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Graduate employment lessons for Kenyans


What graduates should know before 1st job

I got my first job a few months after graduation, which was a short contract. Between that short contract and the only major job I ever did, I was lucky to dive into freelancing. I held my job for four good years when I moved out to try something different. For the last three years, I have been interacting with business owners trying to solve various problems and help them sell online. This article is purely based on my experience and those of people I know. No scientific data to back up most of my observations.

#1: Do not lie about your achievements

Giving a fake portfolio

One day I was hiring a developer online to help me with a project I was doing. After floating my project, proposals started to flood in. Like in many vacancy announcements, this project attracted both developers and non-developers. Content writers send me proposals offering to do content for me, even though that is not what I was looking for.

However, the developers who send me proposals are the ones who shocked me. About 90 percent of the applicants highlighted the same projects as part of their accomplishments. It started with a lady who gave me a list of projects she had completed, and they really looked great. I followed each project with great interest. Then a guy send me the same portfolio. Then an agency. And all of a sudden, I could not tell who among them was the real owner of the projects. At the bottom, credits were assigned to an entirely different person in a different country, and none of the applicants knew who that person was!

This is very common in the writing industry where someone gives you links to posts they never wrote. Not forgetting that there is something called ghostwriting. However, the people you ghostwrite for will never forget that you are the one who authored those pieces. The problem comes when their names come up during an interview and you do not know who they are.

Lying about work history

A friend of mine was looking for a writer, and so I send a journalist I used to manage at a certain news agency. When this dude was asked about his professional background, he claimed to be an editor of a certain publication. So we decided to ask for his CV to back up the claim because I knew the editors there. When the CV came, he had skipped the Editor role!

[bctt tweet=”It is quite tempting to want to sneak in a skill you do not have or highlight accomplishments in your cv you never made to secure a job” username=”NairobiKnights”]

This desperate move to shine can completely ruin your career life as the people you trick may never be able to trust you again. It is a trap that can keep you jobless for a long time.

#2: You will get fired

The ax is part of the game

One thing I have observed is that as long as you are in the private sector, you will get fired. For most people, this comes between 2 and 5 years of employment. Knowing this truth will not only keep you prepared for the next job, but also protect you from suicidal thoughts that often accompany unexpected termination.

[bctt tweet=”Losing the first job is usually hard because it finds you with a thousand responsibilities and zero income” username=”NairobiKnights”]

The second ax finds you better prepared. In order to cushion yourself from the shock of the 1st job loss, start building your networth from day 1.

How entrepreneurs are cut out

Most of my friends lost their jobs after 4 years. However, the few who were fired every 6-18 months are running successful ventures. If you find yourself knocking on new doors every year, do not do it in a rush. Sit down, take stock, and find out what you really want to do with your life. Most likely, you are not cut out for employment. God is counting on you to create jobs and livelihoods for others.

#3: You are not indispensable

[bctt tweet=”You may survive the ax, but that does not mean that you are indispensable” username=”NairobiKnights”]

If everybody you know gets fired and you remain behind, this is not a license to start showing the boss how big you are. The big-headed employees do not last long. It is not an opportunity to start asking for random pay rises, insulting the boss and all.

Hawker who quit after being promoted to Operations Manager

There is a guy I know, let’s call him Y, who gave a job to a random guy who was desperately looking for one. The job seeker, whom we shall call X, was selling home-made soap which he marketed to this guy so aggressively he decided to give him a shot. X wanted a job at Y’s company, but his boss did not see any relevant skills in X. Luckily, Y had a small company that needed a hand, so he gave him the job. After a few months, Y left full-time employment to build his company with X. He stopped paying him from his pocket and realized great success.

Not paid enough?

Three years down the line, they were expanding. Doing aggressive marketing but no matter how much money he set aside for marketing, revenues remained stagnant. X was earning slightly over 60k, but had bought a car, moved to a bigger house and changed his lifestyle fit a budget of over 150k. After consultations, Y put an accounting system in place without consulting X. Long story short, X quit in less than 6 months, claiming he was not paid his worth. At the time of his departure, he had grown from a hawker to an Operations Manager with just a Certificate in IT, and his salary well over 60k! When he said he was quitting, Y hurriedly accepted his proposal because he did had never gathered enough courage to fire him.

