Heartfelt conversations with Gerald Leong: a SIM graduate who redefined stereotypes of a private university student.

One common thinking that most private university students have is that they are at a disadvantage as compared to local university graduates. But, this is not the case for Gerald Leong, who managed to prove such misconceptions wrong.

As a SIM graduate, he was once afraid that his school’s name will place him at a disadvantage against local graduates in securing internships or jobs, but it turned out that employers these days no longer care about the school. He soon overcame the negative perceptions by society from one internship to another, and more down the road.

We spoke with Gerald, who currently works as an Associate Analyst at Mastercard, to get some interview, resume and internship tips from him.

Don’t let your environment define who you want to be

Treat your interview as a first date.

According to Gerald, you should “treat your interview like a first date” where you are getting to meet someone new and understand them better.

When he first said this, we were equally as confused as to what he means to treat an interview as a first date. He explained to us that most of us will spend a good amount of time preparing for an interview. We will practice the common interview questions such as “Tell me about yourself.”, “What are some of your strengths?” or “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”. Next, we will then write our answers out and rehearse them multiple times to ensure that it sounds smooth. Does this sound familiar to you? (It definitely does for us!)

However, Gerald shares that such preparation may result in over-preparation and we may come off as a robot instead during the interview.

An interview should be treated like a first date where both parties – the interviewer and interviewee – are getting to know one another better. While the interviewers are using this time period to understand you better and evaluate whether you are a good fit for the role, you can also use this chance to assess whether the position or company is a right fit for you. An interview should not be treated as a one-sided meeting where one party is doing all the evaluation.

Instead, it should be an interactive and two-way engagement for both the interviewer and you. And that’s what Gerald does for all his interviews. He makes use of each interview to better understand the position, the company and be himself to assess whether the job suits him or not.

Apart from just assessing the role or company, use this chance to ask questions that are not commonly asked. Gerald suggests asking questions that engage the interviewers more actively instead of using the typical common ones like: “What is the company’s values?” or “What does a typical day look like?” (We too agree with this, as such questions can be easily answered by the world’s best friend — Google!)

Have a diverse internship portfolio.

We asked Gerald what was something that stood out on his resume for him to secure a call for an interview, and his immediate answer was: his diverse internship experience. (you can check out his profile here)

Most of the time, the usual response will be a good GPA or an active student life. However, it is not the same for Gerald. For him, his internship portfolio was the eye-catching feature on his resume.

Gerald says, “I find more value going for internships instead of classes.” which also explains how he has explored and dabbled into various functions of a business industry from business development and marketing to product leadership to management consulting and many more.

By trying out various functions or positions within a company, Gerald feels that this allows an individual to be able to understand the company from a big picture perspective and learn how the various functions work together to operate. It also allows one to have a better understanding of each department & function.

He also feels that a diverse internship portfolio provides you with more career opportunities. Compared to an individual who specialises in a specific function like Marketing, the only jobs that are open to him/her will be a marketing role. Whereas for you, the hiring manager may open up another position to you due to your varied internship background if they think your prior experience is relevant to the position that they are offering you. It is definitely a huge advantage for you!

Tailor your resume to each job description.

One rising trend that most graduates have been doing is resume customisation – be it whether it is content or aesthetics. (And customising your resume can led to a 50% chance of getting a call from an interview as proven by this other graduate, who has done a similar thing!)

Gerald shares that he customises the content of his resume according to the job description. His first step is to look through the job description and sieve out the essential keywords from it. From there, he employs these chosen keywords as a guiding outline for him to craft his resume that fits the position as well.

Using Nielson’s internship as an example, Gerald recalls that the interviewer has highlighted a few points on his resume and dived right into them during the interview, which was mainly what he did or achieved in his previous internships. Just by tailoring his resume to the job description of the position, it catches the eye of the hiring managers instantly to want to understand and know you better.

However, Gerald reminds us all as we tailor our resume, we have to keep in mind that we should not lie about our experience just to match the keywords from the job description.

Do not be afraid to reach out to people for help.

Prior to the interview process, Gerald encourages us to reach out to people for help and we should not be afraid to do so.

He shares his own experience of reaching out to others for help for his Product Leadership internship at Nielson. He recalls that he was initially unsure of what the role entails, or what the function is about. Despite reading up to have a better understand, Gerald was still clueless! So, he took a step forward by seeking help from the intern before him who was in the role through LinkedIn. (Guess this is a good time to start using LinkedIn!)

The intern then was more than willing to help Gerald with his questions, and just by connecting with the previous intern, he was able to get an insider’s opinion of the position.

We admit that reaching out to someone you are unfamiliar with can be daunting, but there are people out there who are willing to help you. And Gerald is just one of the many who is more than willing to help! (He actually said this in the podcast, so reach out to him and if he ignores you, let me know 😉. I will hold him accountable to his word.)

Value yourself and know your worth.

“The mentality should be: Yes, I come in as someone with an equal chance at this role. My resume can speak for itself.”

As a private university graduate, we asked Gerald whether he had faced any difficulties during his internship applications, or whether he felt he was ever at a disadvantage against his peers who were local graduates.

However, his answer inspires us all as he shares that having the right mindset is crucial. He always reminds himself to have an optimistic mindset where he should not compare his abilities against others, and that he has the same equal opportunity just like anyone else.

Instead of allowing society’s perceptions towards private graduates to brand him for who he is, Gerald learns to value himself. He believes that his resume is able to speak for him and paint an image of him to the interviewers.

With the right mindset, he constantly progresses forward from one internship to another, and eventually, landing past the doors of Mastercard where he is right now.

“Rejection is natural, and it is going to happen a lot more times in your career.”

Gerald closes off the interview with this line, as he encourages us all not to give up when applying for internships or jobs. In fact, rejections are common and we doubt that anyone will have a 100% hit rate of getting interviews. He reminds us to continue to put ourselves out there, and the right opportunity will come knocking on our door!

So, do not give up! And place your best foot forward! 

If you want to check out more of such inspiring stories, you can listen to this graduate who shared about his struggles in searching for a job despite graduating. Otherwise, you can follow us for upcoming episodes which will be featuring fresh graduates who have made it to Amazon, FMCGs and many more!

This article is exclusively written for INTERNSG by: Guang Jin (Grehg) YEO, the creator of the podcast 1 Foot In. The podcast introduces the listeners to someone who has made it into the top/fastest growing companies in the world. From what they did in university, tips & tricks during the resume & interviews and things they wished they could have done if they were to do it all over again.