Few children aspire to work in Human Resource. So how did Ms Arina Koh, HR Director at the Ministry of Manpower find her way into this unique career path? 

Her work life started out in a very different field, banking, because she came from a family where relatives were banking professionals. While the experience helped her learn more about her strengths and weaknesses, she found herself yearning for something more. So when the opportunity to work in the civil service at the Ministry of Manpower came along, she jumped at it. She wanted to work in an organisation which has a purpose that resonates with her values, to make a difference to others and to allow her to adopt wider perspectives towards issues since the impact of the work would be at the national level. Her career in the Ministry began with conceiving and developing workforce programmes before she moved on to look at initiatives to anchor Singapore as the Centre of Excellence for Human Capital. Subsequently, she moved on to take on an HR role.

Here are her tips for forging your own career path that she’s gleaned from her career journey.


#1 Find an organisation that you can resonate with

“Your first job does a lot in shaping your career and your thinking,” explains Arina. “Therefore find out what the organisation stands for before making your decision. Make sure that their values, their culture and their work and beliefs resonate with you.” In a society where people associate you with your organisation, it’s important for you to think through who you want to be known as and how you want to be perceived.

Arina stresses that job seekers should also assess whether they can see themselves progressing within an organisation. While some organisations may be attractive to new entrants, this may not remain the case in the long-term.

#2 Be open

Be open to learn, open to explore and open to options. “Most people in their early 20s have not decided what they want out of their careers, so it is important to be open and embrace uncertainties,” says Arina. “Learn as much as possible and do not be afraid to take on new roles. Be proactive in volunteering for different projects, and willingly tackle challenges that come your way. And be humble. Don’t feel some work is beneath you. Sometimes the work which we do at the earlier part of the career helps us to develop a perspective for the future when we take on leadership roles. For example, we would be able to better understand the effort that goes into a small request so we either make better decisions or appreciate our staff more with that insights.”

Arina also highlights the importance for young people to constantly empower themselves with new skills to enhance their versatility.

#3 Take a long term view on your career

Although some companies may offer attractive packages at the start, they provide little to no career progression. Therefore, Arina cautions that young graduates should take a longer-term perspective of their career. 

“The first few years of your career are usually exploratory and the experience should give you an indication of where your career is heading,” explains Arina. “So be adventurous and courageous in making changes. If you are not seeing opportunities to grow or progress, it may be time to move on. Go explore and get exposure!”

Career in Public Service


When recruiting officers, she looks for candidates who are not only curious and open to new experiences, but who are also eager and ready to make a real difference. “I typically look for people with good work ethics and the right mindset because the Public Service operates very differently from the private sector,” explains Arina.  “Younger officers can want things to move very fast. But when you are working on policies that have an impact on many people and also the generations to come, many things have to be taken into consideration.”  

As a respected leader in her organisation and team, Arina bears the responsibility of mentoring her subordinates for success. Often, she draws on her own personal experience to help ensure that she steers them in the right direction. It comes as no surprise that she prioritises ongoing skills upgrading and a growth mindset. For instance, whenever suitable opportunities arise, she rotates team members to other roles to expose them to different areas of work.

“Career development is not only vertical, it is lateral as well,” adds Arina. “We always do cross-sectional projects, where I draw my teams out of their comfort zone and encourage them to take on other roles to develop new skills and widen their exposure.”

“Through this, they obtain wider perspectives from different angles, so they do not view matters just from their section but collectively as a team.”

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