For every talented employee, there’s a better and cheaper replacement

[bctt tweet=”For every talented employee, there is a better and cheaper replacement” username=”NairobiKnights”]

Do not ever think that the company you work for will fall if you leave. Or that your boss will be helpless without you. You may be very talented but immediately you leave, somebody more talented and cheaper than you will be waiting to fill that position. Worse, the people who pushed you to threaten to ‘quit or get a raise’ are the ones who step in or bring their friends to fill your position.

#4: Build your professional network

You build your career in your 20’s and your future in your 30’s. Whether you pursue employment or decide to go into business, you will need a strong network to get there.

Your colleagues are not your friends

So you have secured a job in this company that has very great colleagues? Count yourself lucky. Many people have to tolerate working with insensitive, annoying, lazy, and narcissistic colleagues.  However, if you are spending all your time out of the office with the same crowd, you are wasting your time. Office friendships often end the moment you leave that office.

[bctt tweet=”Your colleagues are not your friends” username=”NairobiKnights”]

Network with people in your industry

Every industry has a professional organisation that brings you together. You cannot grow alone; you need like-minded people to help you grow and spot more opportunities. The work of mentors is to help you become a better version of yourself, and that is what networks are for. Networking with people in your industry also helps teach you the best practices and tips for efficiency.

[bctt tweet=”And if you lose your job, your networks will show you which door to knock” username=”NairobiKnights”]

Network with business owners

Business owners are always looking for professional services. If you are skilled in your field, you will find yourself very valuable. The only people who can see your real value are business owners because they need your skills to solve people’s problems. Such networks will ensure that you are busy on weekends, and also, if you face the ax you won’t stay out in the cold for long.

You will never change the world sitting at home

You need networks for the future. But networks also help find solutions to problems in your field or industry. The more you interact with people, the easier it is to know what is happening. Through networking events, you will listen to presentations, participate in talks, brainstorming sessions, or competitions that help you identify challenges in the real world that need fixing, challenges only you can help fix.

[bctt tweet=”You cannot change the world sitting at home” username=”NairobiKnights”]

This is a wake-up call to those who sit behind a desk 24/7/365 or those who work from home. This practice not only affects your wellbeing but also affects your value to the world.

#5: Develop yourself

Would you still be valuable without your current job?

Work gives us purpose, but as you work, ask yourself how much value you have as an employee and individual. Are you an asset or a liability? If you lost your job today, would you be able to get a new one? A better one?  And if you were out of employment completely, would you still be valuable? This will help you focus on gaining more value instead of just hopping aimlessly from one job to another.

How do you impact the bottom line?

I found myself asking this question when I was still working for a news agency. We were just 2-3 people performing content management duties, with the rest of the team based outside the country. After observing other local media houses and how they were running their stories online, I decided to take courses to improve my skills.

Later, I found myself wondering how our company was support operations without making money, as we were not running any ads. I also realised that even though I am in the Content Marketing field, I will be working with businesses and therefore ought to understand how content could bring money in a dynamic and volatile online environment. That is how I enrolled for an MSc (Management Scient) Degree in Entrepreneurship and Innovations Management. Along the way, I also studied Google Analytics, SEO, and other online marketing courses.

[bctt tweet=”The only way to secure your job is by ensuring that your boss is making money” username=”NairobiKnights”]

Selling is not the job of the sales team alone; eventually, everybody contributes to the success of a company. Your skills must have a positive impact on sales. Remember, your boss does not pay from his/her pocket. If the company is struggling to make profits, you should start preparing your exit strategy.

Read Also: Is it a bad idea to hire women?

Things you can do to add value to yourself

Right now, I can confidently say that if you want to develop yourself, do the following:

  • Do not stay in one job for too long. Two years are enough.
  • Get experience in different industries.
  • Learn multiple skills in various fields, especially those that compliment yours. For instance, if you are a Content Writer, it would help to learn some SEO, Marketing, Sales, Machine Learning, and Development skills.
  • Network with others.
  • Read extensively.
  • Challenge yourself. Take a job in a new country, city, field, department, or start a business.

#6: Do not steal from your boss

Stealing company money will get you fired

There is this team that used to work for a friend. The company was small and so all he needed was salespeople. They would sit down and do a calculation of all the money that was getting in, then start asking for lunch, nyama coma, milo, vacuum cleaner among others. They even started asking to be paid in commission, so that each person could take home around 20 percent of all monthly collections. The business was online-based, and the employees did not even calculate how much it cost to keep the business running.

