On a cold Tuesday morning two weeks ago, 28-year-old Priscilla Nyambura, brought parts of Nairobi to a standstill. It wasn’t her curious dress – white dress, accessorized with a bridal veil and scarf – that caught the eye, although it was certainly unusual. It was the placard she held over her head that made everyone walking past her on Moi Avenue stop and stare.
The placard announced that Priscilla was looking for a husband to marry her. The placard carried ‘essential’ details about her: her age, phone number and the fact that she had a seven-year-old child. He daughter, also dressed in white, walked by her side all morning.
Crowds milled about her, some snapping photographs to share on social media. Priscilla, undeterred, went on with her mission. Some observers and social media commentators envied her confidence and others wondering whether her strategy would work. Far more dismissed her as desperate, mentally ill or a combination of both. When I tried to have a sit down with Priscilla for some insight into her motivations, she sent me on a wild goose chase – first to Nairobi’s Jericho estate and then Witethie in Kayole – and in the end, was a no-show.
But Priscilla is far from alone in advertising her availability in this manner. Lately, quite a few women have been spotted doing the same in the streets of Nairobi – except that the rest of them have been seeking jobs, not a soulmate. Placard advertising maybe a new sight in our streets, but it is a not a new phenomenon. Humans carrying placards as a form of advertising began in the 1820’s in London, borne out of desperation when taxes were increased on advertising posters. Closer home, we have seen local restaurants and telecoms pay youths to carry placards advertising their products.
In August 2016, frustrated by the job hunt, then 23-year-old Rakiel Kaoka decided to take it a notch higher. For two days straight, she stood at the junction of Limuru and Murang’a roads, holding up a placard with her name, phone number, skill set and academic qualifications.
“I was hoping that a would-be employer would spot me,” she says.
Before coming to this decision, Rakiel who holds an undergraduate degree in economics and finance and a CPA Section Five, qualification had been on the job hunt for two years. She had dropped her CV at countless offices and sat for a number of interviews but it all came down to one thing – all prospective employers wanted someone with a bit of experience. She was still a fresh graduate. No one would give her a chance to get this experience.
“One day, I realised that I had been doing the same thing over and over, sending out my CV every day and sitting down for interviews with people who expected me to have some form of experience, and hoping to get a different result. So I decided to do something different – to hold out a placard out in the streets. I chose that junction because of the heavy traffic,” she explains.
Rakiel had to pay the Nairobi County government a fee of Sh3,500 to hold up the placard for the two days. So how effective is this strategy?
“That same week, I got a call from the Youth Enterprise Development Fund who offered me a three-month internship, after which they retained me. It’s been almost a year now. I love the job and I get to apply my skills at work,” she says.
NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION
The Kenyan job market is becoming increasingly competitive. According to 2016 World Bank statistics, the unemployment rate in the country stands at 40 per cent. It is no longer enough that someone goes to university to get an undergraduate degree or even a Masters. While there are no hard statistics on the means through which Kenyans land jobs, it is fairly common knowledge that in many instances, nepotism and bribes work better at securing jobs than do formal interviews and qualifications. To beat the system, men and woman are upping their job hunt tactics.
Becoming a walking advertisement is an out-of-the-box idea which is sure to grab attention and reach the maximum amount of people without it costing an arm and a leg. Rakiel isn’t the only one who has resorted to this placard job search. When 27-year-old Claudia Jematia came back home from Scotland in October 2015, she was hopeful. She had an impressive CV, with a Masters in advanced security and digital forensics, and another in cyber security. In country in which there is a dearth of digital security experts, she imagined that she would get a job easily.
“Almost two years later, all I had gotten was a part time job as a university lecturer. So I began thinking that that maybe all the CVs I had been dropping in various offices went unopened. I decided to look for a way to put my CV in people’s faces,” she explains.
So she drew up a placard with her name, contacts and qualifications, and held it up for half an hour at the UN Avenue in Gigiri, Nairobi.
Hers also looks like a happy ending. I could barely pin her down for a sitdown for this interview. “I am too busy with (job) interviews at the moment,” she told me when I called her.
Over the past two weeks, Jematia has received over 1,000 phone calls from prospective employers. “I have received calls from all over the world. South Africa, Canada... Even from Iraq!” she beams.
Whilst she will not reveal any details, she hints that she is well on the way to her dream job.
It looks like holding placards may just be the solution to finding that very elusive job. One thing is for sure though: it is not for the weak hearted. “You need to be very courageous to be able to do it,” says Rakiel.
Would she do it again if she found herself in a similar predicament? “No.” she says.
WHAT THE EXPERTS THINK
Catherine Mumbi, a marketer and the CEO of Simply Mammoth Solutions, a marketing company in Nairobi, reckons that placard job applications could be a very effective advertising strategy for a job seeker.
“In marketing, whenever you do something that is unorthodox, something that is not the norm, you are bound to grab attention. 99 per cent of the time, you will get what it is that you want, whether it is to make sales or to get a job.”
She however sees a problem with this kind of advertising. If it is repeated too many times, then it is unlikely to work the subsequent times.
“It is like a fad. When prospective employers see it too many times, they stop taking notice. The challenge is inventing a marketing solution which will both grab attention and still have a longer shelf life,” she advises.
When it comes to matters of the heart, however, Maurice Matheka, a relationships expert, is not convinced that holding a placard on a street corner will get you love. “It’s not going to work if we all do it,” he says.
He agrees that doing something that not many people are willing to do will get you noticed. It might not, however, attract love. But if you are looking for someone to meet your other needs like security, you just might get a suitor.