Before you sign that job contract

I have been attending job interviews for almost a year now, but I’ve yet to land myself a permanent job.

And I think part of the reason has something to do with my previous job.

No, I didn’t walk out on my job. I didn’t do anything to make anyone complain about me, nor did I step on anyone’s toes. For two years, I stuck by faithfully to my two-year job contract at this company (lets call it “The Co”), and when it was completed, I tendered my resignation because I wanted a change of environment (also because if I stayed, it would be another two years of binding contract, and back then I thought I might have a chance at furthering my studies in the very near future, so I didn’t want to get myself stuck in a contract). I was aware that one of my contract clauses state that:

If (I) so resign, (I) shall not within 1 year thereafter work as an employee or independent contractor for (The Co’s) client or for (The Co’s) competitor and if (I) do so, liquidated damages at (a 5-digit amount in Singapore dollars) shall be payable by (me).

Sounds simple and harmless? I thought so too, but of late I’ve decided that I might have been too naïve.

This single clause may seem easy to abide by, yet it is in truth overwhelmingly disadvantageous. It is understood that such job contract clauses that prevent an ex-employee from easily “jumping ship” are instated to ensure that poaching doesn’t occur. Afterall, The Co had spent a substantial amount of time and money to groom me to gain the skills that I confidently have today, so it’s only natural that it wouldn’t want its competitor or clients to have it easy and just whisk me away into their offices without having to invest in me like The Co did.

It turns out that The Co has had its reach extend pretty far and wide across the country – it has far more clients than I thought. I have applied for many jobs that make use of the skills that I had gained while at The Co, but nearly all of them are companies that are also The Co’s clients. The Co also has an anti-poaching contract between itself and its clients, which I’d recently found out states something along the lines of “no hiring of our employees or ex-employees within 2 years of their contract termination”. Hence, all these companies are not allowed to hire me.

I’ve had a few breaks, where I applied for a job at companies that weren’t clients of The Co. I worked at one of them for three weeks because they just needed someone to cover a current employee’s duties while he went on paternity leave. At another company, I was offered a place but for a job scope that I wasn’t agreeable to, and at others, they either doubted my skill-set or I lacked a certain important skill altogether.

This posed the second part of my woes. While I certainly did learn a lot while I was working for The Co, there were some things I didn’t have a chance to learn at all. And these were critical skills that most hirers require to be in one complete package together with my current skill-set. It’s like saying I know how to cook, I know the various methods and technicalities of cooking, but I don’t know how to make my own recipes because I’ve never been given the opportunity to learn about flavours and ingredients, and how they work together – so if someone was hiring a cook, I may get the job, but if they were hiring chefs, which involves creating signature dishes, I barely stand a chance.

Call me a sourgrape, but I think I might have been intentionally denied by The Co of the chance to learn those critical skills, in order to make me a less desirable candidate to the rest of the industry’s job market. And I realise that the only place to learn such skills are in the workplace, so even during my free time now, there’s no way for me to upgrade myself to gain that elusive skill.

What I’d like you to take away from my situation are just two things:

  • In addition to reading the entirety of your job contract before signing it, don’t just read blindly; do “read between the lines” and figure out why certain clauses are there and how they may affect you (positively or negatively) in the future.
  • Constantly keep in touch with the job market. Know what new skills or knowledge employers are looking for, and keep your own skills updated. The best time to ask and learn and upgrade yourself is while you’re still in your current job. You might not ever get the opportunity again if you wait until you quit. Also, your current employer may be willing to fund your short courses partially or even fully, and in Singapore, Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) courses can only be subsidised if you’re still working in the industry at the time of your course duration, so make use of that chance.

Right now I’m waiting for an understanding and patient employer to come along and give me the chance to learn on-the-job instead of expecting me to already have the required skills and knowledge. I’ve just returned from an interview, this one might be the one. Wish me luck!


2 responses to “Before you sign that job contract

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Job market can be bad but I wish you all the best in finding one. I’m in the same boat as you in a quest for a perm and stable job as well.

    • All the best to you too! Gotta persevere yet at the same time have the courage to say “no” to a job offer when the company/terms of contract/job scope seem too sketchy.

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