A pink IC does not give you the right to a job

“Being a Singaporean does not give you the right to a job. You still have to demonstrate that you deserve it.”

If you think that this is stating the obvious, then you will be shocked to see how many people think otherwise.

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to sit-in at a job interview panel. We were looking for Singaporeans with some IT and some management experience to take on a supervisory role. One of the applicants was particularly memorable.

And by memorable, I mean terribly awful. His resume looked alright (otherwise he wouldn’t have made it to the interview). And he dressed and carried himself decently, so it was not a bad first impression. But once he opened his mouth, you could tell that he was destined for rejection:

  • Wasn’t clear about our company’s core business (i.e. he didn’t bother to do some basic research)
  • Claimed he left his old job because he “couldn’t stand his ex-boss”.(i.e. not inherently a problem, but it does raise some doubts about who was really the problem worker.)
  • Unable to give a satisfactory answer on team conflict management.
  • Unable to give a satisfactory answer on time prioritisation
  • Couldn’t even explain some of the stuff in his resume (this one really set the alarm bells off)

Needless to say, the interview was over in less than 10 mins.

We get applicants who perform poorly at interviews all the time. But this was the first time I had the applicant send a nasty rambling email days later complaining that we never picked him. Some of the accusations in the letter looked like a copy-and-paste from the usual Temasek Review complaints.

  • Accuse us of favoring foreigners over Singaporeans. (He probably forgot that the job advertisement said “Singaporeans only”)
  • Accuse us of being “un-patriotic”
  • Accuse us of being discriminatory towards men over 30 years old
  • Accuse us of trying to squeeze the poor Singaporean to get rich
  • etc etc


I’m all for limiting foreign labor because of Singapore’s infrastructure constraints. But jokers like this make me wonder whether it is a good idea to implement a “Singaporeans First” policy when it comes to job allocation. It also makes me wonder how many of those Temasek Review complaints are actually due to complainers who are blaming foreigners and the PAP for their own incompetence.

If you want to see what a “Singaporeans First” policy looks like, just look across the causeway. The bumiputera policy there gives Malays higher priority for university places and jobs. When you deal with a Malaysian company, it can sometimes be clear that this policy results in some questionable talent residing in the firm.

A good programmer is worth about 10 times more than an average one. A bad programmer is actually worth a negative salary. A company must hire good people if it wants to survive in the market place. The government should not go out of the way to protect weak companies. A similar wake-up call is needed for some of these complacent Singaporeans. The world does not owe you a living, brother.


About sgthinker

I'm a 40-year old Singaporean male, and this blog pens down my thoughts and feelings about Singapore's political happenings, government policies and society trends. I hope this blog will provide a moderate voice in the growing online debate about the state of Singapore's society. Some of the posts here won't be solely written by me, since there will be times when other writers are more eloquent at expressing their views, in which case I'll share their insights (along with my comments). The content on this blog is owned by me.If you wish to share or reproduce the content, please attribute it to this blog.
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52 Responses to A pink IC does not give you the right to a job

  1. “And he dressed and carried himself decently, so it was not a bad first impression”
    Omg just like typical superficial humans .Be it how he dress , even with tattoos , piercings etc If someone can complete their job well , what is it with appearances.
    Though this society is already fucked with cowards that are scared of changes hence all are superficial

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  8. Raze says:

    There should be some sort of a ‘Singaporean First Policy’ to ensure the integrity and value of our citizenship are protected, as a result of our national obligations that we are liable to as citizens of this country. Therefore it is only natural that our interests be placed on top of the others, but at the same time employment based on meritocracy has to be practiced for the sake of fairness. Should there be any two job applicants that are equal or nearly as equal to one another, the one who is a citizen should be prioritized.

  9. theonion says:


    My sympathies to you.
    The same issues always surface which is how to implement, the problem is the devil is in the details. This applies despite the advertisements Singaporeans preferred.

    Daniel, do you think that the documentation is sufficient by itself, the main reason why lawyers and accountants in OZ get it, is not just to document but also to record which bumps up the costs of hiring.

