“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
I’ve realized that a lot of people find it difficult to introduce themselves during an interview. That ‘Tell me about yourself’ question is the ice breaker and most candidates are scared to break it because they are not too sure of themselves.
Before I go into tips to a winning introduction, I would like to address a foundational problem that hinders us from selling ourselves properly and the “Lack of CONFIDENCE”.
“Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it.
On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.” Mahatma Gandhi
Are you a fresh graduate or a prospective intern and not sure what to say when asked to Introduce yourself? Here are some things that would guide you:
Think through what you want to say before opening your mouth to talk
Mental preparation and a mirror exercise would do. You don’t need to cram a speech or start reciting it verbatim, rather it should provide a guideline on what how each point should be said.
Avoid distracting words
Words like ‘urm’ ‘erm’ ‘izz like’ ‘you know’ etc could be distracting for your interviewer and may imply you’re not prepared for the interview. If those interjections are too much, it can be a huge turn-off.
Keep it concise and simple
I remember one of the interviews I sat in a few months ago, this guy legit talked about himself for a whole 30minutes.
Do you know that’s where the interview started and ended? At a point, he was just blabbing and we didn’t understand what he was saying but didn’t want to be rude and interject him.
Besides, we already knew he was a NO and allowed him to land before saying we had no questions and dismissed him.
Self-awareness is important
If you are self-aware, it is easier for you to understand other people and detect how they perceive you in return.
How well do you know yourself and the kind of direct or indirect message you are passing? Here are some things you need to build on to prepare for the next interview:
1. Your Bio
Start with your name, your school and course of study, the aspect in your course that interests you and why (this is not compulsory if it’s not related to your course of study).
2. Your Strengths
This could include something like being very organized, being able to manage your time and setting priorities, being able to communicate in a clear manner, being able to manage people regardless of their temperament, being able to work in a team.
Take note that while talking about this strengths, you should include one or two examples of how you have demonstrated them while in school as a leader in your school project, school activism, Student union or department association and finally through religious bodies you have belonged to.
3. Your Value Proposition
Talk about the value you would be adding to the team or organization. I would advise that you do extensive research about them and ensure what you are saying is relevant and relatable. If you have done your homework properly, they will fall in love with you!!!!
Finally, this is a piece of golden advice that is like the icing on the cake for people who want to give a winning introduction.
4. Humility won’t help you
I have met superb people who have great skills which companies are looking for but because they haven’t worked in a formal organization, they think those skills acquired through volunteering, internship, and personal development aren’t relevant.
Sister, if you don’t sell yourself, who will ??
Be proud of your little achievements and don’t be too humble about them. In the end, the best salesman gets the contract!
I hope you digest this information and deliberately work on your confidence. It may not happen overnight but with time, you can grow and become better.
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A lot of candidates get a rejection mail and are confused about what went wrong in an interview process. Working as a recruiter both as a consultant and an in-house staff has exposed me to various interviews across all levels.
I have compiled some things that candidates should beware of when attending an interview. Here is a list of things that would most likely get you a rejection mail:
This includes rumpled clothing, unkempt hair, provocative dressing. Ladies you are not here to sell boobs and fine legs! Please be moderate!
We call them DOA (dead on arrival), it means your interview has ended even before it started because you can’t fit into our company.
Bad sitting position
Slouching position shows a lazy and pessimistic personality. Sitting up straight shows a confident person. These are important non-verbal cues.
Lack of eye contact
I had a recent interview with a manager that had a superb profile and from the interview, it shows he actually did all he wrote. However, his role was to face customers and he barely looked us in the face which was a big red flag for the role.
Bad mouthing your previous employer
Even though you have justifiable reasons for leaving, say it in a good way that doesn’t make your last employer look bad! No organization is perfect so be careful what you say!
Short stay in various organizations without a reasonable reason
If you are on this table, I’m not saying it’s entirely wrong to have short stays, but they should not be flimsy reasons. Think through the explanation you want to give.
Using an Inaudible voice
Yes, using your bedroom voice during interviews is totally unacceptable. You need to be audible even if your voice is naturally low. Try to speak up and don’t wait for the interviewer to cajole you. It can already be a turn-off.
Using non-professional language
Avoid switching to pigeon English or vernacular because you feel too comfortable with the interviewer. Please don’t switch, it’s a TRAP. Keep it professional always.
Not doing your Research about the organization or the role before the interview
You would end up talking off-point. You would also turn off the hiring team because it shows a nonchallant attitude. ALWAYS do your research and think of the value you intend to add before an interview.
