The scare of unemployment always has everyone on their toes, haunting graduates and those who are still in school. The excitement of finally being able to work is the dream of many graduates.
Those who a get a job soon after their studies are a lucky lot, and are always upbeat about putting their skills into practice.
But is this always a pleasure cruise for these young professionals?
More often than not, entry into the working space is a baptism of fire for young workers who sometimes endure dismal pay, lack of voice, and harassment from clients and colleagues alike. Some are even exploited sexually, in what constitutes a brutal learning curve.
This week, myNetwork had a chat with five young professionals, who shared stimulating stories of their first job experiences, and how they dealt with some of the challenges.
FELIX OKETCH, 28
Supply Chain Clerk
Felix’s entry into the job market was a rough ride. Soon after graduating with a diploma in sales from Kenya Institute of Management in 2014, he got a job as a sales executive at a technology firm.
“The company was a mobile-based marketplace where subscribers could sell and buy goods and services. I was tasked with recruiting new clients into the platform and training them on how the system worked,” Felix narrates.
With no previous job experience, and fresh from college, the salary of Sh30,000 per month was an irresistible lure for Felix. He signed up for the job, his enthusiasm not dulled by the 150 clients a month that was the firm’s minimum target. In his flight of fancy, this figure was nothing to him. After all, he had the energy and freshness straight from school.
Soon, the reality of the challenges of the sales job soon caught up with him.
“The firm was just penetrating the market and few people had heard about the product (name withheld). Convincing people to subscribe into the platform was very difficult,” he recalls.
At the firm, communication was centralised; the CEO made the decision and everyone acted according to instructions issued, he says.
“Suggestions and new ideas were considered dissent, and no one dared speak up when things went wrong for fear of being sacked. It was a hostile work environment,” he narrates.
He adds: “Staff meetings at the firm were an awkward affair characterised by name calling. It was tougher if you had not met your weekly targets and we hardly met them. Instead of drawing strategy for achieving organisational goals, the meeting would be all about threats for sacks.”
Whenever Felix ran into trouble with city county workers in the line of duty, the organisation would leave him to deal with his woes, besides blaming him for ‘negligence’.
“No one from the office would bail me out whenever I was harassed and arrested for walking in town with fliers. If penalised, I was forced to pay the fine from my pocket without refunds from the office. Other expenses incurred while at work were never refunded,” he says.
Devoted as he was, Felix sacrificed his weekends to work, trying hard to bring more customers on board, but the product was a hard sell, he recalls.
Full of fire only six months earlier, his zeal had now been engulfed by frustrations, and a strong desire to quit slowly crept in. When his salary was slashed by more than 25 per cent for failing to meet targets, Felix could not take it anymore: he quit the job, after one long year of suffering.
“I lost more than Sh40,000 of my pay that had been withheld by the company. The company collapsed soon after my colleagues and I left. It was hard to get people to work under such terms,” he recollects with evident relief.
Assuming he had seen the worst of his career life, Felix soon found himself working at a local store, a family business where professionalism took a backseat.
“Communication channels here were dissolved and directors gave conflicting instructions to managers while employees lived in awe of sacking. There, it was also an offense to be a member of a trade union,” he recalls.
Today, however, Felix is glad he went through the two experiences, saying they taught him to be tough in the face of a hostile work environment.
FAITH GHOMO, 24
Ghomo started her career in media interning at a local radio station as a reporter. Her role was to script, proofread and edit reports and research on stories of the day, a role she describes as high-adrenaline.
“My constant nightmare was having my whole day’s worth of work rejected without explanation,” she says, adding, “at first, I had little to no experience working as a reporter. At times I thought I had done my best only to be lashed out at by my editor who always used abusive language. I felt I deserved some adulation for the role I was playing in the newsroom,” she says.
Yet her biggest challenge was having to deal with a dizzying amount of work and meeting tight daily deadlines.