    This in the end drives a lot of SMEs to consider outsourcing actitivies to larger companies who can afford it and gives rise to temp agencies.
    All you need is one stick in the mud incompetent applicant which will give rise to much legal grief and waste of corporate resources which is not recoverable from the complainant or a bureaucrat with an axe to grind

    Sgthinker, you have hit the nail on the head, however, if implemented wrongly, you will get the same deadweight which will naturally gravitate to the civil service.

    Christopher comments makes more sense and nuanced.

    • Daniel Lee says:


      The Australian version of a ‘Singapore first’ policy is actually a Equal Employement opportunity (EEO) law. Employes are just required to keep records of the recruitment process; employers are not required to go above and beyond what is ‘reasonably practicable’ as part of their corporate recruitment process.


      • theonion says:


        Gidday mate

        Appreciated your reply and guess you have not had the misfortune of my comments of getting such applicants or bureaucrat

        I am aware of it but likewise I am also aware of how SMEs utilise recruitment agencies having been burned out before by such cases.

  10. masotime says:

    “A good programmer is worth about 10 times more than an average one. A bad programmer is actually worth a negative salary. A company must hire good people if it wants to survive in the market place.” – unfortunately this line of thinking doesn’t really sync up with the kind of candidate you’re looking for. You did mention that you were looking for someone to “take on a supervisory role” rather than be a programmer.

    Supervisors should really remain as supervisors and not try to be programmers as well, leaving the thinking of the nitty gritty details of code implementation to the developers. I’m a programmer and I’ve been subject to an annoying amount of micromanagement by “supervisors” who think they know more than their programmers simply because they have a dabbling of IT knowledge. Smart supervisors know how to leave their best programmers to argue it out and flesh out the details _without_ interfering. This, unfortunately, is a problem not just for Singapore but everyone in the world except perhaps some havens like San Jose / Silicon Valley.

    • sgthinker says:

      We weren’t hiring people to do programming. That was just a statement to show that good workers are much stronger than poor ones.

      • masotime says:

        Yup, I understand; you were giving an illustrative example to highlight the impact of the right person v.s. the wrong person. Micro-managing IT supervisors are a pet peeve of mine though, and I felt the need to bring it up. It may seem like a small point, but it can be a very big deal in the context of hiring the right Project Manager to manage a group of good programmers.

  11. sgthinker says:

    To the comments who say that the bumiputera policy is not the same as “Singaporean First” (e.g. citing reasons of race vs nationality), you are missing the point of the comparison.

    Of course bumiputera is different from nationalistic protectionism. But the real point is that it is easy for poor quality Singaporeans to abuse a “Singaporean First” hiring policy. The rejected Singaporean can always claim that the hiring company has falsified records. It will end up being a case of “your words versus mine”.

    • No logic Leh. I don’t see the connection between the possibility of Singaporeans complaining of being overlooked, and the Bumi policy.

      They are already complaining about forigeners being chosen over them without this policy. Is there is anything, this policy will ensur GOOD Singaporean candidates get chosen.

      Just as a lousy candidate can complain he is overlooked, there at plenty of good candidate who are overlooked because their asking salary is too high.

      No fault of theirs. since as singaporeans, their overhead is higher.

      • sgthinker says:

        It will ensure that good and lousy singaporeans get preferential treatment. We will need a more targeted policy otherwise too many people get a free ride.

      • Timothy Khoo says:

        Your English is simply atrocious. Please be mindful that linguistic skills like these truly demonstrate incompetence irregardless of how much you feel about Singlish as being a part of your identity. I seriously too doubt your logical processing capabilities in understanding the point that our author here is trying to put across.

      • jianxioy says:

        @Timothy Khoo, speak for yourself. LOL “irregardless.”

      • Timothy Khoo says:

        @jianxoy. Thank you for pointing out “mistake”. Unfortunately, although the word is non-standard, it is commonly in use in the English Language. Nice cheap shot though.

      • Timothy Khoo says:

        You may also wish to point the lack of a definitive particle in my above comment, if doing so inflates your ego.

      • jianxioy says:

        Try harder, please.

      • Timothy Khoo says:

        @jianxoy Speechless? Good, now crawl back to your hole please.

  12. No logic. Bumi policy is based on Race. ‘Singapore First’ policy is based on citizenship.

    What the benefits? Become a citizen. It’s not impossible compared to changing race.