Being Rude to the Receptionist
This is a big NO. Even if you’re a Senior Director or whatever, you need to be polite and courteous to ALL staff. Don’t begin to feel like a ‘god’ even if you have a leg inside the company. It would backfire.
Clownish looking Make-Up
Unless you’re going for a make-up artist interview, I would advise you to wear moderate make-up. I have sat in an interview where the lower eyeliner was bright green and she was a fair lady so you can imagine the distraction.
Rolling your eyes
Some candidates think they are talking to their boyfriends/girlfriends. Don’t forget to be a PROFESSIONAL. I realized some people do it unconsciously. I would advise you to practice in the mirror and ensure your eyes are not flying everywhere.
Feel free to ask questions, I’ll watch out in the comment section to make some clarification.
Under her entrepreneur’s cap, she launched the Kun’si Hair Centers chain in December 2017.
Miriam is one of the 5 She Leads Africa x Dark and Lovely Beauty Accelerator, finalists. As part of the program, she just completed a 1-week intensive boot camp at the L’Oréal HQ in Johannesburg.
In this article, she shares her experience and highlight of the program with us.
About my business…
Kun’si is a hair care specialist brand providing quality services to natural women through a network of affordable centers.
My experience during the SLA x Dark and Lovely Beauty Accelerator residency…
It was very empowering meeting experts in different sectors, who shared the best practices to enhance our business development.
It was also interesting to discover multiple experiences in the same domain, each one adapted to a specific environment.
Highlight of the residency program…
Pitching my business was definitely one of the best moments! I learned to introduce Kun’si in 5 minutes and also highlight the best assets to retain attention. Working on my pitch deck was a very good exercise.
Now I understand my unique selling proposition. I’m a natural hair influencer, and I have the facility to collect essential information from an existing community and then adapt my offer to its needs
As a business owner, what would you say is your unique selling proposition?
I have the facility to collect essential information from an existing community and then adapt my offer to its needs.
On-boarding is a process of integrating a new employee into the organization. We all mistake Induction for On-boarding, while the former ends in one day. Onboarding usually lasts for about six months till a year depending on the company.
1. A good Induction is the first step to retaining your employee.
Induction shouldn’t be just a storytelling session about the company rather it should integrate the staff to the company’s vision which will enable them to run with it.
You would save yourself a lot of headache in micromanaging your employees if you can ensure they are well aligned with the vision. Induction shouldn’t be one-off, there should be a frequent induction program which should cascade to each department and roles.
2. It helps employees think like a business owner
Empowering an employee through an effective onboarding process to think and act like the CEO would go a long way in retention and business growth.
The mindset of a CEO is much more than completing tasks or meeting up with deadlines; it’s about the growth of the business.
Each employee should be able to align their functions with the growth and success of the company.
3. It protects and improves your company culture
A good company culture improves employee productivity which in turns drives business growth. An underlying factor for an organization’s culture lies in its Values and purpose.
I’m talking about the REAL core value that forms the basis of major decisions and strategy. A proper communication during the onboarding process will prevent future cluelessness by an employee in the future.
4. Having a documented process to drive uniformity makes it more effective.
It’s not enough to assume to think that line managers are helping the employees integrate better. Documenting the process starting from the induction and ensuring line managers are held accountable for following the process makes it effective.
I have realized that the competency of the person managing the process goes a long way so Training is advised.
With this points of mine, I hope I’ve been able to convince you why you need to revisit your onboarding process or create one if you never one before now.
Our work environment affects our happiness, productivity, and success. Through my experiences and discussions with colleagues, I understand how different workplaces can affect you positively and negatively.
If you’ve been contemplating whether your work environment is the right place for you, here are some key points that could help you:
1. Low Employee Retention
If you realize most of the employees at a new workplace are new, this can affect how you fit in. Sometimes, for certain start-up environments, the case of low employee retention is prevalent.
The structure in a start-up environment is different. So before you make the decision to join an organization where most of the employees are new, you have to consider what your main goals are and what you hope to achieve at the company.
It’s best for you to take this into consideration before you make a decision. You should be prepared for how you can fit into the role and the organization.
At one of my former jobs, I noticed that a lot of employees were new. I remember a co-worker told me there was a “revolving door” at the organization. As the months rolled by, I understood why.
There was a lot of negativity in the office. After various discussions with my colleagues, I found out that most like myself were unhappy and also seeking other jobs. I eventually left that negative work environment.
If you’re about to take a new job, I suggest you ask (in a subtle way of course) how long the former person held the role you’re about to take. Another option would be to ask generally the amount of time their employees stay with the company.
