Support Site for The Unemployed & Underemployed
Monday January 15th 2018

Jobless young fine arts honours graduate feeling the blues

Dear Gilbert,

I held a Fine Arts degree with Honours from an art school in Singapore, with one  year of work experience doing various tasks ranging from assisting graphic designers, being a photographer to administrative stuff in the media industry.

Currently, I have been jobless for two  months after I quit a temporary job due to my dissatisfaction with work ethics and miscommunication from my superior who was new on his job and  didn’t have much empathy for his workers.

Ever since then, I tried applying for entry jobs mostly in design along with some government jobs, but they were fruitless because I lacked the appropriate work experience needed for the job,

I believe many people will ask why I chose to major in Fine Arts instead of majoring in courses which will yield better financial return.

Well, when I was very young I have a strong  flair with visual things.

I studied pictures when I couldn’t read nor understand the text and I was very into building and assembling things such as model kits and cars.

My favourite subject in secondary school  was Design and Technology because I could use my creativity to design and create with tools and materials. 

I made the switch to Fine Arts after studying a year of foundation in art school because I wanted to strengthen my visual language and get introspective with philosophical and social issues.

I was an autodidact and a multi disciplinarian; I learned design, photography and anything that I have the slightest interest with.

The downfall came after I was jobless and the depressing thing was almost every ad I looked for an entry-level job required related experiences (1 to 2 years minimal) and they have a long list of other requirements.

Even I tried the ‘shoot-CV-and-prey’ method, I got nothing. 

I believed the “Experience needed” syndrome is rampant around the world  and I wouldn’t be surprised if employers couldn’t get any suitable applicants if they don’t start to train novices like me.

I wondered if there is a huge communication gap between employers and job seekers nowadays.

My expectations are much lower than any average graduate; I want to learn and gain work experience and how am I going to contribute anything if a company doesn’t give a chance to train new employees?

My recent interview with the boss was pretty depressing for someone who said my ‘rojak’ experiences were not experiences at all, even though the job ad stated that the company (less than 12 employees) will give training to those new to the job.  

He thought I was a job-hopper when he asked  why I haeld 2 jobs in a one-year span. 

My parents are consistently pressuring me to get a job as soon as possible, also mentioning that my degree was a failed investment at one time.

When I was working as a temp and they asked about  my salary and  I got ‘scolded’ for being paid so little.

I felt really useless and sometimes I wondered if my talent is actually a curse or I am really just plain unlucky?

Currently, I am exploring other options other than the  design and media industry.

I sincerely apologize for my  plight, I didn’t think of writing it at first  but I’m tired of hitting invisible walls from  all direction.

I hope you and readers of your page can shed some light on my problem.

Warmest Regards,



Hi Lost-In-Place

Thanks for your mail and sorry to hear of your predicament.

Fresh new graduates have this problem of not being experiuenced enough to get hired and its really tough if employers do not give you a chance.

That is probably why the government is willing to take up the buck and hire many fresh graduates so that they have a good headstart and also the all-important work experience before they go back to the private sector and look for jobs.

I am glad that you are expecting lesser than other graduates so that you are able to get hired and gain experience.

Many fresh graduates from overseas actually intern for free in big corporations in the hope of getting hired along the way.

I am not suggesting that you work for free but this could be your last option if you want to start working.

I must also add that your arts degree will limit alot of your options in the job market.

Do you agree that your fine arts degree may be better appreciated if you look for jobs abroad? Just an idea for you to consider.

Nevertheless, you must always psyche yourself that you are doing something  you love and not many people can say that for their work.

Many people  actually hate their jobs but they have no choice as they need to pay their bills.

Not many people can say that they love their work and you may probably be the rare few!

I hope to catch up with you sometimes next week if possible for a chat.

Stay positive meanwhile and keep the chin up.

We are here for you.

Gilbert Goh

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16 Responses to “Jobless young fine arts honours graduate feeling the blues”

  1. Jimmy says:

    It is common knowledge that in Singapore, fine arts degrees are useless and pay financial peanuts at the end of the day. Yes it is unfair but things are not going to change here for you in the near term. You knowingly stepped into it to pursue your “passion” and now reality is coming back to bite you in the arse.

