Kenya’s unemployment rate stands at 9.3 per cent, according to World Bank. This is a figure that has remained constant the past 10 years.
Efforts to address joblessness among the youth have coloured many political manifestos, including the formation of the National Employment Authority in 2016 to provide a comprehensive institutional framework for employment management, enhancement of employment promotion interventions, and increasing access to employment by the youth, minorities and marginalised groups and for connected purposes.
But despite such grand efforts, according to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, nine out of every 10 unemployed Kenyans are below 35 years, which means the country is staring at wasted youthful years.
Career Enlightenment, a jobs website, highlights extremely high expectations, mismatched skills, a crowded and competitive job market, the wrong focus, student loans, negative attitude and activity on social sites as some of the key reasons millennials take longer than other generations to get jobs.
These reasons are backed by Emmanuel Mutuma, CEO, Brighter Monday, a jobs website with presence in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. While the site posts 2,000 jobs on average every month, they receive between 150,000 to 200,000 applications.
“Jobseekers on Brighter Monday create profiles on the platform. Their profiles are supposed to showcase their key skills and how they match with the jobs they are applying for. However, due to the desperation that already exists, many people tend to apply for jobs randomly without checking whether they are a match or not, which sets them up for disappointment.
“Many also do not take time to tailor their CVs to match the jobs they are applying for, and in this age where artificial intelligence is used to sieve CVs, if your application lacks the key words, you will not even make it past the minimum requirements stage,” Emmanuel says.
According to a 2017 Job Market Research conducted by Brighter Monday, 84 per cent of Kenyans are actively looking for jobs and 77 per cent of these fall under the ages of 18 to 34. Remuneration and benefits ranked high in the key considerations for job seekers.
Other factors were career progression, conducive work environment and job security, looking for challenging tasks, flexible work hours and the reputation of the potential employer and so on.
“In your job applications, you must always present your skills in a format that your potential employer will see as strengths. On average, first glance at a CV is 10 seconds long, so that is all the time you have to get the attention of a prospective employer,” he explains.
This week, we speak to four young professionals on their lessons during job searching and the key actions they believe improved their chances of landing jobs.
Andrew S Omollo, 29, legal assistant
“I studied Law at Mt Kenya University and graduated in 2012. After graduation, I started looking for internships in various law firms. Like my fellow classmates, I was optimistic and looking forward to being employed, earn an income and support my parents.”
Andrew dropped his application in different law firms in Nairobi. The few times he received feedback, he was told that he did not have experience.
“Lack of experience caused me a lot of distress because I was straight from school and all I had was attachment experience,” he says.
After five months of searching, trying out his other passions such as acting to raise money to support himself while dropping off applications in various companies, he tried a different approach.
“One day, I walked into the legal department of the Nairobi City County and told them I was open to working with them, any job, just to gain some experience. I had not applied and I did not have an appointment,” he offers.
By then, he was under so much pressure to get a job because as a firstborn, he needed to support his siblings.
“Since all the other places I had been asked about experience, I figured having something on my CV, even as a volunteer, would improve my chances of landing a job.”
This gamble paid off for Andrew after he got a volunteer position at the Nairobi City County, as a clerk in the legal department.
“I was not offered any pay, but I was somewhere. After three months, a magistrate I had worked under during my attachment called me to inform me about a year-long judiciary contract she had recommended me for my good work ethic, which she had noted, got me the clerk’s job. My experience at the Nairobi City County came in handy in my new job. When the one year contract however came to an end, I was back to job-hunting.”
During this period, lack of money was his greatest challenge.
“I could not return to my parents and start asking for money because they had already done their best to educate me and had my younger siblings to take care of. At times I had to walk part of my journey home to save on transport cost. My younger siblings had also come to Nairobi and were looking up to me,” he says.
Once again, Andrew fell back to his love for acting.
“I have been part of a production group since high school. I decided to start a theatre group, but when it proved impossible to sustain my needs because I was struggling, I decided to look for a job. I attached the good recommendation letters I received to my applications and eventually got a job in one of the leading law firms in the country.”
Seneiya Victoria, 29, events organiser
“I graduated in June 2014 and did two internships right after that. In December of the same year, I got my first job.”
Seneiya learned about the job through a referral by someone she had met in the university. She applied for the job and believes that having had two internships strengthened her CV and made her a good candidate.
“The point is, you need to be aware of your environment and interact with the people around you because they might know something that would be useful in your career. I was at my first job for four months,” she says.