    There are bad Singaporean candidates just as there are bad foreign candidates. So what’s the point you are trying to make?

    The only difference between foreign and locals, is that locals have a higher operating overhead. (NS, housing cost, CPF).

  13. Samuel says:

    I think the thing to do is to level the playing ground. Make it such that every foreign worker needs to have CPF contributions (withdraw-able when they leave Singapore) and compulsory additional two weeks leave per year for them to return home (to offset NS liabilities of Singapore males). That way, the companies are employing foreign talents, not just cheaper foreign labor.

    • gth says:

      if being a Singaporean does not have a right to a job in Singapore,then what is he defending? and if the job pays a wage that he thinks is inadequate,then why is he defending? and if this makes it difficult for him to raise a family,then who is he defending?
      A level paying field? – replace NS with professional army – subject it to market forces aka meritocracy – this will reflect the true cost of what makes Singapore it is today which in turn is so attractive to FTs.

  14. Foreigners says:

    Foreigners do enjoy advantages in certain jobs as pointed out by Mr Wang recently.
    ‘What’s the consequence? Well, I can only make some anecdotal observations. In a country where there are ever-increasing numbers of foreigners, it seems to me that nowadays, it’s common for Singaporeans’ contributions to be undervalued in the workplace. I see situations like this quite often – the Singaporean does most of the hard work, he has a strong sense of responsibility and his work is technically sound and reliable. But somehow he doesn’t get the credit. Instead some FT waltzes in and takes the limelight. And the FT is usually someone who is more articulate and outspoken (basically, a better show-&-teller).’

  15. I think the point here is that he can’t accept rejection and wrote a nasty email to accuse the company of all sorts of things when he was actually rejected based on his incompetence. Having said that, not all the complainants on Temasek Review are necessarily incompetent whiners. There are companies that favour foreigners over locals simply because they are cheaper.

  16. AC says:

    The critical difference between “Singaporean First” and the Bumiputera policy, is that most foreigners can choose to make the commitment to Singapore by becoming a citizen, and as a result be treated the same as all other citizens; whereas for the Bumiputera policy, you have to be a Malay Malaysian – you can’t swear 100% loyalty to the Malaysia and convert into one.

    Hence, foreigners who choose not to commit to Singapore, cannot be treated and provided for on the same level as a citizen that is fully committed to the country and paying all the dues of citizenship – e.g. NS liability for one and one’s children etc.

    • TK says:

      These are currently two issues you are addressing here, unfortunately they cannot be combined into one. First, is the benefits of citizenship. Yes I agree that foreigners cannot be regarded on the same level as citizens, in voting rights etc. However, in the scope of private business, companies hire on the base of merit. They answer to their shareholders unlike the Singapore government which has to answer to her citizens. As such, companies will hire according to their preferences and needs that maximize their profits and minimize their costs. Unless, the government steps in and legislates that companies in Singapore hire Singaporeans, companies will continue to make their decisions based on their respective cost-benefit incentives.

      • sgthinker says:

        Smart companies do not hire merely on cost basis. quality matters too. If your company has an iron-clad policy to hire only the cheapest workers, then you might want to get out soon because that company is doomed to fail.

      • TK says:

        The quality comes in the benefits portion of the analysis. A good employee, for example a good salesman will increase the sales of the company, bringing in more profits. A cost benefit analysis does not solely look on costs alone.

  17. Conscious says:

    Some good citizens do not know the word “consciousness”

  18. Benson says:

    The same logic could be applied to Education as well.

  19. dennishe says:

    Treating fellow Singaporean with priority over others is the basic foundation to nationhood.

    Standing up for our fellow countrymen is fundamental to a strong and stable country.

    There is a saying where it is hope that the people would not be like “loose sand in a basin”. When face with adversity. Everyone and everything scatters.

    Take a leaf from historical China, during the waning years of the Qing dynasty. The people then were disdainful of each other, mistrusted each other. Anything made in foreign country were coveted. The country is so weak that countries from all over can simply walk in to curve out territory for themselves.

    I am not advocating that obnoxious people mentioned in the above article be supported. No. They simply must change their attitude. And Daniel Lee is doing the right thing to reject and criticise such behaviours.