2. Lack of free speech/ expression of ideas
One of my favourite work environments was an internship I had back in university. I was an editorial intern for the school magazine.
What I enjoyed most about the internship was my experience with my boss. She created a very open environment where I was encouraged to present my ideas and actively participate. Having an encouraing supervisor who supported my progress enabled me to accomplish quite a lot in that job.
Now, I’ve also been privy to work environments with a rigid structure, where you don’t feel open to discuss your ideas, and your superiors show no interest in your growth or progress.
Though one can still thrive in such an environment, I don’t necessarily believe it helps you be very productive. You may not feel content in your workplace because there’s no good rapport with your colleagues.
One way to fix such issues would be speaking up. You will have to make an effort to express your ideas and opinion. This matters because unless somethings are communicated, not everyone will pick up on whether there is a problem or issue to be addressed. Communication is key in contributing to a positive work environment.
In any workplace, there are going to be high-pressure days and low-pressure days. Pressure in the workplace is normal because different situations arise and demands have to be met. However, if you’re in a work environment with constant tension among co-workers, that is definitely not a good sign.
If there is consistent tension in your workplace, it would be best to bring it up to your supervisor or take it to the Human Resources department.
The HR department often addresses the communication issues between the management and staff. They can advise you and your co-workers on how to resolve issues.
4. You Always Leave Work Feeling Emotionally Drained
Yes, work is just a part of our lives and adulting really isn’t a vibe sometimes, but if you always feel terribly sad, drained, or anxious at the thought of going to work – that’s even less of a vibe and a major issue.
This negative work environment can end up seeping into your personal life and take over your mind. If most days at work are causing you depression, you have to consider if that’s the right environment for you. Word of advice: get a new job sis, you can’t come and die just to meet KPIs. Start looking for a new place of work and do intense research on the environments those companies possess, I promise you when you leave and start afresh, you’ll be much happier.
Another option, if the specific work is the problem, communicate with your supervisor about a challenge you might be encountering. They could provide you with some resources to make things efficient. If the negative emotions are due to the people around, also be open to communicate that with a mentor or your HR department. They could best advise you on how to move forward.
Have you had experience with problems in the workplace? What were the signs, and how did you rectify such issues?
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When we talk about Motherland Moguls and #BossGoals, Mrs Jane Karuku is the perfect definition of just that.
Currently sitting at the top of the corporate ladder as the Managing Director of Kenya Breweries Limited (KBL), Non-executive director of East African Breweries Limited (EABL) and Barclays Bank Kenya, and a member of prestigious boards such as the Global Sustainability Index board among others.
Mrs Jane Karuku has over 20 years of expert experience in the consumer-goods industry and is not looking to slow down anytime soon. Her passion and energy for great leadership tells an enticing story of grit, consistency and sheer hard work.
SLA contributor Diana Odero had a quick sit-down with Mrs Karuku to learn about her current role now and what keeps her going in the cut throat business world.
As an African woman with over two decades in corporate leadership, what does leadership mean to you?
Leadership is getting people to do what’s good for an organization and more importantly what’s good for them. Leadership is unleashing the potential of people.
Therefore you need to have great influencing skills for moving anything or anyone from point A to point B.
What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?
I don’t think there’s much of a misconception. For me, I have never seen myself as just a woman, I just see myself as a leader.
Once you see yourself as a leader, you get what you give. Within my job, my career, I consider myself a leader – I see myself as a woman in different places outside the professional aspect.
I always tell my fellow women – don’t look for favors because you are a woman and expect diversity to help you. Just turn up and do your job as a human being and you have a better chance to succeed.
Following the production of fake alcoholic products in the Kenyan market, how do you ensure that these illegitimate products do not get into the market especially working with a brand as big as EABL?
We try to work with government agencies, there’s no knowledge management because people don’t know. Also, we work very closely with Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) and with enforcement agencies just to educate them about our products and the systems we’ve put in place to make sure that these are legitimate products.
We also work with IT solutions, which are mobile based so you can check every brand online and see its legitimacy.
Our borders are very porous but in Kenya we have different classes. You can have a class of genuine products that come in with no duty paid, and that’s the bigger problem with our brands more than the fakes because we have very serious security features.
With lots of surveillance placed around, we can spot something that’s fake and sort it out before it gets to consumers.
The only challenge we’ve had so far is the imported products which belong to Diageo and are under-called in duty value therefore underpriced and not able to compete in the market and this in turn loses revenue so it’s quite a big challenge.
What do you think are Kenyan’s attitudes towards alcohol and alcohol production? How can we make these attitudes more positive?
