Alumni Spotlight: Mandy Zhang
Originally from China, Mandy Zhang came to APU in 2008 to pursue her studies as an APS student with a focus in multicultural communication and humanitarian issues. During her senior year, she was hired by Toyota through an on-campus job recruitment event and moved to Singapore to work as a part of their Demand and Supply Management Department. We caught up with Ms. Zhang back in November when she came to speak for the Alumni Fair to hear about her student life and work experience.
Please tell us little about your time at APU.
My time at APU… Wow, that feels like such a long time ago.
I actually lived in AP House for the four years I was a student, and for one of those years, I was a Resident Assistant (RA). I wanted to become an RA from the moment I stepped on campus, because they were the first people to help me at a time when I knew almost nothing about APU or studying in Japan, and I hoped to do the same for other new students.
I also participated in a lot of cultural exchange programs that were offered by the Student Office, such as exchange activities with the Beppu residents. I really liked participating in these programs, because it helped in improving my Japanese and also gave me a way to give back to the community.
How did you find employment with Toyota Singapore, and what do you like most about working there?
Before the Toyota team came to APU, I had been job hunting for about one semester and was confused about which industry suited me best. At that point, I had not thought about a long-term plan and just went to a lot of company seminars and interviews—both on and off campus—but could not find a company that felt right.
Among my group of friends, I was the only one left without a job offer, so when Toyota came at the end of the job-hunting season, I decided to try my luck. Their seminar was very interesting because they mentioned the balance between work and personal life of Toyota Singapore employees, and I was instantly attracted to the company.
Before starting work here, I had never been to Singapore and had no clue as to what life in this country would be like. But now having worked with Toyota for the past four years, I am so glad I was chosen to be a part of this company.
One impressive part of working here is how the company encourages an open working environment grounded in mutual respect between colleagues and also with the managers. We are free to converse with each other and ask questions, or if any issues arise, we can always consult with our supervisors.
They are also very tolerant of mistakes and encourage problem solving skills. Rather than just apologizing, we submit a kaizen (improvement) paper, in which we write out our mistake and think of a solution to prevent making it again in the future.
I feel that in this company I can voice my opinions, there are no boundaries between employees despite different backgrounds, and the management always strives for continuous improvement.
How has studying at APU contributed to your current work?
Although I was an APS student, I had very little trouble adjusting to my current work as around 80% of what it entails I learned from on-the-job training. That being said, the time I spent at APU has also helped a lot in my career.
For instance, even though my company is based in Singapore, we do business in countries located throughout the Asia Pacific region. In order to accommodate this diverse market, Toyota has hired employees from different backgrounds and work styles.
At APU, I gained the ability to work with a diverse group of people, especially through in-class group assignments. To be honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of doing such projects and reports at the time, but now I am grateful for such experiences as I use the skills I gained every day in communicating and cooperating with those around me.
I once even asked my boss this exact question, “I’m working alongside people who graduated from prestigious universities in Singapore, who, unlike me, majored in finance and marketing, so what is my advantage compared to them besides my Japanese proficiency?”
My boss answered, “Our job is to sell products to real people. If you don’t understand people, how do you expect to sell these products, and how would our company be profitable? The root of our work comes down to serving and understanding people. This is where you have the upper hand.” Hearing those words gave me confidence in my abilities and motivated me even more to continue working hard.
Any tips for students who are thinking about job hunting in Japan?
Before starting job hunting, the first thing you should do is learn the basic procedures of the job hunting process because it is the foundation for everything you will be doing for the next few months. You will have a lot of seminars, tests, and interviews, so make sure to practice, practice, practice.
During most interviews, you will be asked, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Rather than just stating them, it is better if you could also include real life examples and what you are trying to do to overcome them.
Lastly, don’t change yourself to match what you think a company is looking for, but rather highlight the qualities that make you stand out in comparison to others. Also, never give up because there will be the right job for you, you just have to find it!
For more tips on job hunting, check out this blog!
How about advice to prospective students on how to make the most of their time at APU?
I look back now and wish that I was able to go out and be more adventurous during my time at APU. Once you’re out in the real world, it’s difficult to get free time while also balancing a career.
Being at APU will probably be the last time you will be surrounded by people from so many countries and regions in such a tight-knit community. So take advantage of the time you are there to join programs, travel, and just gain a lot of different experiences to learn more about the world. You never know, it may help you figure out what you want to do later on in life.
I’ve spoken about this topic with other APU graduates in Singapore, and we all agree that APU changed us for the better. It’s a place where, in four short years, we were able to become more open-minded, understanding, and multicultural versions of our former selves.
Before coming to APU, I couldn’t even imagine being able to strike up conversations with new people, let alone people from places I had never heard about. But in the end, being at APU opened my eyes to the possibilities out there, and gave me the courage to start to exploring the world.
Thank you for sharing your inspiring experiences with us, Ms. Zhang!
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