    My only concern about this article is that Daniel Lee’s encounter with one bad apple would want to dismiss the necessity for fellow citizens to stand up for each other. Which leads me to wonder. What about other Singaporean interviewees? Not even one to fit the bill? Not even one worthy of praise?

    Further, his generalisation of the email sent to him by the above terriibly awful applicant “looked like a copy-and-paste from the usual Temasek Review complaints”. A utterly unfair blanket generalisation for all those who contributed to this site.

    • TK says:

      I agree with most of what you have written, except for your comments on TR. Generalizations aside, if you have ever spent 10 seconds on Temasek Review comments section, you will know that the board is filled to the brim with idle loafers (not all of course) who do nothing but whine and wallow in self-victimization. “Oh poor me!” “Foreigners BAD!” “NS for Singaporeans, Job for Foreigners!” The worst is vitriolic personal attacks on our country’s leaders, and fellow Singaporeans who do not share the same brainless narrow-minded bigot views that they have. (Disclaimer: not a general statement, just facts.)

  20. Elpeo Ple says:

    Dressing well, does not equate to capable, there are many shallow employers out there

  21. louise says:

    agree with daniel lee.

  22. Tommy says:

    I think its quite simple. Abolish NS & reservist. Staff it with the best of the job foreigners. Take away the last reason for Singaporean men to winge about not being able to compete fairly.

    Next, introduce open-citizenship. Allow Singaporeans to freely seek citizenship elsewhere just like other nationalities take up Singaporean citizenship whilst retaining their own country of origin (secretly). Truely become an open economy.

    The existing surplus should be privatised and distributed to Singaporeans as shares. Shares in Singapore can be created and distributed to all existing citizens. These shares (like club memberships) can be re-sold. The number of people that live in Singapore should be limited to those with a share.

    That’s a level playing ground. The government absolves itself from all responsibilities to Singaporeans (its already 90% there), and they should complete the compact by allowing Singaporeans to absolve themselves from all responsibilities from Singapore.

    Once we reach there, the will be no nation, no statehood. Its just a company/club, job and anything goes.

    HDB slums will emerge crowded by foreigners. Citizens are only expected to live in Condos. Singaporeans who can’t stand Singapore can move on, sell their birthrights (ie. shares) and move to Japan, Switzerland, USA, China, India or wherever they like. The casino will play citizenship roulette. The police force will be spotted with corruption at all levels but still functional. Birthrates will continue to decline.

    When that day arrives, the social fabric of Singapore will re-made. It’s not a bad thing. That is the new Singapore which has polarised to the opposite end of the Swiss-standard of living. High income, but totally unsuitable for families. It might be the model for the next generation city.

  23. Aaron Loy says:


    I’m all for helping the poor, prioritising citizens, etc etc, but then I get sick when I see people with this ridiculous sense of entitlement.

    As for the comparison with the bumi policy, I agree as well. He didn’t say it’s the same, but a Singaporean first policy would be very close to the bumi policy, the ONLY difference being the bias, which is towards ‘country-ist’ as opposed to being racist.

    I will passionately oppose a Singaporean first policy. It goes against the very root of our society which was built on the collective harmony of the different races. The answer is moderation, not extremist protectionism.

  24. Christopher Quek says:

    I am a Singaporean boss myself and I have placed a “Singaporeans first” policy thus far. I placed my main functions in Singapore, despite being able to operate in Malaysia. My HR costs are higher by 100% due to more expensive salaries (a Malaysian’s pay is 50% cheaper than a Singaporean), but I believe that Singaporeans do have a unique edge in what I need in my industry. Singaporeans have a better command of English which is very relevant in this world. Good quality Singaporeans have come a long way. I see more open-ness in travelling and having a more global mindset.

    I understand the writer’s viewpoint and totally face it myself. I interview at least 30 Singaporeans before I get 2 potentials. And some can be very ill-mannered (poorly dressed, refuse to pick up your call and not come for interviews). But on a fair note, it is the same everywhere. I face this too when I hire in Malaysia. People also come in jeans, poor English and are improperly dressed. They also jump ship as soon as they find a better job.