Kenya is quite interesting in that we have a big population of religious people, both Muslim and Christians so there’s a lot of people who do not take alcohol based on their beliefs. There’s also a big proportion of women who just do not want to drink.
I would say that Kenyans are not the biggest consumers of alcohol per capita, we are actually behind other East African countries such Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. But in terms of responsible drinking, we do a lot of work on that.
One challenge we have is the presence of so much bad alcohol all over the place, therefore people consume or overuse alcohol which demonizes it.
We spend a lot of time on alcohol education, we call it drink IQ – how you should behave and drink responsibly, we press in our campaigns the importance of eating and then drinking, drinking a lot of water after indulging in some alcohol and drinking alcohol within the recommended portions.
We don’t advocate for binge drinking but we do advocate for responsible drinking.
What are some of your favorite products that you manufacture/market and why?
Tusker Cider would be on the top of my list, I think it’s a very good drink and in the spirits section – the Ron Zacapa Rum, it’s a very gentle nice rum.
What trends do you see within the East African region that you find interesting?
Some new trends would be the places that people drink at first of all. There’s a lot of innovation around bars, a lot of work is going into how bars look – we are starting to get very sophisticated for consumers.
Food and alcohol pairing is becoming a very big deal, it’s an enjoyable and social experience. This is mostly throughout Kenya, wherever you go you can find a nice location where you have a good meal and a drink with ease.
Another trend I have taken note of is the cocktail culture – it’s interesting to see the many new ways of taking alcohol. It’s exciting and different.
This is already a big global phenomenon, East Africa is quickly catching up on that trend. There’s also a lot of innovation in alcohol production with a lot of new alcohol products coming in, we are becoming very globalized which is good progress.
What do you think has been most difficult for you to deal with as a woman rising in a predominantly male industry such as manufacturing?
I wouldn’t say I’ve found much difficulty as a woman, I would say as a leader that any business is difficult. If you are working in the alcohol industry, it’s regulated and our biggest challenge is what the regulations will be tomorrow or the next day because it will hamper the business.
If you’re in a macro-economic environment, like any business, you are prone to changing that environment. For example, Kenya had a very tough year last year. There were too many elections, too many presidents, and we had a drought and flooding in the same year. That can be quite problematic for a business.
Competition of course is another challenge leaders have to deal with as well as choosing the right talent to bring in and retain to help you grow the business.
I’ve managed to overcome some of these challenges by first having the right people in place because they are the ones who will help you survive through the environment you may be in.
The people you hire are the ones who will help you get innovative and fight the competition, help in smooth distribution of products to the consumers in the most innovative way, they will drive sales for you and will help build relationships with all the stakeholders involved in your business.
The percentage of women working in the manufacturing industry is quite small, some companies having less than 10% women employed there. What can be done to counteract this ratio?
In corporate businesses, in middle management to be exact – women are really starting to be significant. I think the challenge comes with breaking in to the next level. Looking at boardrooms in Kenya, there’s a lot of change starting to happen.
People are driving diversity and companies are finally realizing that they have to have diversity in their businesses because diversity is strength.
Here at EABL we have a target of being 50% women and we are just shy of 30%, so we are working very hard to get to that halfway point. At Diageo globally, the target is 50% as well and at our board level we are doing much better than our local business.
For us as women, we have to define our own path. Not everybody wants to be a leader and you have to be true to yourself.
Once you decide you want to be in the corporate world then you need to map out your end game and once you have that, start working backwards to achieve what you want to achieve.
Some questions to ask yourself are:
Where do you want to work?
What skills do you need to have?
Do you need a mentor/coach which is quite important?
Do you have belief in yourself ?
Because at the end of the day you can have the best mentor, all the skills but if your own belief and your own energy doesn’t match up, you won’t get anywhere.
When people are interviewing the low level positions, they look at three things:
Does the person have the fabric, is that the right fabric for what you want?
Do you have high energy, do you have the drive needed?
Do you have good judgement and are you able to influence?
This is what I call the basic fabric and this then changes as you grow within the company.
Who are your role models?
One of my main role models is Nelson Mandela. He was such a big influencer and still is influencing a lot today after his passing.
His influence was on leadership. He influenced in prison, he influenced out of prison, he has even influenced upon death. That kind of power can influence anything.
Mandela has leadership qualities, compassion and was a mentor to many, all three things of which I embody today – he basically taught us how using your own skills to impart on other people so they can achieve better for themselves is important.
I do look up to him and the reason I want to work with people is because I want to be that voice that influences a huge population to move from one point to another even when I’m no longer here.