How online businesses use revenue

You see, unlike traditional businesses, online businesses require a lot to stay online – such as keeping up with the latest search engine algorithms, updating pages constantly, ensuring ‘out of stock’ items do not return error 404s, checking link statuses, monitoring SERP, conducting marketing campaigns, social media management among others. Most of the time, 30 percent of all revenue goes to marketing alone. And depending on the resources your website is using, you may end up paying huge amounts of money monthly for servers and security.

Getting paid in cash or personal accounts

For my friend, he was merely surviving as his business had not broken even though it was bringing some little cash. His employees met and decided that he was ‘eating too much’ and so instead of collecting revenue using the designated channels, they started collecting in cash or asking clients to pay directly to their personal M-Pesa accounts. This caused a strain on operations, prompting the boss to handle sales for a week. That evening he caught the first employee and in a few months, all of them were fired.

Your boss will never pay you from his/her pocket

As mentioned earlier, your boss cannot pay you from his/her pocket – unless it’s the early start-up stages. The company must be able to support day-to-day operations including rent, utility bills, and salaries. If you steal from your boss, you stop operations.

If you are not caught, you will drive him/her out of business and eventually lose your job. This happened to a guy from my village who was working for a certain construction company as a site manager. Every day, he would carry some materials and equipment from the site. Eventually, there was nothing to work with. He went back to the village.

Time is money

A friend (X) told me about a friend of his (Y) that he helped secure a job at another friend’s  (Z) company. Now, Z used to provide breakfast to employees, but the official working hours were 8.00 am to 5.00 pm with a 1-hour lunch break. He required, therefore, that employees who wanted to have the office breakfast to arrive a little bit earlier so as to take their breakfast and settle by 8.00 am. Y would get to work at 8.30 am and go straight to make tea. This would take away around 30 minutes of his day. Then in the evening, he would leave early claiming that he lived far. This angered the boss, and he asked X to talk to his friend. Y did not listen, even after several written warnings. In the end, he lost his well paying job.

You may not be a thief of money, but giving your job less time than agreed amounts to theft. As they say, time is money. Your boss knows you more than you know yourself; they know when you are stealing their time.

Here are tips to help you avoid clashes with your boss over time:

  • Do not ever report to work late. There are many genuine reasons that prevent employees from reporting to work early. Traffic jams can hold you for hours. You can wake up feeling unwell or with a sick child that you must take to the hospital. Your nanny can fail to return on Sunday, forcing you to take care of children on Monday and hence delay you. You can trip on your way to work and hence be forced to go back to change. Your car can fail to start in the morning or break down on your way. The train can delay or be out of service, forcing you to seek alternative means to work. Matatus could be on strike, forcing everyone to walk to work. All these problems can be solved with a single solution – wake up and leave early. In case your circumstances do not allow you to report to work, call or send communication early explaining that you won’t make it or will arrive late. People oversleep or wake up with hangovers and then start texting the boss at 8 saying they will be late. If you woke up at 5, you would be able to alert them early and prepare for a day without you. Work hard to get to work early, but know that this does not give you permission to leave early. I have a friend who gets to work at 6.00 am because traffic gets crazy on his route after 6. So he decided to be leaving home at 5.30 am so he could arrive at 6.00 am instead of leaving at 6.00 am to arrive at 8.30 am.
  • Do not conduct personal business during working hours. Whether it is rushing to meet a friend at the restaurant, making calls to build your side hustle, going to the mall to buy something, going to pick a child from school, going to make a delivery during fieldwork, taking a child or spouse to the hospital … unless you have asked for permission. Bosses do not have problems giving you time off to do these things, but the problem comes when you do them when you are supposed to be working. Some people who are taking Masters classes use work hours to do assignments or even pay some sleep arrears from the previous night/weekend. If you are running a side hustle, work on it either very early in the morning or after work. When you have a need, ask for a day off. If you are studying, do not procrastinate assignments or revision. University assignments take up to two weeks to complete, so utilise the weekend and evenings doing your classwork.
  • Do not leave for lunch or home early. If you have an hour of lunch, go for lunch. If you wanted to meet someone during the day, arrange the meeting to be around this time. Even if you are not going for lunch, take your break; it’s good for your health and wellbeing. And in the evening, do not be caught leaving early – even on Fridays.
  • Keep working even if the boss is not around
  • Do not extend the hours unless the boss has requested you; fatigue will make you too unproductive to build your career.
  • Do not stay idle when there is pending work
  • Stop visiting other people’s desks before the time for a break
  • Do not miss a day without permission

Your boss spent a lot of resources building his/her current network

If you were hired to bring in clients and got paid for that job, you cannot start calling them your clients or contacts. The leads you generated belong to your boss. There is something your boss does that keeps them there because people only pay money if they are getting value. The moment you leave, do not think that those clients will just move with you because you used to work there, or are the one who ‘brought’ them. Trying to steal your boss’s clients and business associates is no different from stealing his money.

