Ownership is not just one of the essential traits we look out for in our Aspirers, it’s also one of the defining qualities of Dean Kho’s internship experience. A bubbly and inquisitive addition to the People team, Dean works tirelessly behind the scenes to help execute Aspire’s largest regional hiring exercise to date by owning multiple high-level roles.
Currently, Aspire is scaling rapidly across four countries in Southeast Asia and hiring over 80 roles. As the recruiting intern, Dean ensures that there’s a steady flow of exceptional talent to consider for the hiring positions and implements cutting-edge technologies to help optimise the recruitment process from end to end.
In a span of just six short weeks, he has proven himself to be entrusted with owning and recruiting managerial roles, a responsibility he does not take lightly.
In this interview, we caught up with Dean to find out how his time as an Aspire intern has opened his eyes to an exciting fintech career, the extent of which HR has evolved rapidly over the last few years and why he has cultivated a healthy respect for the ex-entrepreneurs he meets for interviews daily.
I’m a final year student in Singapore Management University, and my degree is in Business Management with a major in Organisational Behaviour and Human Resources (OBHR). I’ve actually been doing HR ever since my polytechnic days. After two years in the army, I realised that HR has evolved, especially with a shift in mindset and the tech aspect. Hence, I decided to continue with HR.
Aspire is my first startup. Before that, my internship experience has been with MNCs and the government sector.
It’s definitely a refreshing change to work in a startup!
Before, HR was seen as an admin support kind of function. The present day HR has transitioned to a more strategic partner role which we’ve seen in Aspire as well as in more companies nowadays. On top of that, there’s also the tech side of things. We begin to incorporate more technology into making HR processes smoother.
For example, in my two short months at Aspire we’ve adopted two new technologies. We invested in an applicant tracking system (ATS) and an online candidate assessment platform. These investments helped to save at least half the time for us with processing candidates through the hiring process and created a better candidate experience. Before that, we seldom saw these kinds of developments. There’s so much more to learn in HR.
First, I was actually looking for part time internships during the holidays as this semester allows me to work three full days.
I was looking out for fintech companies because of my previous CCA, Citi-SMU Financial Literacy Club, and had that exposure to understanding fintech. I remember checking out the Aspire website and saw that the business model provides a full stack of financial services for growing businesses. We even do so for companies in Indonesia and Vietnam where funds are harder to acquire.
Personally, I just felt that this is very innovative and meaningful. In a way, everything went well. In terms of the role itself, I always wanted to try a people ops or recruiting role because I was interested in recruiting as well. Happy that I managed to get the role as the recruiting intern!
A typical day for me is first thing in the morning, I will check Slack and my emails to see if there’s any urgent messages. Usually, calls with candidates start at 10am and all the way to lunchtime. After lunch, the calls will continue from 2pm onwards. If there are no calls, I will clear whatever tasks I have on hand which involves replying to candidates about the next steps, inviting them for interviews and/or assessments. At the end of the day, I’ll update the hiring managers on the candidates. I will also spend some time ensuring that the applicant tracking system is updated.
I’ve also been helping Melody, our Head of People, with special projects such as the implementation and documenting the processes of the new ATS and assessment tool.
Currently, I work from home so every morning, I will drink milo as I’m still young! [laughs] Aspire allows flexibility as well so sometimes I will go to a cafe to work where I’ll order an iced latte.
Spotify playlist-wise, I have over 500 songs in my list of liked songs, mostly English and Chinese songs, accumulated throughout the years and I’ll either listen from the top of the list or just shuffle it.
Collaborative: The Singapore team is close knit and we work together to implement new things while also keeping each other updated on the hiring status.
Innovative: We’re very open to identifying new ways to be more efficient at work, and improving candidate experience and employee satisfaction. One example is the newly implemented WFH Subsidy.
Helpful: As an intern, there’s a lot of things that I am new to, but I really appreciate the fact that I can freely ask my team members, and even anyone outside the People team. Those I’ve asked have been really nice and given me the necessary information.
The main thing I was doing for the past two months was helping Melody with coordinating her roles that she’s in charge of, mainly the head roles. I’ll help her invite all these potential candidates for an interview call with her. One and a half months in, I’m assigned a few roles to manage end-to-end, especially managerial candidates. The learning place was super fast as I had no recruiting experience before the internship, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this experience. Overall, I’ve managed to take on roles including Sales, Credit, and even Strategy.