What values do you have that have contributed to your career and personal growth?
The first would be hard work. Nothing comes for free and nobody gives it to you on a platter. You have to be committed.
You also have to have belief and confidence because you don’t have to be the best person for the job but you can the person that has the highest hunger for it, don’t wait to be the perfect candidate for a job because your drive can help learn and grow along the way.
A good way to help with your confidence and self –esteem would be getting a good mentor and/or life coach, a mentor doesn’t need to be someone senior than you, sometimes I get brave from my own kids and the same young women you are writing for.
You can also have a multitude of mentors, it doesn’t have to be one person. Remember to read a lot. In reading you get the how-to in many things and unfortunately women don’t read a lot. I always tell women to read a lot, even the newspapers, read hard-core material that is good for your growth.
Read broadly because if you are sitting in a conversation and you are too narrow focused, you won’t be able to influence.
Popularly known as Miss Manjo on the Twitter streets, Theodorah Manjo is a digital marketer and online influencer with a thing for helping the unemployed better themselves.
Her timeline exudes positivity and humility and through her social media content, her passion for guiding and assisting the unemployed through knowledge sharing and upliftment is hard to miss.
In this interview, she talks about building and maintaining a brand online and how to put your best foot forward with your CV.
You are essentially Twitter famous, how do you get to 63k+ followers?
I came across a cool social media team called The Hand of Sas (now known as HOS) about two years ago and it was like having an online family. We spoke about everything social media, online etiquette and how to have an “online voice”.
I learned how to speak to “strangers” in a familiar way, showing my personality and allowing people to be a part of my life even when they didn’t know.
I started falling in love with the aspect of being able to reach & speak to people in provinces I have never been to, and it expanded to Africa. I’m now part of a team called #AfricaTweetChat where we discuss all things digital media with people from all corners of this continent. It makes me so happy!
Building a brand really starts with being relatable, following and talking to people and understanding that everyone will always be “strong” behind a screen & you shouldn’t take what people say online to heart because you WILL break.
Don’t be reckless, if you say something online, make sure that you will be able to stand by that even 6 years from now because once it’s out there, somebody has already screen-grabbed it.
How do you use your influencer status to continue to build your brand?
It is all relationship building, making connections and again, being relatable to your audience. The biggest thing is being true to what your story is, you are either a food enthusiast, a budding entrepreneur, an artist or a student going through the motions.
People follow you because they can ‘relate’ or they can learn from you and enjoy your content.
I have always been vocal on unemployment, social media characters/influencers and how to conduct yourself online. Through my content on those topics, people got to know what makes me tick.
Yes, my content varies – I have jokes, I have rants, but most of all I engage with my followers. I want to know what other people are busy with, what makes their day and how I can connect with them NOW so that later, we can have a meaningful relationship.
It has proven to be amazing and I have met & befriended a lot of wonderful people online.
Hmm, what a thought-provoking question. What’s my story? I want to be able to reach and teach at least one person a month, at least ten people in a year. I want my presence online to be relevant and make sense. It’s not about me, it’s about us – how do WE get better at this life thing together?!
Celebrate yourself. Are you happy, are you giving and are you helping someone be a better version of themselves? – These are my heart notes to myself daily.
What is your strategy for online brand preservation?
Think ahead! I want to be big in my industry, I want kids one day – will what I put out there make my future baby girl cringe? Will it result in me having a meeting with my CEO about being too expressive? If questioned about what I tweet personally, will I be able to look at the person in the eye, and stand by what I said without quivering?.
I am still a person at the end of the day, things make me angry, people make me angry but what will this mean for me tomorrow morning? Is this who I want SA & Africa to think I am?
Practice what you preach or change your speech. And sometimes, there is beauty in silence!
How did the passion to guide and assist the unemployed come about?
I started working at a recruitment agency while I was in between jobs. I only stayed three months because my spirit didn’t really agree with how recruitment worked in this particular place and also, I am a creative so I felt like I was boxed.
The whole trend was that they would find people already in employment and headhunt them when in reality there are thousands of people who are unemployed and have the right skills.
Through my frustrations of not finding candidates for my roles, I created a Facebook page and I wanted to explore a medium that had a lot of “word of mouth” but with individuals who may not all be employed, and that was how “I Need Someone Who…JOBS” was created on a Tuesday afternoon, without my team leader knowing.
It was a risk in that I would probably get kicked out of my job or receive a warning, but my gut didn’t let me down; I was ready to fight for this cause even if meant I would have to be moved to an admin position due to disobedience.