Some businesses thrive on secrets; disclosing them could land you in jail

Most business owners pay their competitors’ employees to spy for them. Selling your company secrets to competitors is a bad practice that could keep you jobless for a long time. In addition, if you sign a non-disclosure agreement, a breach could land you in jail.

#7: Treat everyone with respect

There are many people who miss opportunities because of a bad attitude. Attitude can also get you fired. You need to show a willingness to work, show a positive attitude towards work and your colleagues as well as treat clients well.

New employees and interns

You will often find yourself working with new employees or interns. Treat them kindly for you do not know what the future holds. If you find old employees who have been quitting for the last 5 years, ignore them and also do not allow them to intimidate you.

At the very least, show interest in the work you are doing, smile to the people you meet in the office, embrace teamwork, and do not bring others down. If there is an employee who is segregated, go say hi or even invite them for lunch. Chat and cheer them up.

And if you don’t like the work you do, pack and go instead of spreading negativity. This is because happier employees have a higher chance of staying motivated at work, which studies say contributes to productivity.

You are not equal to your boss, even if they are younger or less educated

It is said that when employees look up, they only see asses. And when employers look down, they only see shit. Well, I have heard employees call their bosses a**holes, pretenders, corrupt, selfish among others. One time I was working with an agency led by an Asian who made it a habit to delay our salaries – most of the time, your salary will delay; that’s how you learn to manage your money better. Now a friend was in distress and needed a loan, which I could not give at that point. When I told him that we had not been paid, he made a racist remark and I cheered but quickly regretted immediately after.

In the book ‘Rules of Management’, Richard Templar explains why you should never bad mouth your boss. He narrates how his team of 12 junior managers loathed their manager who ‘drank, kept bad company and didn’t know if it were New York or New Year.’  When the HR director was sent to investigate, all the other 11 were generous with their opinions but Richard chose to reserve his comment. In a year, the boss was still there but the 11 juniors were gone.

You will not always agree with your boss, but it is important to keep your opinion to yourself. It is also common for someone to feel more qualified, more experienced or with more skills than their boss. There are people who will keep fighting to get the corner office. They will talk about how incompetent the boss is, blame the boss of things they never did, set them up, and even behave in a way that demeans him/her in front of clients and other stakeholders. You should never ever trash or disrespect your boss because stepping on others will make you fall.

Every person in the office is valuable

Everybody has something to offer, starting from the guard, to the receptionist, tea girl, and cleaner. Do not look down on them because status is temporary and nobody knows tomorrow. I have heard of a guard who became a pilot, and house help who became a renowned singer. I have also seen graduates lift blocks with form 4 dropouts at construction sites.

Those casual labourers are not just illiterates who don’ t know left from right. Some are more qualified than you but did not get the same opportunity to work in an office. In addition, do not lobby for another colleague to be fired.

Recognise people

There is a guy I referred to a business partner for a role we wanted filled. When they finally met, this guy did not even mention I had sent him. Shocked, my partner asked who sent him. The guy casually said ‘dame mwingine hapo.”

If someone refers you to a job, mention that they sent you. That random person on the streets or social media could be the company owner, a trusted brother, sister, daughter, son, friend, spouse, or business partner. Additionally, it is important to know who calls the shots in your company and industry lest you find yourself ruffling feathers with the wrong people.

Peers in business are not hustlers

It is a common misconception that business people are hustlers. As a result, employed people behave as if their friends in business want to borrow money or are struggling. It is true that building a business is not easy, but once you taste the fruits of entrepreneurship you will never look for employment. Some people got into business because they did not perform so well in school, but running a successful business requires passion, persistence, patience, creativity, and leadership skills.

There are colleagues who will quit to start their own businesses because that is what they want to do. The truth is the cycle of running out of money before the next paycheck is a problem only people in employment go through. A business owner works at their own time and hence can access many things at a reduced rate while you are busy in the office. They know how to negotiate lower rates for everything, and as a result, end up buying things you would never buy. They could look like they are struggling, but it is rare to see them parking their cars because of fuel.


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Linguistics graduate and seasoned online journalist, researcher, content manager and SEO analyst.



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