Asking for salary expectations and history

I don’t know if it is a matter of culture, or just really bad HR policy in Singapore, but as someone who’s relatively junior on the rungs of the career ladder, I’ve noticed some pretty disturbing trends about companies, big and small and recruiting agencies asking for salary history and expectations, either on your cover letter or on your résumé.

When I was still studying at the Polytechnic, one of those general elective courses we had to take in our final year included a small component on crafting your CV and a cover letter. Although most of the stuff they taught us were irrelevant, one thing stood out – never reveal your salary expectations.

Once I got out of the system and had to find a job for myself, the first thing I did was to purchase some books that looked good enough to teach me how to write a good résumé and cover letter. I didn’t have any recommendations, but I bought two books by Martin Yate – this one, on résumé writing and this, on cover letters. There’s actually a third in this series on job hunting, but I presumed the market in America might differ quite vastly from that in Singapore to be of much practical use so I skipped it. And I got a good explanation out of the books, and some other reference materials I read.

The ability to perform in a job is not dependent on your last drawn salary, and in most cases it is considered very bad form for companies to explicitly request for it in the job advert, or to ask it in an interview. Unfortunately, this etiquette faux pas does not prevent some hiring managers from asking them anyway. You don’t want to put a figure and undercut yourself, and my personal opinion of companies that engage in such low-ball tactics to force a hand is very low; I would not want to work for a company that treated me like an exploitable sucker. Companies typically justify it, as in this article, that it’s a way to know candidates better.


1) “Salary History provides recruiters with a way to screen the candidates quickly and assess suitability for the job.” No. Salaries tell you nothing about the candidate or their past responsibilities. That’s why you have things like CVs and cover letters which, written properly, tells you a lot more about a candidate. You will not know that I serve as Vice-President of two voluntary organisations, or that I have 1 scientific article that bears my name and is in the process of being published in a peer-reviewed journal simply by looking at my payslip for $X, 000.

2) “Salary histories provide a glimpse into the candidate’s past records and potential expectations in a volatile market.” You know, there are better mechanisms to do all these things. It’s part of the elaborate HR ritual. It’s called….interview. There’s another! And this one is called….reference checking. If you want to know our past responsibilities, why there’s a gap period, why did I change from engineering to management and then to pastry making then back to engineering etc, the interview is there to do that job. You ask, I tell. I might not tell you the complete truth, but that’s what reference checks are for. In fact, for a good company with a strong HR team, they go beyond and check references that we never listed – other colleagues that we’ve worked with in our previous company, and the like. It’s actually legal, just very hard work. Using salary history as a proxy is ineffective, and tells me you’re not very diligent in your work.

Oh, and our expectations are always the same regardless of the volatility of the market; If I interviewed for the job I’m doing right now and were offered $1m a month, I will not turn it down because I had an internal HR section within my brain that says market sentiments and HR policies dictate that I must work within a $3000 – $4000 range.

3) “Our HR has a policy of not offering more than 20% above candidate’s last drawn salary.” This is not in the article. This actually happened to one of my friends applying for a senior management role. I’ll save the explanation, but include his response:

“Ok, so you’re telling me this…assuming that I was a director at company X drawing $10k a month and after being retrenched settled for sweeping the roads for $800 a month. Now you’re telling me that your company policy can only pay me no more than $960 for this senior management position? Look, this is a position that requires experience, and I am not an idiot. Don’t take me for a spin.”

That shut him up.

Salary history is something that should not be the business of hiring managers. It’s personal, it’s private and it says nothing about your competence in managing/engineering/writing/whatever else your job requires you to do. Remember that, and next time if you are asked, just put ‘negotiable’ on the application. A good company will never kill a good candidate just because he didn’t fill up a nonessential section properly. In the interview, I would just say it as it is: “My paycheck is not a good indicator of my competence for this job that I am applying for. If you are hoping to assess my suitability beyond what you have already read off my CV, it may be better if I were to explain this project I spearheaded as a manager at Acme, Inc?”

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Plug: Askamanager

Originally, I thought that at some point I might start talking about healthcare and clinical research issues, since I work in that line. Then I looked at the posts I’ve done so far and, except for the occasional commentary on current affairs, the posts mostly have something to do with interviews, image…job-related stuff. I should probably keep it that way, but then again, I’m not a manager. If you’ve ever had any burning questions about management, hiring/firing, interviews and just about anything related to a job, you should really try

With a catchy slogan like “…and if you don’t, I’ll tell you anyway”, I was hooked onto reading some of the strangest and most pertinent questions that come her way. Browse chronologically or by categories (personally I go for the former). The blog is run by Alison Green, whose management style is very close to what I’d really like from a manager. And oh yes, there are posts about bad managers too, not just the overly-bossy ones, but the weak, ineffectual types who absolutely refuses to manage as well. Believe it or not, the latter type drives me nuts, more so than a crazy, bossy type. This post really struck a chord with me.