This is where I discovered just how much heart I had for those who were unemployed, because a month ago, I didn’t know where to look for a job, nor did I have the means to, but thanks to friends and connections I was lead to this place that has allowed me to change potentially thousands of South African peoples’ lives.
When one reads a job advert, what are some of the red flags to be mindful of?
Company name and the grammar: Most things will stand out like using small letters at the beginning of a sentence or addressing names with small letters, sentences that use “WhatsApp language”.
Method of contact: The biggest one is the fax. Who still uses a fax? Why would a company email you just for them to ask you to respond via fax?
Contact…: “Contact Miss Mary or Mr. Victor” – nobody addresses people with a Miss or Mr and ‘first name’.
What are your top 5 tips for putting together a CV?
Keep your CV clean, check your grammar & punctuation
2. Make sure you put your role, company name & time spent there
3. Bullet point all your duties, don’t be brief. In place of ‘admin’, say ‘took minutes at meetings, facilitated in budgets for company events, scheduled and arranged meetings etc. If you don’t sell yourself, who will?
4. References – make sure your references KNOW that they are your references; make sure they will speak WELL of you. Do not put your manager who was trying to get you out, you will never find a job. Rather find another senior person who worked with you to vouch for your work ethic.
5. Only add relevant things to your CV. Some people like to add hobbies, my hobbies of dancing will not add value to an Accountant position. So why put it in?
For people with no experience, what should be highlighted on a CV?
Make your personal summary (two to three sentences right at the top) tell the employer about your capabilities.
Add what skills you have and how they will assist in the advertised role. Align your skills with the job spec.
Add achievements, community work – this CV will be more of personality, skills, and traits rather than of your experience.
How do I best present my experience?
Don’t shortchange yourself, if you worked with your account director aligning strategies as an account manager, that is a skill & experience you would want people to know about.
In your comprehensive CV, make sure you detail the IMPORTANT aspects of your roles in such a way that a promotion in your next role is an obvious step up.
Most if not all recruiters will search via keywords, so include the important terms to be found easier.
What are your top tips to keeping a job
The biggest tip is basic and biblical, whatever work you do, work with EXCELLENCE and you shall be rewarded. It may not be in a week, or a year – but one day you will be grateful that you always gave your 110% even when you felt that nobody appreciated your efforts.
You should also follow the following tips:
Have a learning spirit.
Volunteer to help. Even those tedious admin duties, do them and do them well. The more you learn the greater you will be when you get to the next level of your career.
Never talk about your work/colleagues on social media. It becomes messy even if they aren’t on your platforms, people are connected.
Nathalie Ndongo-Seh is the Chief of Staff of the United Nations Office to the African Union (UNOAU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She has been recently appointed as the Resident Coordinator in the Kingdom of Swaziland.
Ms. Ndongo-Seh is a former Attorney-at-Law, who started her career with the UN in 2000 in East Timor as a Legal Officer and who, over the past 18 years, has accumulated a wide-ranging United Nations peacekeeping and political experience in Afghanistan, Liberia, Israel, Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, and Ethiopia.
She has worked in the fields of peace and security; justice and rule-of-law; governance; partnerships building; institution-building; resource mobilization; ethics, conduct and discipline; and management.
Very soon, Ms. Ndongo-Seh will assume new responsibilities on the continent as a UN Resident Coordinator while leading a United Nations Country Team and coordinating UN operational activities for development.
Ms. Ndongo-Seh began her international career in the private sector in France, Cameroon and Ivory Coast. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Commercial Law; a Master’s Degree in International Law; and a postgraduate Degree in International Economic Law, all obtained from Pantheon-La Sorbonne University in Paris, France.
‘Women are not only mothers, caretakers, bread-winners, fighters, and survivors in the most challenging security circumstances: they are also key players in conflict prevention, mediation & building peace. They drive change and transformation every day’.
What was your ambition growing up?
My parents told me that at a young age, I wanted to be a chef and afterward, a social worker taking care of street children. At the age of 11, I decided that I would become a lawyer – this never changed.
At the age of 15 or 16, I started shadowing friends and acquaintances of my parents working as lawyers, magistrates or judges.
I studied international law, graduated from La Sorbonne University in Paris and was admitted to the Bar in 1993 (first admission) and in 1995 (final admission after my apprenticeship).
Did you ever think you would end up in international affairs, or at the United Nations?
Yes, it had always been my goal to work at the international level.
I studied international economic law (along with international relations) and was trained to work as a lawyer in the corporate world or for international organizations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), or the African Development Bank (AfDB) on development projects, international contracts and agreements, litigation and so forth.
