things you need to start doing:


To many people, a job search feels like an exercise of updating your CV and sending it out to as many hiring companies as possible.

That may have worked a decade ago. But in an increasingly noisy world, competition in the job market is cut-throat.

Did you know that your CV gets read and scored by an algorithm before it lands in a recruiter’s inbox?

If the keywords in your CV doesn’t match the ones in the job advertisement, you might get a low score and slip off the shortlist.

Technology can be your friend. Imagine if there was a tool that predicts the personality type of your interviewer and how best to counter him or her. How much easier that first conversation would be.

READ: Career technologies that you probably never heard of

That reality doesn’t exist now. Meanwhile, we must contend with the human beings in this space – career coaches who can be your best resource on the latest employment trends and most effective job search hacks.

Government agency Workforce Singapore would be another good place to start. Their stats back them up, having placed 30,000 people back into the workforce in 2018, a rise from 25,000 the year before.

They offer courses, events and job placement help.


The secret to career happiness is finding a job you love. However, there is no way to tell the world you’re open to new opportunities without worrying about your employer finding out.

But imagine if you could signal to recruiters everywhere that you’d like to hear from them.

By doing so, you increase your chances of having one of those magic moments when a recruiter reaches out with an amazing opportunity.

That function is readily available on LinkedIn and may be a contributor to why Singapore is one of the most connected countries globally on LinkedIn with 3.2 million users, according to analytics firm Hashmeta.

So put yourself out there. A study conducted by SHRM also found that 77 per cent of companies surveyed reported using social networking sites to recruit potential job candidates. Of which, 92 per cent hire on LinkedIn.

But you need to optimise yours to score high on search results. Few recruiters will diligently head to page 10 to identify a candidate.

That is how my wife secured her new role at a global digital firm after an in-house recruiter reached out to her via LinkedIn.

It took her less than three months to get the offer after optimising her profile and turning it on to show up in recruiters’ search results.

CHECK OUT: My online course to help you accelerate your LinkedIn outreach


Going by the Ministry of Manpower’s Employment Agency Directory, there are more than 4,000 employment agencies.

That is a lot of agency recruiters out in the market who may have some first-hand information about job openings and a good relationship with the employers and their human resources department. Their recommendation may weigh heavier compared to a cold, direct applicant.

It’s worth letting agency recruiters know your interest. That allows them to pitch your profile across to their clients.

And from my experience running a recruitment agency over twelve years, applicants pitched by agency recruiters tend to be viewed favourably. Employers expect that applicants from them have been highly filtered and represents the crème de la creme.

But with so many recruiters competing for the same slice of the pie, things can get competitive.

This is not helped by the contingency payment model – where employers assign a position to more than one agency but only pay the one that fills the placement.

It is not uncommon to hear of poor practices – from speaking to the applicant to get referees’ contacts to exuding a false sense of confidence and dishing out empty promises.

So do your due diligence before engaging a recruiting firm. The specialisation of the firm and the number of years the recruiter has been in the business are good gauges.

For instance, life sciences professionals will likely seek out Real Staffing since they are the only ones in that space. And then do a quick check on the recruiter on LinkedIn to establish their years of experience.

At the end of the day, you must be comfortable with the recruiter. If you feel like you have learnt something after the conversation, that is a good sign.


After being in a recruitment agency for years, I wanted to get into the technology space.

I interviewed but didn’t get picked for a few roles. Frustrated but still determined, I decided to express my interest in technology (specifically in human resources) by writing.

The years of experience and writing about HR tech gave me great insights into that space. It positioned me as an expert in HR technology. 

Writer James Greig is a firm believer in why everyone should write. He says it helps you find your voice and understand more about yourself.

To me, writing also creates a presence in the career space of your choice and opportunities such as collaborations and other professional engagements would arise.


Steve* was a client at my job centre. As a manager of a large department in a global IT company, he was given a one-year heads-up that the entire department would shutter and be outsourced to the Philippines.

While he worked with senior management to wrap things up, he didn’t plan his next step. Which led him to us.

In fact, it took him a while to get his job search engine running as he was relishing the break with the severance package. But all those delays came at a cost.

While his batchmate at the job centre attended interviews and considered offers, he was still struggling to put his CV together and work on his online presence.

It took six demoralising months before the first offer came in. By then, he had burnt through his severance.

Benjamin Franklin is famously quoted as saying: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

And preparation might help you to avoid the same painful job search journey as Steve.

* Names used are pseudonyms.

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