Paving the Way for Singapore’s Economic Development

As part of the resumption of our All in a Day’s Work series, we talk to Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) alumni, Danish Hisham to find out more about his associate role at the Economic Development Board (EDB).

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Taking into account a last-minute job application to the Economic Development Board (EDB) and being hit with a wave of anxiety during the application phase, Mr Danish Hisham ought to think that “he would not make it through”. 

Fortunately, his final attempts to land a role that would fulfil both his desires to work in the public sector and a management associate role were not in vain as he was invited to partake in the EDB’s four-part interview process. 

A Challenging Beginning

Despite the initial acceptance and a manageable start, the interview process was nothing short of challenging. 

“There were a lot of curveballs that I was not expecting,” said Mr Hisham with regards to a phone interview during the second part of his interview process. 

“At one point I had to do a presentation in front of a panel of five — one Human Resource (HR) manager and four Vice Presidents.”

Like most, Mr Hisham made sure to prepare beforehand to increase his chances of getting the role. This included researching the organisation and his employers’ background. However, he was dismayed to find that some of his interviewers had no information available online. 

“The last part where I had to have a one on one interview with the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) was especially stressful as she did not exist online.”

Being Hit with Imposter Syndrome

Slightly hesitant, the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) alumni told The IAS Gazette: “I shouldn’t have done this but one day before my CFO interview, I went to LinkedIn and looked up all the candidates from the previous batch.” 

“That said, their LinkedIn profiles were incredibly long and they came from a better educational background.”

“I started to doubt and question myself: Did they get the wrong Danish in? I felt like I didn’t fit in because I was from a private university, so the imposter syndrome and self-doubt were definitely there.” 

An Uplifting Discovery 

However, despite his initial doubt and feelings of imposter syndrome, Mr Hisham came to the realisation that his prior experience in the SIM Business Case Competition coupled with his experience as a previous delegate for the Harvard National Model United Nations (HNMUN) was perhaps what led him to land the associate role at the EDB. 

“The SIM Business Case competition helped a lot as it allowed me to be exposed to the business world. This is especially because I had to look through strategies to ensure the profitability of the company, similar to what I do at the EDB.”

Mr Hisham with his teammates for the SIM Business Case Competition. | Photo credit: Danish Hisham

“As for HNMUN, I did a lot of policy writing where I had to find a middle ground between myself and the opposing side. Thus, that translated to my work at the EDB because we handle two parties’ perspectives — the EDB’s and the external company’s.” 

Mr Hisham together with other SIM delegates at the 2019 HNMUN Conference in Boston. | Photo credit: Danish Hisham

The EDB is one of the statutory boards under the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) which works with both local and foreign MNCs. 

The EDB undertakes investment promotion and industry development work to enhance Singapore’s position as an international centre for business, innovation and talent. EDB is responsible for over 30 per cent of Singapore’s annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP), across the manufacturing and tradeable services sectors. 

“So what we do is we bring these big companies to Singapore. That’s why we have companies such as Exxon Mobil, Google, Facebook, Pfizer, Moderna, Airbus, Toshiba [to name a few].”

“As the agency’s name suggests, these efforts aid Singapore’s economic development and help push industries to a certain level”, said Mr Hisham about the role of the EDB in Singapore. 

“We [help push these industries] through certain support measures. For example, we would support the companies by giving them grants for them to allow their workers to upskill.” 

The Associate Programme at EDB 

For the EDB Associate Programme, selected candidates go through three, three-month stints during a one-year programme. These include branches such as the Accounts group, Policy and Planning and the Customer Experience and Marketing and Investment Facilitation (CMIF), with the latter being Mr Hisham’s first stint. 

Mr Hisham together with his batchmates during a learning session for his stint at the CMIF. | Photo credit: Danish Hisham

During his rotation in CMIF, Mr Hisham had the opportunity to handle international marketing in the technology industry and helped assist Japanese and South Korean companies branch out into the Singapore market. 