Some of the posts are really enlightening too, like this one. Never knew there could be such shitty interview behaviour.

I’ll leave it to you to explore the remainder of the gems. I’m retiring early to prepare for a contest tomorrow – representing Toastmasters’ Club of Singapore in the Table Topics Contest!

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Trousers: The basics

Just in time for a tuesday post, and carrying on from where we left off!

Before I continue though, I must add that the series of posts I will be doing comprises heavily of my own sartorial opinion, and I have named the posts “The basics” for a good reason: I touch only on the essentials. The bare bones that every man who wants to look dapper should possess, or know about. A thorough discussion of the waft and weave, of tattersall checks and tweed is beyond the scope of a few blog posts. Moreover, style is something that should be decided by the individual. Know the basics, then decide your signature from there.

Trousers, particularly tailored trousers, can be a tad pricier than their dress shirt equivalents, especially when the salesman tries to sell you some of their finest cloth – lightweight, smooth to the touch and usually has labels like “Super 180s” to them (don’t worry about what they are.) For the amount of wear they receive (trousers tend to wear out faster than shirts, for obvious reasons), I would rather stick to the store-bought variety, and perhaps keep only 1 or 2 pair of tailor pants.

As with tailored dress shirts, most things will be measured for you, so this post focuses on the main things you’ll need to concern yourself with when shopping alone.

The fit: Where does it sit?

The natural waist. I wish I could say period here, but a good rule to follow would be: at the level right below the belly button for pants you wear to work, like the one seen above. For jeans, it’s slightly closer to the hip, with the emphasis being slightly.

The fit: break and hem

Sounds like a yummy breakfast, but no, it’s the second most important consideration, important enough for the salesgirl to pull out her measuring tape and for many an opportunistic male to steal a glance at the latest in lingerie fashion as she bends lower (alas, by the side!). What she is measuring determines how your pants break.

One mistake commonly seen in clothes shopping is the choice of shoes. If you’re buying a few pair of trousers for the office, then wear the shoe you’d wear for the office as well. How much of the shoe you want covered by the pants is a matter of individual preference, but I personally like mine to cover the front of the shoes and the laces, without any break and crumples you see on the first picture. For the back, I generally go for a mid-break (trousers cover half my work shoe at the back, exposing an inch of leather to the sole). For denim, I let it cover my shoe, but not the sole:


Here, a picture to better illustrate the point.

The fit: How loose can it get?

You can certainly imagine how unflattering baggy pants can be, or how humiliating it might be if the outline of your member can be visibly discerned by your peers (even if you consider yourself a heavyweight in that regard). Once again, my rule of thumb is to wear the pants and see if the pants are tight about the thighs (it shouldn’t) and if your crotch feels comfortable. There shouldn’t be too much space, just about half an inch to an inch between your crotch and the fabric below. My tailor fondly calls it the ballroom. Quite an apt descriptor, and very charming too.

Ballroomtoo much ballroom.

Closing remarks

What are the basics for trousers, then? My absolute must haves are: Black pants from G2000 for the office, Levi’s 501s dark-blue-without-tatters-thank-you-very-much, and Khaki from Dockers. As an optional item, Gray is also a good addition for the office, and versatile enough to be paired with almost any colour, and can double up for a casual evening when paired with a polo. I love gray.

Finally, there’s also the question: pleated or flat-front? Pleated pants are the kind you see at the top of this post. The pleats are supposed to help the pants drape better, but I think the extra cloth makes the pants bulky, and could draw unwanted attention to the hip, especially if you sport a paunch. Flat-fronts are almost always a better choice – it’s a modern look and keeps you looking dapper.

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Shirts: The basic.

I promised in the last post I’ll talk about style. I mean, you’ve snooped around, you’ve asked your friends and you’ve got your tailor. What now?

Bespoke tailoring means you get to make all sorts of requests and adjustments, just to get your perfect shirt, but being in an age where creativity seems to be the new buzzword, and a license to disregard rules in favour of organic development also means many people ditch rules that work, and end up looking like this:

Very cute.