“Reporters have few hours to prepare a story for broadcast. I had to pore through piles of information within a very short time and script reports, and with very minimal supervision. I learnt the job the hard way,” she recounts, adding that it is even tougher working as an intern because most of the times you take more assignments in the hope that your boss will notice your diligence and probably recommend you for hiring upon expiry of your internship.”
She laments that the desperation often encouraged lazy senior reporters to dump their own work on her desk, which she had no choice but to do.
Ghomo though, takes issue with misconceptions that hover on the heads of fresh graduates and young employees.
“Why do people in organisations always assume that fresh graduates are lazy or unprepared for work? Adjusting to the work environment, especially on the first job experience, is not easy but it does not mean that one is lazy or incapable,” she argues.
She further denies the widely held fallacy that young graduates join organisations with nothing to offer in terms of hands-on experience.
“Proper guidance is critical to help young professionals adapt quickly to the work setting based on the knowledge they gathered in school,” she says.
On ideas and suggestions, Ghomo feels that the response was lukewarm.
“I wish my ideas had received more attention and consideration. This would have boosted my self-esteem, learning and growth,” she says.
Even after all this work, Ghomo would receive not even a cent.
“I commuted daily from Thika to Nairobi. This financial burden forced me to do promotional jobs on the side to pay my bills,” she recalls.
Organisations should compensate interns. Absence of a stipend after long hours of work lowers their morale, ultimately affecting the organisation’s’ top line, she argues.
Did this role influence her as professional and as a person? In many ways, she admits.
“I learned how to effectively manage my time. My poise and the ability to deliver story projects under pressure grew while my practical skills in news writing were also honed,” she says.
PATRICIA WAMBUI, 24
Patricia was only 20 years old when she started working as a receptionist at a small communication agency in Nairobi in 2014.
“The role was underwhelming and less stimulating, and I felt that my skills in management were being underutilised,” she recounts.
It was therefore easy for her to accept the Sh12,000 monthly pay. Besides, she was still staying with her parents who took care of the bills.
Few weeks into the job, her two colleagues left the company, leaving all the work to her.
“I was now handling everything from managing the day’s operations to assisting clients and even cleaning the premises. The role was overwhelming, but it was better than to have anyone breathe down my neck asking me what to do,” she says.
She adds: “I have a small frame, and so my boss often took me for a child. His was of addressing me was demeaning. To him, the salary was too much for someone my age, which made me feel violated against.”
But being taken for a child was not half as vexing to Patricia’s as her subsequent job experience. Her second employer was a sex predator who made overt sexual advances at her with bold abandon, she says.
“He would send me offensive text messages at any time of the day and night, sometimes inviting me for lunch or dinner dates. It was awkward working with him in the same office, but I hang on,” she narrates.
Coming from her boss, this left Patricia with little to do and no one to report the misconduct to. Worse still, the organisation had no operational guidelines, with everything done haphazardly.
Her pay was also not delivered in time, and when it came, it was done in piecemeal, usually after a tug-of-war between employer and employee.
“I literally survived on small allowances which I paid to myself though the petty cash –which I was handling. There was no other way to get by,” she says.
When she could not handle her boss’s unbecoming behaviour, Patricia left the company. Just like Felix, she left behind Sh50,000 in pay arrears that had accumulated in the one year she worked at the agency.
“I chose my dignity over the job. I am nonetheless thankful for the experience I gathered on the two jobs. I am a better professional now, but even a better person,” she says.
CATHERINE ELA, 25
If Ela could change three things about her first job experience, first, she would not let anyone intimidate her.
She says: “I would fearlessly speak my mind and share my thoughts and opinions whenever things are not right. I would also ask more questions about everything happening around me. I have learnt that bosses should be respected and obeyed but not feared.”
After studying Accounts and IT at Vision Institute, Ela’s search for a job landed her at a travelling agency as a personal assistant. The pay though, was nothing worth writing home about, she says.
“As a newbie, my employer thought that she was giving me more by allowing me to learn on the job. Sometimes I worked very late in the evening and even during the weekend with little pay to show for my hard work.”