All in a Day’s Work 

When asked about what he does on a regular workweek, Mr Hisham mentions that he averages around two to three (virtual) meetings where he does meeting briefs, call reports and other backend paperwork such as incentive applications. 

Mr Hisham in a virtual work meeting. | Photo credit: Danish Hisham

“Meeting briefs are snapshots of the upcoming meeting for my manager and Vice Presidents who don’t have much time to prepare. So it’s essentially trying to set clear objectives that we aim to achieve for my bosses.”

“Call reports on the other hand allow me to distil all the important parts from the meeting and do any necessary follow-ups that were required from the meeting.” 

Small Efforts, Major Outcomes 

Despite the slow burn, Mr Hisham sees these minor everyday contributions as personal achievements he takes pride in. 

“There’s a lot of external challenges that a company faces such as rising costs, supply chain and  manpower issues.” 

“When we see business reports as students, we’re unable to fathom the gravity of such challenges. But when you talk to these companies, you find out how much bigger these issues are.”

Furthermore, Mr Hisham is not one to back down from a challenge. Instead, he feels a strong sense of duty in helping these companies overcome certain issues. 

“To be able to reduce these issues and ensure that they can meet their goals in Singapore are what empowers me.”

Aside from feeling empowered by his role at the EDB, Mr Hisham feels happy with his work environment and feels well-adapted to the company’s culture. Despite an extremely high performing, very driven and purposeful work culture at the EDB, he mentions that he feels especially at home. 

“One thing I’m extremely grateful for is the people that I work with at the EDB. It’s a breath of fresh air knowing that I have peers that I can be professional with but also enjoy their company once we knock off.” 

Mr Hisham spending time outside of work with his Associate batchmates. | Photo credit: Danish Hisham

Spotting the Differences 

Although, when asked about the relevance of his job scope to his International Relations degree, he mentions that there are barely any overlaps. Even the theories learnt in his module, International Political Economy, was rarely applied, denoting that his clients’ needs are not very political in nature. Rather, he finds soft skills and the ability to write and communicate well of utmost importance. 

Elaborating further, he said, “At the end of the day, it’s all about communicating well and being able to spot certain nuances and prevent ambiguity in conversation.” 

“Once you’re at a working level, your organisation’s mission and vision take precedence over the theories you learnt in school.” 

Perhaps what Mr Hisham meant to say here is that the theories learnt in school can only take you so far and it’s your values and how you use the skills that you’ve acquired such as networking, interpersonal communication and effective writing that will take you far in the working world. 

Adding on to the distinction between his time in the classroom and his experience in the EDB, Mr Hisham debunks a controversial perspective that his lessons in International Relations have imparted. 

“In the classroom, certain theories that we learn paint a negative picture of such corporations. However, when you face these companies in person, you come to understand their reasons for why they do what they do and the work that goes behind it. I work with a lot of MNCs and many are doing business for good.” 

Similarly, Mr Hisham feels that despite the gruelling, hour intensive work at the EDB, he believes that he is making a difference through his efforts and that his potential has been tapped. 

“It’s a very intense place but rightfully so as Singapore’s economy rests on our ability to do things right.” 

Final Sentiments 

With regards to job hunting, he gave two pieces of advice for current SIM students, particularly those studying IR: 

“Firstly, expose yourself to as many opportunities as possible and put yourself out there. The hard truth is that IR is a hard subject to translate into a professional career but having an open and growth mindset to try out different things will help immensely.” 

“Secondly, take pride in who you are and what you do. Understand that people have different strengths and as long as you’re confident in yourself, nobody, regardless of their background can penetrate that.” 

He also encourages students to be more open-minded instead of simply limiting themselves to what they have studied in university.

“Go explore, find a niche for yourself. The world is your oyster.”

This article has been edited.

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The IAS Gazette is a news site run by undergraduates from the Singapore Institute of Management’s International Affairs Society (IAS). Founded in 2018, it traces its roots to The Capital, a now defunct bimonthly magazine previously under the IAS.

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