During these four months, she kept applying for other jobs through CareerPoint, a jobs website. Although she had applied for many jobs in the three months, Seneiya says that she only started getting feedback when she became more deliberate with her applications. She had one CV which she would forward to all companies she applied for a job. Sometimes she even made the mistake of sending a cover letter with a different company name.
“I would just set aside a day to apply for jobs. I would identify job openings and only change the company name and forward the application,” she offers.
“I think, finally getting called to an interview had to do with the fact that I took time to work on my CV and tailor it to reflect the needs of the organisation. I also added a profile summary, which highlighted all the skills I had gained. This is not a factor that I had paid attention to previously – I was not intentional about highlighting the key factors, such as having a clear profile, and did not tailor my applications to clearly match what the recruiters were looking for.”
Seneiya’s parting word to job seekers is that you have to be deliberate in your applications. “Networking and being aware of who is in your environment is important: know what is going on in your industry – find a way of attending events that are happening. LinkedIn also really helps. Recently, I applied for jobs just to see what is happening in interviews and refresh my skills, I have found that with LinkedIn, it is quite easy to land interviews.”
Socrates Majune, 29, tutorial fellow, School of Economics, University of Nairobi
“I got my first job in 2012. I was 22 years old then and have never really been without a job.”
When Socrates got to fourth year at the School of Economics, he realised that he had an interest in research. As early as possible, he visited websites of specific companies and research firms — those he was interested in working with, to find out as much as he could about them.
“I would then identify the human resource manager or someone in the management of the companies and write them an email introducing myself, stating my year of graduation and expected graduation time and grade – a first class—and also what my interest in the company was. I attached my CV and asked them to consider me for an internship. By the time I completed my coursework, I got an interview in July, which did not turn out to be successful, but another interview a month later got me an internship and I started work in November of the year I graduated,” he recalls.
In the competitive job space we are in, Socrates says there is no choice except being proactive.
“I also think my training as an economist was an advantage because it taught me to always forecast so even in my undergraduate days, I was already aware of the need to plan ahead. That is why I knew I needed to decide early what direction I wanted my career to take.”
Six months later after the internship, it was time for Socrates to return to school for his Masters and soon after, his PhD.
“My research background, knowledge from school and the internship training, opens many doors for me for consultancies. This is also what made me to be taken up by the department as a tutorial fellow since September 2019.”
Some of the things that slow people down in their job searches, he observes, is not deciding early what direction they want their career to take.
“The danger that is usually there is waiting until you complete school to begin applying for a job. Begin applying as early as possible and to as many places as possible. Of the 20 emails I sent, I only got feedback from two. You should not give up. You have to be really proactive. Do not be afraid to reach out.
“Job searching takes time, network and join professional bodies because that is where you will meet potential employers.”
Lorraine Toywa, 26, communications officer
“I got my first job when I was still in university but it was not well-paying. I was in the third and final year of my diploma course. I applied for an internship but was offered a job instead because the previous holder of that position had quit abruptly and the company was in urgent need of a replacement.”
After about a year and a half, Lorraine resigned because, while the job was good, she needed to begin her undergraduate studies.
“Initially, I thought I would go to Moi University main campus, which was a distance from my place of work, hence the resignation. But it turned out that I could have evening classes within town. That meant that I had free days to myself because classes started at five in the evening.”
She decided to begin looking for a job again but unlike the first time, it took her a year to get one.
“I wrote down one application, which I forwarded to all available job positions. I just edited the date and name of the company. My job hunting was mostly online. I also networked with some communications people whom I had met during my previous job so whenever there was an event or something they needed assistance with, they called me.”
In the one year that she was searching for a job, Lorraine had a lot of free time, something she was not used to having. At some point, she even considered getting married and shelving her career.
She also considered working in a bar because it seemed easier to get such a blue collar job.
“I got my second job through word of mouth. Someone recommended me and I was called in for an interview. The random applications did not work and I realised that in my randomness, I had even mixed company names in some of my applications.”
After she left her second job, armed with experience from her previous hustles, she was more specific with her applications and believes that’s the reason she succeeded.
The company was recruiting through an agency so she did not even know who the employer was, but she was informed that she had been shortlisted because she matched the qualifications.
She loved the organisation and still works there.
“I was more specific in my applications, I crafted my CV and my application letters according to the requirements in the jobs I applied for. I believe that is what made my application stand out.”