Let’s get real with Ningzhen Xu: a 2nd Lower graduate who made it into one of the top Japanese FMCG firms.

A good GPA will land you a good career when you graduate.

That’s the common perception among students who focused a lot on their academics in hopes to achieve a good GPA upon their graduation. Achieving First Class Honors is almost every student’s dream, even for Ningzhen.

However, while her peers achieved stellar results, Ningzhen graduated with a 2nd Lowers. Despite her low grades, she was able to secure multiple internships and entered the doors of a top-tier Japanese FMCG firm. 

How did she do it? What were some things she did differently?

With these questions in our minds, we spoke to Ningzhen, who currently works as a Brand Executive at Kao to get some interview, resume, and internship tips from her and learnt how she did not let her grades define her.

Learn the tips from Ningzhen – Be true to yourself

Ask yourself what you can do instead of focusing on failures.

“While it is time to study hard, it is also time to ask myself: what is my self-worth?”

As Ningzhen walks down memory lane with us during the session, she recalls that was the question she asked herself after receiving her grades in year 1. Although her results were disheartening then, she remembers that she did not dwell on those numbers for too long. Instead, she gathered herself together to question what she can do differently to improve herself, and how much she can do better if she gave her all in.  

She points out that her terrible grades were the wake-up call for her to change her mindset. Her initial mindset upon entering university was to have fun since she managed to achieve great results for her A Levels. With her carefree spirit, Ningzhen assumed that everything will be chill in university and things will be okay. However, she knew her mindset was wrong after doing badly for some of her foundational modules in year 1.

Ningzhen points out that she knew she was not doing her best and began to give in her best effort towards her studies. One thing she did differently is that she focused on positivity and ways to improve herself. While most of us may start to see ourselves as a failure or how everything is the end, Ningzhen saw this as an opportunity to learn and further develop herself better.

So who says that achieving low grades in university is the end of the world for us all? Ningzhen is one individual here who has proved us wrong! (We also have another individual who shared with us how he made it worked for him despite his average grades which some of you may want to check out!)

Do not be afraid to ask any question.

While some people think that their questions are dumb and shy away from asking people, Ningzhen did the opposite by bravely asking every question of hers, no matter whether they are perceived to be dumb or not.

Ningzhen shares with us during the application for her 1st internship as a Consumer Insight intern at Nielson, she had numerous questions in her mind regarding the role, the company’s culture, and many more. While these questions can be easily answered by our best friends such as Google and Glassdoor, Ningzhen thought it would be better to ask her seniors directly instead to have better clarity and understanding about the position.

Some questions include: What is the culture like? Is there anything I should look out for? What does the role entail? Although the answers to these questions can be retrieved online and some of us may feel that they are nonsensical questions – Ningzhen strongly feels that no question is a dumb one.

“We are at the stage where we can make mistakes freely without being judged,” says Ningzhen, as she encourages us to be brave to ask questions. It is only through asking where we can learn something at the end of it. Additionally, people are more than willing to help and clarify your doubts if you have any.

As the famous phrase that we have all heard before – there’s no such thing as a stupid question. Clarify any doubts if you need to.

A diverse internship portfolio is still relevant. 

Most of us have decided to specialise in a specific function for our career. As such, we tend to plan our internships that align with our career goals. While this is the usual path for most undergraduates, some of us will seek varying roles in our major.

Ningzhen is one of them who completed her 3 internships in differing functions. After her 1st internship, she secured her 2nd one as a Marketing and Communications intern at CIMB Bank. Her last internship was at Shopee as a Business Development intern. With her diverse internship portfolio, you may now wonder how all her prior experience relevant to her current position in a FMCG firm.

Ningzhen agrees there was no specific relevant experience, however, she saw this as another opportunity for her to apply and transfer her various skill sets across to the new internship. She goes on to give an example like how her 2nd internship taught her branding skills which are required in her current role as a Brand Executive. Tune in to listen to Ningzhen as she breaks down her other 2 internships and how she relates them to her current position.

Although she did not intern at a FMCG firm before, Ningzhen explains that the skills she learnt from her previous internships are still applicable and transferrable. Ultimately, it is how we tweak and pitch ourselves to show what we learnt is essential and able to value add to the organization that we are applying to.

If you are still thinking that a diverse internship portfolio may lower your chances in the future when you are applying for a position which you have no prior experience before, think again! (Here’s another individual who not only did not have prior internship experience but also a degree which did not align to her current position but she still made it work!)

Understand your strengths and do not undermine yourself.

It is natural for us to compare ourselves to our peers be it academically or holistically. And somewhere along the lines of comparing, we may begin to undermine ourselves. This was also the same for Ningzhen.

She opens up on how she doubted her capabilities as she compared herself to her peers. But, Ningzhen soon realised that these thoughts were unnecessary. Why? It was because she was still learning along the way, and it was alright to make mistakes. As such, Ningzhen adopted an optimistic mindset instead. She shares that while you are aware of your weaknesses, you should also focus on your strengths where she knew of her limitations but focused on her strengths instead.

For Ningzhen, she uses her grades as an example. She was aware that her grades were not fantastic and could reduce her chances during the selection process against other candidates. But instead of worrying about that, she knew that her communication skills were stronger and it was an asset for her since communication skills are highly valued as soft skills. Apart from that, she was a hardworking and meticulous worker. From here, Ningzhen stopped focusing on her weaknesses and changed her mindset into a positive one.

And this should apply to you too! Instead of dwelling too much on your failures and bringing yourself down, start looking at your strengths and believe that you are just as capable as others.

Be true to yourself during interviews.

From our previous chit-chat sessions with other graduates, they all mentioned this tip before which is to be true to yourself during interviews, which Ningzhen shares the same sentiment.

There is a tendency for us to portray ourselves in a better light during interviews to leave a good impression on the hiring manager. How do we do it? We will focus more on our achievements with the use of bombastic words or painting a pretty image. While it is a good attempt, it can be too much at times and may have an opposing effect where it paints you in a different light in the interviewers’ eyes.

Ningzhen highlights that these achievements are mentioned in your resume and your interviewers have read about them. Hence, instead of focusing on your successes or achievements, use this opportunity to share how you achieved these successes. Share about the unglamorous sides of you such as what were some of the struggles you faced along the way or the process you took to achieve it. Another angle to dive into the discussion is to mention who aided you along the way. Ningzhen suggests that these are some things that interviewers may look for these days among candidates during the interview session, where they want to learn about you instead of what you have achieved.

Perhaps… it is time for us to rethink the way we structure our answers and be more open and sincere in our responses!

“Be sincere and stay true to yourself.”

Ningzhen closes off the podcast with this line to remind us all to be honest with ourselves. While we may bump into failures along our journey, we do have our fair share of achievements as well. At the end of the day, you are the one who knows yourself best. So, start appreciating your abilities and stop doubting yourself!

You can follow us for upcoming episodes on our podcast which will be featuring fresh graduates who have made it to Amazon, FMCGs, etc.

Written exclusively 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.