Or we just sort of give up, and go to office looking like this:

Note to GQ: Your photo is brilliant.

So if we recognise how we carry ourselves is just as important, the best place to start is the basics. Don’t worry about being too “mainstream”; ironically everyone’s wearing such crappy, ill-fitting clothes that the very basics is now somewhat of a rarity.

The fit

Typically your tailor will measure all these for you, but if you’re out on your own picking up some basic officewear, two key factors I’d consider: Shoulder and collar. These are, to me, the most important. The line that marks the end of the shoulder and the beginning of your sleeve should fall on the rounded end of your shoulder. It’s a no-brainer, but many guys I know still have shoulder ends that runs over into their forearm. Note that I’m not a fashion expert and I’m making up terms like shoulder ends but you should know what I’m referring to.

Oh, and it’s called shoulder seam. Now I know.

The second is the collar. As a rule of thumb, you should be able to button up all the way, and still fit in two fingers into the collar.

The material

Upscale retailers usually use better cloth. For the locals, G2000 isn’t too shabby for their basic selection – the heftier ones with very fine diagonal stripes are good for coloured options. Your tailor will usually try to sell you the more expensive types. It’s your call here. The expensive one are usually cotton, 2, maybe 3-ply, while the cheaper options are polyester blends, and tends to wrinkle easier. If you’re in a perpetually warm tropical climate, cotton’s a good investment, but that’s just me.

The colour

Basics you should absolute have – white, blue (not too dark) and gray. A white shirt sans pockets would be great, because it can then also double up as a dress-down kind of shirt, something you’ll fold the sleeves for and pair it with dark blue jeans for a drinking session with your buddies. But it’s ridiculously difficult to find, which was why I went for tailoring in the end. Blue and Gray’s good with or without pockets.

Whew…thought I could be done with one post but evidently this is going to take quite a few parts. Next up, the pants.

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Why we need tailors (Yes, it’s way past friday)

Sorry. Fever took me out for more than a week – not having had one for a long time, this one seemed especially virulent. Not that it’s a good excuse, and I missed out on a lot of things I would have wanted to write about, too. In any case, I’m back.

A while back I reported having visited this tailor in the industrial complex around Ubi. I have since had a shirt made, a white one and I’m honestly not too pleased with the results. Now that I think about it, I didn’t really get to consult and speak much with the frontline staff, and the tailor wasn’t anywhere to be found. The shirt came back alright, but the cuffs felt like cardboard, and the shirt crumpled after one wash.

There are many good reasons for having a tailor. Like most men, I once believed – truly believed – that style was overrated, and good, fitting dress shirts with nice stripes and checks was absolutely impossible for people like me. They belong on the style section of GQ or Esquire, you know, the sort that comes with a caption that says “On him: suit by insertitalianlabel, $3,387. Plain shirt by anothereuropeanlabel, $750…” The numbers are depressing, the models make you jealous and you start to feel like the crummy shirts at sale bins should suffice.

But it shouldn’t, and sooner or later you know it. The shirts are baggy. The prints are fading. And the stitches are coming off. The reality is, we all need a tailor to help us look better, regardless of our figures. I still don’t think we should be paying $300 for a shirt, but tailoring is sort of a middle way – you won’t pay $20 for a crummy shirt, but for the option of having your individual style, shirts made exactly the way you want it and with flattering form, $100 isn’t too expensive an option either.

That said, there should be some basics you’ll need to know, too, like separating style from fashion. I’m going to cover these fundamentals in a separate post, but the rule of thumb is this – if it looks too dressy, something only select individuals might be able to pull off, involves ascots, scarves and redefining a shirt, it’s probably fashion. And stay the hell away from Johnny Depp.

The benefits of having tailored shirts are definitely worth the investment too. Look at it this way – day in day out you have many, many guys out there who are content with off the rack clothes. They look average, and they seem content to be so. That shouldn’t be the case with you. When you pay attention to sartorial detail, you set yourself apart immediately from over 80% of the competition. People notice you, be it a potential girl, interview or future boss. You commute to work everyday and in that 1 hour, you are a free walking advertisement to hundreds of people who cross your path. There is simply no room to botch this most important billboard – yourself.