I also had a strong interest in the UN at that time and was thinking that I would apply for internships or short-term assignments with the UN.
What was your path to working at the UN? What factors helped you along the way?
There was no path as such except for my interest in development, human rights, international justice, the rule-of-law and my determination to contribute to saving the world from ‘the scourge of war’.
I would say that it was a set of circumstances that facilitated my access to the United Nations. I was already working on continental issues when I started meeting and interacting with staff from the UN and other organizations that seemed to often have exciting careers and professional paths that coincided with my aspirations.
In 1999/2000, the UN opened new peacekeeping missions. I decided to apply for several vacancies while seeking advice and guidance from UN acquaintances on how best I could write my resume and prepare for the interviews.
Within a month, I was contacted by UN Headquarters for a brief interview and offered a Legal Officer position in East Timor with the UN Peacekeeping Department.
Recruitment procedures have since changed and, these days, the UN is drawing down missions more than it opens new ones. There are however several working opportunities throughout the UN system as a staff member, a consultant, a UN volunteer, or as an intern.
How does the UN compare with other organizations you have worked with?
I am privileged to have worked in various environments, including in a parastatal company, in the private sector and in a continental organization.
I have enjoyed and drawn life lessons from each experience. For now, the UN is the perfect fit for me as I have assumed a wide range of responsibilities at the senior leadership level in 8 countries.
Till date, I have attended several courses and received several pieces of training, which altogether have enhanced my knowledge, skills, and competencies. Also, I have been promoted and afforded opportunities to compete for positions, traveled the world, including to countries that I had almost never heard of prior to working for the UN.
During my time here, I have met individuals from different backgrounds and origins who have opened my eyes to social, political, economic, human rights, and community issues to which I may not have been sensitive to under other circumstances.
By working at the UN, I have encountered challenging situations that tested my resilience and at times my beliefs; and I have made friends who have become family.
Have you ever received a painful rejection in your career? How did you handle it?
Yes, rejection is a part of life and one that I have experienced several times in my career and that I may continue to experience in the future. Some are obviously more painful or frustrating than others.
Altogether, and when handled well, they make you a stronger, wiser, possibly more focused and more strategic person.
I have handled them at times with tears, silent disbeliefs, wisdom (sort of “well, that was meant for me; something better/bigger will come my way”), or while immediately putting the matter behind me, refocusing on my objectives, and counting my blessings.
But what is important to acknowledge in such situations is that we are human beings. One may cry, may decide to take half a day off from work, or burn steam and anger on the golf course or at the gym, may do some in-depth reflection or introspection if it helps and carry on in, hopefully, good spirits.
Rejection is not a death sentence: keep going; maintain your values, self-esteem, self-confidence and revisit your goals/objectives to set achievable ones. It helps to quote Nelson Mandela who said: “Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”
Professor Remi Sonaiya, the only female presidential candidate for KOWA Party during the 2015 presidential election, is an educationist and an International Ambassador Scientist of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.
She has a career that exemplifies passion, consistency, and selflessness.
SLA contributor, Añuli Ola-Olaniyi, in her interview with Professor Remi, learned key principles that have made Professor Remi have a fulfilled career path and shares this learning with everyone.
My first job ever was…As a teacher of French and English at the Nigeria Military School, Zaria. That was during my youth service year.
What would you advise your younger self?
I would tell my 20-year-old self…To read much more widely. Being a student of the Arts meant that I read a fairly decent amount of literature, but I could have ventured more into other areas – philosophy, biographies of great people, etc. Of course, I’ve done a bit of catching up, but there’s no doubt that some ground was lost.
What prompted you to run for the office of the president in 2015?
I decided to run for office because the people who were running our affairs over several decades were not doing a good job of it.
We were living through a shameful and incongruous situation where we were known to be a country with huge resources, but where the overwhelming majority of the people lived in abject poverty.
Specifically, I was lecturing in the same institution where I had been a student, and before my eyes, things got worse year after year. It weighed on my heart that the students I was teaching could not enjoy the same standard of education I had.
What’s been your boldest move so far
Deciding to abandon my job at the university and moving into politics was a bold move. And then, taking the decision to run for the presidency.
I am aware that I could do so only because I had the opportunities – which were not a result of any particular effort on my part.
What’s your best advice to people starting a career in politics
For people starting any career, I would say, ensure that you really like and enjoy the job you’re going into. I know that might be somewhat of a luxury these days when there is a lot of unemployment, which means people are happy to get any job at all.