    Can’t really blame your parents for being hard hitting as I suppose they invested in a lot of money, time and emotion to bringing you to where you are today as a degree grad. To tell them you are earning some temp pay like a O level dropout must have been quite hard for them to accept.

    Be that as it may you are already stuck with this useless degree so your only route is to strike a niche for yourself in some art related work. The problem is this industry is a very brutal one especially for novices undergoing apprenticeship – long hours, abusive bosses and sweatshop pay are the norm.

    The creative design and photography industry is flooded with all sorts of grads, novices, amateurs and hobbyist hoping to make a quick buck at the sidelines. I sense you are still getting over the culture shock of how bad this industry is and job hopping around hoping to find a better offer and environment. Hate to break it to you, but it’s gona be the same no matter where you go.

    To answer your question, you are neither cursed nor having a bad spell. In your naiveté, you chose a path that everyone knows will be bad in Singapore. As a student with no commitment or concept of money and work, it is easy to declare you will follow your passions and pursue your dreams and snub your nose at others who follow conventional paths.

    However now you start work reality is just starting to sink in and you are beginning to realize there is a good reason why everyone is avoiding this path.

    My take is simple, either get out of this industry now and take up some simple administrative jobs that require no special qualification or tough it up like a coolie for 5 years to gain some experience and build up your portfolio.

  2. Sal says:

    Either you be a teacher in Spore or move to another city which need your skill sets….some city will appreciate your passion and skill sets, good luck.

  3. Joey says:

    Maybe u can apply to teach arts in a school setting or teach art therapy to clients e.g at IMH. Dont get the idea that all ppl in IMH are mentally ill, some can use art therapy to relieve stress.

  4. Carol says:

    Because you are in such a niche area, it’s a double edged sword. If there are jobs available, you will get a high chance of getting it since not many will go down this path. However, such jobs are rare and few, as people tend to be in these jobs for a long time.

    You acknowledged that you lack experience, so maybe you need to be creative in terms of how you can gather this experience, advertise your skills and look for areas where you can fit your skills in as much as possible. With the availability of the internet, it just opened up your possibilities in terms of art so much more, as compared to 10 years ago. You can design things with a Singapore flavour for example, create a website/blog to showcase what you’ve done or what your specialty is, and even do research to give you ideas for which area you want to specialize in, or which industry can you target your skills for.

    Is very rare that people are able to get their dream job immediately. One has to be patient and keep working on jobs either as a side line, or learn whatever you can, be it soft skills etc, so that when you eventually land on your dream job, you are as prepared as you can.

    It is easy to say, but you have to keep believing and honing your skills to prepare for the dream job. We know that Singapore is in lack of creative people, so having your talent, you are already one of the rare breeds. Your next challenge now is thinking out of the box in terms of how you can apply your skill, and if you can overcome this and ignore what other people are saying, you can overcome anything if you believe in yourself, keep learning and stay humble at the same time.

    The journey is going to be hard and sometimes lonely for people who decides to take a different path in Singapore, but you will get there eventually I’m sure ;o) Good luck on this journey and may each step you take brings you closer to what you love.

  5. W.K.Chan says:

    As I came to Singapore from PRC, 18 years ago. My certificate and experience are not accepted by a lot of company, I worked as a rotated shift technician, only S$1050/month for my 3 person family, renting a flat from HDB S$700/month. I do not like that job, my son was 2 years old, I hope to earn more for my family…

    What I know, more than 90% do not work in their interesting field. Even have expenience, also can not get a good work. What I know from an old women, ” Do not talk so much, make life easy”.
    At least, you still have time to see the sun set every day, it is more and more better then a lot of people, they can not walk, they do not have a degree, they are sick …no hope

    Try to change your field, your mind set.
    ” Young scare no money to spend, as old scare no time to spend the money ”
    I think your parent are sure understanding you.

    Life is for happy and food only, not for money.

  6. jj@39 says:


  7. Mac says:

    Thanks for sharing. Good lesson for those who are struggling. Thanks wk chan

  8. jj@39 says:



  9. Jimmy says:

    I will have to disagree with what Carol say above.

    The writer’s professional areas are anything but niche; in fact they are very mass market and suffering from over supply. That is why companies can afford to treat them like dirt because one go another ten queuing to get in.