    I feel the writer is writing about those Singaporeans who need to improve on their interview skills and how to sell themselves. He is also highlighting that a Singaporeans-first policy gives you the chance, but it is not an entitlement to a job. Singaporeans now have the chance to shine and they should be on their toes to claim their job opportunity ahead of them. Singaporeans should not be complacent as employers will depend on you for success. If Singaporeans do not do the job well, globally other competitors will defeat the Singaporean company. Who loses? The Singaporean team.

    There are valid points if we read it the right way. So let’s focus on the positives and show the world that Singaporeans stand together as a workforce.

  25. eli says:

    Singaporian first policy does not mean you need to stick to a lousy local worker. you can also encounter poor performance from foreigners. Just step into any retail or f&b establishment dominated by foreign staff. the point of a ciizenship is to give an identity and entitlements and priority to certain things. this is the same evwrywhere. It is bad luck that employers have employees that cant perform, but what makes you so sure a foreigner is better? and social skills are as important, a lot of foreigers lack that. they refuse to or are unable to assimilate (bring in their own local work cultures, only mingle with people their own nationality).

  26. SN says:

    A “Singaporean First” policy is not synonymous with the bumiputera policy for a variety of reasons. The most obvious of which is that the latter is not simply an economic policy, but also a social and political one.

    At any rate, a “Singaporean First” hiring policy is not an invitation to a free lunch, so to speak, as you seem to imply. It only means that if a non-Singaporean were to be hired, the employer had to first prove that no Singaporean is capable of taking up the position in question. In other words, you are free to refuse an incompetent Singaporean a job in favour of a foreigner.


    • Singaporean says:

      on the contrary, a “Singaporean First” policy may not extend (always) to the social and political sphere (though it sometimes does), but any such economic policy is definitely driven by social and political pressures, not economic.

      • IniD says:

        I think it’s ridiculous for people to feel that private entities have a duty to employ persons of any nationality first – if they choose to employ certain groups of people without regard to their performance, they they will suffer the consequences of their choices; conversely, they shouldn’t forced to employ Singaporeans based purely on that fact that Singaporeans are, well, Singaporeans.

        Christopher Quek may have a “Singaporean first” policy, but really he is employing people with the skills he needs, not based on their IC colour. Whatever the case, he at least is putting his money and business where his mouth is and not just demanding that others give him priority. Respect.

      • TK says:

        Excellent point you have IniD!

  27. Daniel Lee says:

    Truly agree with your entry. Although I feel a need to clarify a ‘Singaporean first’ policy. I will use an Australian example as I work in Human Resources here in Melbourne, Australia.

    A ‘Singaporean first’ policy simply means that a company needs to keep all end-to-end recruitment documentation when filling a position, regardless of who is eventually hired; after all it is a meritocratic system and the best applicant wins. Should there be two equal applicants and one is a citizen while the other is a foreigner, then the citizen gets the job.

    Should there be only one successful candidate, a foreigner in this case, and then there is a complain about unfairness of the recruitment process, the company simply shows the recruitment documentation to auditors to prove that the foreigner was the best person for the job and there is a fair and transparent process. There would also be a time limit of about 6 months in which complains can be lodged with the appropriate authority.

    That is how a ‘Singaporean first’ policy should work if it was ever enacted. One issue is educating the public on expectation, and the government has no interest in such a policy as it does interest bureaucracy for enterprises only very slightly.

  28. Civil Serpent says:

    Malaysia’s Bumiputera Policy is an affirmative action policy that gives priority in employment & educational and business opportunities to the majority race, that had been marginalized under the policies of Malaya’s colonial past.

    On the other hand, a Singaporeans First employment policy would prioritize based on nationality. Several developed states, such as the US and European countries practice this form of employment discrimination. In this case, it’s simply a matter of a country putting the interests of its own, as a right of citizenship, before those of foreigners.

  29. Daniel Yap says:

    I doubt they are really complacent. Just incompetent. Incompetent people are everywhere – some are even Singaporeans.

    However, I think that the comparison to the bumi policy is a little uneven. The bumi policy is racist within the context of a nation, which defeats the purpose of nationhood. Prioritising Singaporeans is nationalist/protectionist, which is how nations normally deal with each other.

    In other words, in a nationalist/protectionist world stage, a nation that is totally open/meritocracy will have her citizens trampled on (in comparison to other nations) by foreigners.

    Some of the gripe is, therefore, valid.

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