But even if you’re sold on the idea, what about the tailor? I’m not about to fly over to Savile Row, you know. The good news is, you don’t have to fly there. The bad news is, it’s tough finding a tailor. There are many alleged tailors, shady stores who promise cheap prices and 24h suits, or outsource the work to seamstresses overseas and then overcharge you for it. The best thing to do is, ask and google around. If your friends have any recommendations you’re good. If not, stay away from the shadier places like the shops along Lucky Plaza or Le Meridien Hotel and Peninsula Plaza, and try some of those pricier ones you find on google, with websites, reviews and good explanations of technical jargon in bespoke tailoring. One local option I can offer up would be Sam’s Custom Tailor, affiliated with Mohan’s. There are some others here as well.

I just had 4 shirts made, and although it was a HUGE investment, I think I’m going to like Sam’s a lot for their excellent customer service and sartorial advice – I certainly didn’t know button-down collars were going out of fashion until today. Next post, we talk about some basics in style, with more pictures if I can steal them.

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But I’m down with a 38.7 deg fever =(

Regular updates will resume on Friday!

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Vignette: The pathological liar

Ok, I know I’m terribly late in posting this, but it’s 11pm here as I write, so technically it’s still Tuesday, right?

Alright, fine, I have no excuse…except that I’m actually flying to China tomorrow and am frantically packing for the trip right about now. I’m not sure if I can actually manage to post on friday/next tuesday from China, depending on my schedule but I will try my best to make it!

Some time back I did say that occasionally I might try something different and experiment on this site. Well, today’s one of those days I guess! I once read about creative writing and how some writers actually do create vignettes of their characters, to give them some sort of form, and I thought I’d try it myself, even if I’m not actually going to write a novel.

“Why do I lie? Why do humans lie?”

No, I’m not talking about those crappy white lies you tell your relatives because you’re afraid they can’t handle the truth. I’m talking lies. The kind I tell. I’m an accomplished novelist who started out ghostwriting for Stephen King. No, I’m an insurance agent with a electrical engineering diploma who’ve made it to the top 100 agents at Dennis Properties. Or the like. You get the idea.

People lie, because they want to look better. They want to be perceived as having a higher value than you. They lie because they know they’ll be despised if they don’t do it. Honesty doesn’t pay. But I’ve seen past it. If I were to ask you, who are you? What would you answer?

“My name is Angeline Chan.”

no, I’m not asking for that label your parents gave you to distinguish you from other humans.

“I’m…a high school teacher.”

no, I’m not asking for that label that defines society’s expectations of you.

“I’m human?”

no, I’m not asking for that label that separates you from the other creatures that inhabit this planet.

“I…I AM ME!”

Yes, but who are you? Truth is, you’re nothing. You had no purpose, and entered the world by chance, and when you started being conscious of labels you started wrapping yourself in it, like everyone else. If I were to strip off all these labels, one by one, like layers of onion, you’ll be nothing.

We talk about an egalitarian society, but deep down we all know it’s bullshit. From the moment we’re conscious of labels, we’re stuck in an eternal power struggle with other human beings. We want to be better than the guy next door. We want to exhibit power. We want to have power. We want to be power itself. I simply take it to the extreme. Don’t tell me you’ve never indulged in a little bit of exaggeration yourself. On your CV, perhaps? Or when you wanted to fuck that girl.

We’re judgmental, but we hate to be judged. And we hate to have people know we judge them. Think about it. The girl who suddenly had something crop up and had to leave your “interesting date”? That guy at networking who decided to “help himself to more coffee” after hearing you’re a lowly executive assistant at an unknown startup?

Such pathetic animals we are.

And it is this fundamental failing I detest in all of you. Think back. I inflated my worth. I’m an accomplished novelist, experienced surgeon, or a portfolio manager, depending on when you talk to me and what I had for breakfast.


You prejudge and turn down that date, leaving midway. You inflate your worth on a worthless piece of paper. You judge, and you lie, and you stand feeling smug about the righteousness of your deed. It can’t be helped. It’s only what we can do to survive in this harsh reality, so you say. And then you call me a pathological liar, someone who doesn’t feed you the information you want so you can make an accurate judgment and banish me accordingly. You and your fucked up morals.

That’s why I lie. I detest the word “pathological”. Pathos imply it’s a disease, yet it’s not. It’s my response. This is what you do to get ahead in life. This is what I take to the extremes and bring everyone for a ride.

It’s my response to this crummy little corner of filth you call your moral values. And I will continue to respond, to lie, to mindfuck you into believing the most fantastic lies you could never make in your wildest dreams. Look at my bespoke suit, my Patek Phillipe, my memorized-by-rote rendition of Satie’s Gymnopédie.

“Hi, name’s Steven, risk manager at…oh wait, here let me pass you my card…”

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