    Graphics design – Flooded with numerous Koreans and Indians. Lots of part time, temp or piece meal jobs, but too few decent perm jobs to go around for locals and foreigners. Many companies are now outsourcing to overseas teams on numerous e-bay like virtual platforms. Same situation as the IT / ITES industry here.

    Photography – Very few real pros with award winning portfolios, but low end market flooded with all sorts of grads with some certification, hobbyists and free lance amateurs. To make the bad situation worse, many photographers affiliated with Taiwanese and China studios move here together when these studios set up branches here. Most of them take up additional sidelines and assignments besides their normal studio jobs making the job situation worse.

  10. Carol says:

    I guess my key point is, don’t keep oneself limited to the ‘traditional’ sense of what is a professional design job. Design these days is no longer just a stand alone thing, one will have to combine a bunch of other skills to make it special only to u.

    To be competitive in a global market these days, you need to know what are the weaknesses or problems of your competitors, what are your strengths and niche areas, and work on that. Sure, a lot of the work is being outsourced etc, but how many of them can really deliver a good product targeted at locals? Do your own market research. Ask people who’s used their services. Go out and network. There are a few local brands like Mr Brown ( I know he’s not a brand..but I hope you know what i mean…) and Goodstuph that identified a gap, know what their strengths are, and made it niche.

    how many people have skills that are good in visual design, photography, create with tools and materials and being philosophical combined? I know a few who are specialists, but have yet to know many who do all of the above well. Read between the lines for job descriptions that require similar soft/technical skills that you have, and make it your own.

    I guess in the end, the thing is keep your options open as much as possible. and of course, if you can, look for opportunities overseas to gain experience if you feel like you are in a dead end.

  11. Jimmy says:

    Carol, I’m sure you are offering advice in good faith, but I have to say you’ve basically said nothing to the writer except to think out of the box.

    I am very familiar with the creative industries having started out my first 2 years in a post-production company. Things are not as straight forward as you make it out to be – incorporating local context, philosophy, different mediums, various visual arts concepts in a piece are common themes almost everyone dabbles in, but what does this really mean? I’m sure the writer would have thought of something along those lines as well, but quite honestly this is simply not going to get him anywhere.

    As for thoughts like doing market research, identify strength and weakness, gaps etc are just generalties applicable to any other job in the world. Unless you have a specific idea or market need identified for him, it really means nothing at the end of the day.

    My advice to him is simple. He can either:

    a. Get out of this industry altogether and take up a stable and general administrative job that requires no special certification or skills. Boring perhaps, but at least he get a stable decent pay as oppose to being jobless or doing temp work

    b. Accept the fact this industry is brutal and tough it out. Take whatever abuse or crap these companies sling at him, bear with it and over the next 3-5 years build up your portfolio and networks in the market. A riskier route as no guarantee of success, but at least there is a chance to break out.

    The worst he can do is to go for option c – i.e. hop from place to place, assignment to assignment, finding fault from boss to boss, job to job and not being able to stay focus in one place. A nice and decent paying environment does not exist in this industry, the minority who make it enjoy all the fame & fortune while the majority will just suffer in silence. True to a certain extent in many industries, but nowhere as strong as it is in the creative world.

  12. Limin says:

    I knows nuts about the arts industry. But I believe to be hire, best is to build up portfolio.
    Be it freelance or intern or even work for peanuts in the industry, he can use the opportunity to build up his portfolio. Do a part-time, temp job meanwhile to build up people relationship and yet have some small money rolling in.

  13. AC says:

    Send unsolicited applications (with relevant personal portfolio) to identified companies that do the type of work that interests u. You chose the creative field, so show your creative flair rather than focus on your qualification.

  14. degree says:

    Your fine arts degree was not useful because it didn’t come with work experience. I think you should feedback to your arts school so that they know this. It gives fine arts a bad rap. I thought if I am a VFX production house, I would look for fine arts specialists to do digital paintings.

    • jj@39 says:

      What do you think the art school mgmt will respond n reply if a student complained the art degree issued by the school is useless?

      When i complained to the kaplan n unisa over the degree course provided is over rated, it failed to bring us pay raise n better job opportunity. They just kept mum n later gave me choices to either quit from the course on my own or finish the course.

  15. sal says:

    Spore is a small city and market, how many art director you need in an organization…its a good if you can move to another city or fly in/ out from Spore.

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