When Julie Ing, Vice President of Strategy and Operations at insurance firm Swiss Re, was a Master in Strategy and Management of International Business (SMIB) student at ESSEC Asia-Pacific, she had high hopes of finding work in Singapore.

Upon graduation in 2010, she found herself back in France and could only return to Singapore a year later. When Ing advises ESSEC SMIB students, this is why she emphasizes how careers do not follow a linear trajectory.

“There are plenty of options out there. Things do not always go how we want them to, so if Plan A doesn’t work, go with Plan B because it will still bring you closer to your goal,” she advises.

Fellow alumna Agathe Colom from the class of 2018 feels similarly. “Don’t worry too much. You didn’t get the grade you wanted? It’s okay. Learn as much as possible, and invest in relationships,” she says.

Nurture Your Networks

In Colom’s experience, it has been relationships that have unlocked opportunities for her. Her first role in Singapore as a project manager for a global innovation agency came after a talk she attended at ESSEC. She contacted the speaker with further questions, which led to a lunch meeting, a chat about her aspirations, and eventually a job offer.

Later, through her networks, she connected with a director at Ernst & Young (EY), paving the way for her to join the firm and rise to Global Program Manager.

It also reinforced her belief that “your network in Singapore is something you need to nurture, protect and develop.” The SMIB program’s alumni networking events are a platform to do this, but for Colom, the group projects done in each class are also a good resource.

“These are opportunities for you to learn about team dynamics, like how to identify if someone is disengaged, if someone is introverted or extroverted, and practice creating good team dynamics,” she explains, noting that these skills have transferred well in the working world.

Know Your Priorities

It’s also expected to be uncertain about what one wants to do in the future, Ing says, recalling how she had “zero interest” in the reinsurance industry when she graduated. What helped her decide where to apply was knowing her priorities.

“I knew I wanted to work for an international company that ideally had an office in Singapore they could send me to; I knew I wanted to learn in an organization with structure and that I wanted a more general role to start,” she explains. Having done a few internships before joining the SMIB program, she knew that liking the people and culture of a company was extremely important to her.

AXA fits the bill. “I met super interesting people and loved the company’s environment, so I gave it a go,” she recalls.

Ask for Support

Both Colom and Ing empathize with their SMIB juniors’ worries about their futures. But they are confident that as long as one needs help or advice, all they need to do is ask.

“My cohort contacted whichever alumni we could find in Singapore and asked questions. We also had an SMIB study trip to Japan where we were very welcomed by alumni and had the opportunity to get career advice from them,” Ing recalls.

By the time Colom joined ESSEC Asia-Pacific, the SMIB program had started its annual Career Day, designed for alumni to share their journeys and help students understand the career pathways available. Both Colom and Ing returned for the 2023 edition to share their stories.

“It’s hard getting your employment pass, adapting to working in English and new cultures—it’s rewarding, but not easy,” Colom muses. But with the firm foundation of skills built at ESSEC and the connections and support of the SMIB family, one is well-equipped to navigate the ups, downs, and uncertainties of a career.