But I personally wouldn’t be happy being at a job I don’t enjoy. Once you have accepted a job offer, give it your best shot. Work hard. Be diligent and conscientious – you’ll be a better person for it.
As a politician, how do you stay inspired? Do you have any hobbies?
That I’m a pretty good singer who loved to organize concerts, mostly at Christmas. I haven’t been doing that for some years now, but I dream of going back to doing it.
On the other hand, I stay inspired by reading my Bible and praying, reading books by or about people who have stood for something worthwhile in life (Obafemi Awolowo, Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, etc.)
What’s next for you?
I’ll only know that after the elections have been conducted. Of course, the outcome would determine what options would be available to me. But in all sincerity, I would love to be able to take a one-month holiday at least.
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From drafting contracts to drawing stars on the board. SLA contributor Alicia shares how she had a career switch. She went from being a Lawyer to moving to another continent to teach English.
The Lawyer Life
I had the privilege of doing my articles* at the largest law firm in Africa. This meant that I was tasked with substantive work from day 1. It was absolutely thrilling and I felt myself thriving on the stress and pressure of having impossible deadlines.
The days and nights were long but I was working with incredible people and the newness of the work kept me on my toes. I also found myself learning at a rapid rate given that my boss involved me completely.
It wasn’t exactly a scene out of “Suits” but it was a reality where I was surrounded by pencil skirts and cappuccinos and I loved it.
FYI: In South Africa in order to qualify as an attorney following completion of the degree, you are required to work for two years under an already qualified attorney and complete 4 exams.
When I started off, I envisioned myself staying on at this law firm and going all the way to being a partner. I was eager and ambitious and ready for the required hard work. But something changed about halfway through my articles.
I went on holiday to South Korea to visit a friend who was teaching English there. I had always thought myself far too focused on climbing the corporate ladder to ever contemplate doing something like this but the idea of visiting and being able to glimpse her lifestyle seemed innocent enough.
The two weeks I spent in South Korea definitely flipped things on their head for me. The friend I had known in South Africa and who I had studied with somehow seemed completely transformed in this new environment.
I considered us to have similar personalities and found myself jealous of the changes I saw in her – she seemed to have no stress and seemed so much lighter and happier.
I found myself considering the impossible. What if I left this life as a corporate attorney to teach English overseas?
The moment the thought was planted, it began to bloom. I realized that doing something like this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. If I didn’t decide to do something this unconventional for me after articles then when would I ever be out of the box?
Of course, I was met with many concerned and confused looks when I announced my decision. Deciding to take a break from the law is not usual. But I knew it was the right thing for me to do because the idea simultaneously thrilled and petrified me.
What is the change from law to teaching English like?
If I consider my current day to day now as opposed to last year, it is absolutely chalk and cheese. Firstly my hours are delightful as they aren’t the typical 8 am to 5 pm.
I start work at 3 pm to 9 pm Wednesdays to Fridays and then I only work a full day on Saturdays and Sundays from 8.30am to 5.30pm. My “weekend” is now on Monday and Tuesday which works out perfectly since the city I decided to teach it is Shanghai.
Given its large population size, it is significantly easier to explore on a Monday or Tuesday rather than the weekend.
Prior to starting teaching, I never considered myself someone who would willingly surround themselves with children. So in a way, I think this was a good thing because I did not really have expectations of enjoying this when I came into it.
However, from the get-go, this job has been highly rewarding and fun and I have not regretted it for a moment. Being surrounded by children brings such a sense of fun to your day. They manage to find happiness in the smallest of things and that is just brilliant to be around.
I find myself smiling and laughing so much more! It is also incredibly rewarding when you feel like you have successfully gotten the material across during a class and see the sense of realization in their eyes.
Of course, there can and will continue to be moments of frustration. They are children after all and their attention spans are not necessarily equal to the length of the class.
But I have enjoyed the challenge of trying to make lessons more fun and interactive and capture their attention. Doing this benefits me in that it makes the lesson a lot more entertaining for me too!
Teaching English has also allowed me the flexibility to pursue my other interests such as learning another language (I am currently going for Chinese lessons) and writing. It is also incredible to live in another city that is so different from where I was brought up. This is its own “switch up” too!
A lot of change has occurred in a relatively short space of time in terms of my geography and occupation. I would not change a single aspect of it. I find myself waking up every day completely grateful for the life I have created for myself.
Teaching English has pushed me to be more patient and also be a more content and well-rounded person. I don’t know if this is a permanent career shift.
As I am challenging myself and I am happy, then Shanghai and teaching English is the right thing for me.
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