Ela thinks the difficulty of finding a job compels most people to stay put in poorly paying careers.
“Fresh graduates have a very poor bargaining edge. You take or leave the offer. After all, there are other desperate graduates who would gladly do the job at half the pay,” she says.
On sharing suggestions at work, Ela says she was ‘invisible’ and that some of her office colleagues were hell-bent on silencing her.
“They worked hard to make me feel unimportant and less competent. There was a backward culture in the firm where people felt that new employees were out to take their jobs,” she recounts.
“I was doing a tidy job, but still, I occasionally doubted myself and my ability to deliver. No one was kind to motivate me. I even thought that I might never get a job elsewhere,” Ela remembers.
While it was flattering to be praised by satisfied clients, Ela says some clients took their compliments a little too far.
She says: “In my job, I was dealing with more male clients than female clients. Such remarks as ‘you look sexy’ or someone staring at me seductively are routine in my line of work. This would make me very uncomfortable nonetheless.”
Her challenges though made her decisive in her work and the ambitious person she is today.
“The job taught me to handle diverse clients with different personalities in a strictly professional manner and without intimidating them. I am also a strong lady who believes in herself and her dream to succeed professionally,” she says.
KIMANI MBUGUA, 22
Kimani got his first job as a presenter at Nation FM (now Lit360) while studying communication and journalism at Moi University.
“I had done a couple of odd jobs before I got this role in 2015 as a second year student. I was charged with creating a daily content plan before hosting the show,” he narrates.
For Kimani, pressure to come up with creative content plans on a daily basis was a constant bee in his bonnet.
“It is not easy to come up with ideas for starting and maintaining a conversation with a diverse nationwide audience. But as a creative, I enjoyed the process and the reactions from the audience once we got the show running,” he narrates.
Luckily for him, Kimani had mentors such as veteran journalists Jimmi Gathu and Larry Madowo, both who were working at the station at the time.
He says: “I don’t think I have made any enemies in my line of work. Even after leaving the radio station to go back to university, most of these colleagues became friends outside work.”
While Kimani had nothing much to take home on his first professional gig, he was quick to reconcile with this fact, a decision he says was tough but necessary. According to him, most young people do not know how to navigate the slippery issue of pay, which often yields frustrations.
“The lack of a pay check did not stop me from picking experience that would be the stepping stone to launch into greater professional successes,” he says, adding, “I knew that even if I got paid, it would hardly take care of all my needs. That way, I was able to focus on the job above the reward.”
Kimani has his first job experience to thank for his current role on TV, for which he did not require to audition owing to his previous exposure.
“The role taught me a host of hands-on skills including presenter and planning skills while it also boosted my confidence level to handle live environments which have a thin window for mistakes. The job shaped me into the person I am today,” he says.
Kimani agrees that sometimes employers allow misconceptions about graduates’ inability to perform influence how they handle youthful employees.
“It is not a universal fact that graduates do not have practical skills. There are many fresh graduates who come to the workplace with the required set of skills. Employers just have to be keener to identify these talents and abilities so that they don’t end up losing candidates who are efficient in the role for which they are seeking to hire,” he observes.
Workload has never been a problem to Kimani, who also considers himself lucky for having worked in an organisation that was receptive to new ideas and encouraged input from new employees.
“I always met my deadlines even when there was too much pressure. I think I am naturally a workaholic,” he says.
“I never felt like my voice was silenced. In all our planning meetings, everybody was allowed to make contributions before the team collectively decided what ideas would go on air. It was a largely fair and competitive environment,” he adds.
Kimani has his former supervisor to thank for his growth.
“Timothy Oriedo always threw a few ideas to us to spark the team’s imagination before leaving us to handle the work. Sometimes it was so hard to imagine the amount of control we had on our projects,” he says, adding that this is a privilege most organisations deny their new recruits.
For him, the organisation he worked for availed all the necessary operational and technical support to his team.
“I am grateful and I have nothing to complain about on the issue of resources,” he says.