For example, the corporate strategy intern role I was assigned to allowed me to do the recruitment process from end to end. Melody gave me the opportunity and freedom to oversee the recruiting for four roles. To date, I’ve worked with almost ten hiring managers across departments and helped Melody recruit over twenty roles so far.
I’m also involved in setting up the structure for Aspire’s internship programme which is what Aspire plans to implement as early as the start of next year and it involves a well structured project-based internship with high exposure with senior managers and top management.
Valuable learning experience and long lasting friendship, both of which I’ve found at Aspire! I’ve really learned a lot especially regarding recruiting in such a short span of time. I think if I were to do it elsewhere it would probably take a year for me to get the same experience. Based on the scope of things I’m doing, I’m glad to say the learning has been extremely valuable.
Firstly, as an intern, I really appreciate this chance to be able to own certain roles by myself and even have the chance to speak to managerial candidates. When the more senior candidates find out that I’m an intern they are usually quite surprised. The response is also usually appreciative of how Aspire allows interns to own a role enough to be able to do the interview by himself, with special thanks to the guidance from Melody and Alyssa.
Secondly, things move really fast because of our fast growth. Each week we open at least five new roles and on good weeks we can close at least ten roles across the four countries. On a good week I managed to close four of my roles.
Thirdly, it’s ownership. I need to ensure that the roles I’m responsible for have a steady pipeline of candidates. I also have to be responsible for updating the hiring managers and ensuring that there are no gaps. While it’s a challenge, it’s imperative that we keep track of each candidate. Every week, we also do status updates as it helps the whole People team to be clear on our progress and flow of candidates.
Fintech is the future of finance一it will be an irreplaceable part of finance. I believe traditional finance will likely have to adapt to incorporate fintech into their business models. It is an industry that is developing and growing and will stay. Furthermore, with the improvements with the technology side there’s a huge opportunity to impact many people’s lives. For example, with Aspire, think of all those small businesses overseas. Let’s say they own a food business. With our app, it helps them track their expenses better, get easier access to credit solutions and improve their lives greatly.
Most fintechs are still considered startups, and the fast paced environment really accelerates personal growth. Hence, there’s huge opportunities for career advancement in fintech startups, and working in fintech allows you to build a niche.
Mainly two things一the fit and their personality.
Fit: Whether the candidates fit the roles’ requirements and also because we do talk to the hiring managers extensively to understand more about the role itself as well as what the hiring manager looks out for in the candidate. Besides fitting the skill set and experience level, we also look at the personality and certain qualities of what they look out for.
Attitude: We look out for willingness to learn and adaptability. Bonus points go out to candidates who are very responsive and polite. I will also reach out to respective hiring managers to get a better understanding of their ideal candidate.
For example, after discussing with Yan, our Head of Sales, the sales team candidate I look out for is someone with high energy, exudes enthusiasm and an eagerness to learn. Very often, you can immediately tell whether this person fits the bill.
I’ve had that mindset before but not really sure where to start and what idea to start building. The interest is definitely there as it’ll be best to start something of my own. I think what’s important is to find a group of passionate people to do it together and find a meaningful cause to work towards. I’ll also need to develop a strong set of expertise first.
At Aspire, working with a team of ex-entrepreneurs causes one to have this entrepreneurial mindset. For a start, even though it’s so saturated in Singapore, it’ll be nice to run a cafe with my friends. Even at work, most of us work like entrepreneurs, taking ownership to develop Aspire to the next level.
For Aspire, we attract a huge number of entrepreneurs to join our corporate roles. Many started businesses from scratch and managed to build it up, scale it and sell it. Oftentime, they’re also customers of Aspire.
Everytime I meet these ex-entrepreneurs, it gets me thinking about what kind of ideas I can do to really create something meaningful of my own.
I enjoy singing as I was in choir last time with a bunch of amazing friends. Due to the pandemic, we unfortunately had to stop rehearsals. In university, I had the chance to sing on stage for my statistics project, dressed as an old man. We partnered with the Alzheimer's Disease Association for the project, and the singing was an opening act in the finale where we presented the project findings. While it was scary, I’m glad that I had the opportunity to have this solo singing experience on stage.