Navigating Careers – Part 1

In the last blog post for this series on quarter life reflections that you can find here, we identified that there are four key issues that young adults in their 20s struggle with. Relationships, money, careers, and purpose. Recently, we saw the tennis player Naomi Osaka withdraw from the French Open. This is a very high stakes tennis tournament. Her sentiments were that she felt that her mental health was in jeopardy. The competitive tennis environment tended to induce a lot of anxiety. This came shortly after announcing that she will not give interviews to journalists after her games at the French open, after which she got fined because giving interviews to sports journalists is mandated of professional tennis players.

It then dawned on me that mental health is key in enabling your peak performance and personal mastery. Consequently, the state of your mental health affects how you navigate relationships, career, finances and whether you find meaning in your life.  Mental health then becomes the fifth key issue that I will be tackling later in the series.

I will start this series by tackling careers first. My personal experience with regard to careers has been a conventional one. I studied Bachelor of Commerce with a major in marketing. Thereafter, I went on to work at Unilever (a manufacturing company in the fast-moving consumer goods industry). I have honestly been quite fortunate in my career pursuits because this was always my dream employer

How did I know which career to venture into?

Like any other child in an African household, I grew up wanting to either be a doctor or a lawyer. After high school, l thought that I wanted to pursue computer science. This was since I really enjoyed computer studies in high school. As a result, I imagined that because I was naturally interested in this field, it would be a great combination of a career and passion point.   However, we could not agree with my parents on this, so we settled for the compromise that was Bachelor of Commerce.  

In hindsight, this turned out to be one of the best decisions I made when it came to listening to my parents. I later learnt that I did not enjoy math and computer science has a lot of math integrated into various programming languages. I enjoyed my university experience at Strathmore University in every way. Firstly, because I relished being a student. This was because of how structured the school system is and how certain the deliverables are. l also enjoyed the fact that your results were in your control. Your effort determined the quality of your grades in terms of results.

These are the 6 experiences that prepared me for a job in corporate.

Things that I did while in university to increase eligibility to work at a top employer:

  1. Getting a professional certification. Most fields have a certification from a professional body of accreditation given through standardized exams. For examples, for accountants this would be Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) or Association of Chartered Certified accountants. In marketing, this is the Chartered Institute of Marketing. Strathmore started to offer these certifications when I was in my third year of school. Shortly after, I started on the professional courses alongside my degree through evening classes.
  2. Improving on my soft skills. There are key skills that employers look for are leadership ability, communication, curiosity, and ability to collaborate with other people. These are skills learnt through working on group work projects with other students. Doing community service at the national library taught me to give back. Running for office in the student council was a good test of leadership.
  3. Getting good grades. You will notice that in the Kenyan job market the caveat is usually at Second class Upper honours for most competitive management trainee programs and jobs at top firms. Therefore, it is ideal to get the best grades possible if you plan to be employed. The pool of students that graduate every year is very disproportionate to the jobs that are available in the market. Hence, it’s extremely competitive and your grades in school tend to reflect your ability to work.
  4. Being intentional about my university experiences. I remember working at the story moja book festival for a week as an intern. This gave me very tangible experience in working in a team with people to deliver common objectives. Going to the national youth service taught me how to work with people from different cultures and backgrounds and still work with them amicably. Finally, the daily routine of attending classes on time, studying for exams and being a diligent student may seem mundane. However, they taught me self-management and discipline, which are crucial in any professional working environment.
  5. Taking my internship very seriously. When it was time to apply for internships or attachments for professional work placement, I took a lot of time networking with people who had worked in the organisations I was interested in through career fairs and the career’s office. I got three internship offers and chose Unilever instinctively. This was inspired by how seamless the interviews were in giving me a glimpse of the kind of work environment I would eventually get into. During the internship, I tried as much as possible to show up at my best in every task that I had responsibility over. It did pay off because this where I work now.
  6. Having a professional linked in website. This means a decent photo. A succinct elaboration of your various achievements and pursuits. All these should be relevant to recruiters for the industry that you want to work in. Linked In is also a great place to see what kind of jobs are available. What they are looking and how you can prepare to have the suitable skills and requirements to get an interview.

After completing my degree and professional marketing, I became very aggressive about applying for jobs. The fear of being jobless drove me. It helped that I knew that I wanted to work at Unilever. Therefore, I kept an eye out for open opportunities. Immediately they called me for an interview, I did not think twice. This was the beginning of what has been a very fulfilling career. In conclusion, it is very important to be mindful and intentional about how you go about your campus life. This lays a big foundation for plausible career prospects in your future.

In the next post in this series, we will delve into how to keep the job when you get the job. As soon as I started working, I realized having the job was only 25% of the success. Keeping it was a whole other ball game.

Stay curious and have a great week.

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