Like many of his peers who were studying psychology, Mr Jacob Chong thought he would join the healthcare industry too.
At that time, he was enrolled in a programme from Edith Cowan University through the Singapore Institute of Higher Learning. During his studies there, he came across a module on organisational psychology and became interested in how psychology could be applied in the workplace.
Mr Chong was particularly interested in the Hawthorne Studies on how workers were tested to see if they were more productive in higher or lower levels of light. It was noted that their productivity levels improved during the study and fell into a slump when it ended, which suggested that being observed at work motivated them to be more productive.
Recalls the 32-year-old: "This was intriguing to me and it led me to think about how I could apply psychology to the workplace. This was when I got interested in human resources and thought it could be a good career choice."
After graduating with a bachelor's degree in psychology, Mr Chong worked as a youth counsellor at Lutheran Community Care Services to gain some work experience before furthering his studies.
"I thought it was a good place for me to begin understanding human behaviour and to prepare myself with some work experience," he adds.
A year later, he enrolled in the Master of Business Administration (Human Resource Management) programme, at the Singapore campus of James Cook University (JCU).
He chose JCU because he could complete his MBA without having to travel overseas. The programme could also be completed in 16 months due to the university's trimester system.
One of Mr Chong's most memorable learning experiences during his master's programme at JCU was developing a business case for his final year project with a team.
Through this project, he learnt the importance of constant communication among teammates and stakeholders, and that it could be the key to working effectively.
He also honed his thinking skills to consider the big picture while working on the smaller aspects of the project - something he believes is necessary to excel in business.
He says: "Being able to look at things from a 'helicopter perspective' and then zoom in on the details when it matters, one is able to excel in whatever tasks they might encounter while working."
Other than this, Mr Chong valued learning from experienced lecturers who inspired him and helped him build his confidence. One of them was Dr Adrian Bradshaw, who motivated him throughout his studies at JCU. The professor teaches modules Business Plan: Application of Strategy and Strategy and Leadership in the MBA programme.
"Dr Bradshaw was like a coach," he says. "He taught me about having the right mindset when facing challenges, and to think of mistakes and failures as a way to make oneself better as a person."
Linking people and business effectively
After completing his MBA, Mr Chong joined integrated logistics company Maersk as Human Resources People Partner. He advises leaders in the company on how they can manage people effectively.
He has worked with line managers to help them in their approach to people issues, coached a manager on communicating the right message to his employees to raise their confidence about the organisation's ability to handle crises.
His work also involves conducting research to get insights on employee compensation. For instance, he recently completed an analysis of the cost of living in different states in Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia. This was to determine if there was a need to build second- or third-tier salary ranges in some cities to better match the cost of living in a particular area.
Since joining the company six years ago, Mr Chong has become a dependable member of the team thanks to his diligence and conscientiousness. Senior HR leader, Mr Daniel Goh is particularly impressed with his resourcefulness.
He observes: "Jacob will stretch himself towards his career goals - particularly in areas of drawing insights with data analysis and pushing boundaries in partnering leaders to curate greater employee engagement which will in turn be great customer experience and business outcomes."
Studying for his MBA at JCU prepared Mr Chong to work effectively across various teams at Maersk and collaborate with colleagues from offices around the world.
He says: "During my master's programme, I've met classmates and friends of various nationalities, with different cultures and diverse family backgrounds. I realised that a collaborative environment was the key to a successful project. This translated well to my work as we need to manage projects and work together as a team of diverse nationalities and cultures to meet our objectives."
Mr Chong believes that his MBA and degree in psychology complement each other because people are at the core of every business.
"Human resources has a lot of value to add to a business. Without people, businesses cannot reach their goals, and without business goals, people have no direction to follow - human resources is the link between the two."
Visit this website to find out more about the Master of Business Administration programme at JCU.