Jobless & Searching: Strategies for Landing Your First Job

The last post on Career: 5 Things to Ensure You Get Stuck! unearthed a related topic. Getting stuck presupposes that you have a job in the first place. But if you are a job seeker, how do you get to that first job?

My knee jerk response is Google it! You will find tons of tips on the internet on how to get a job. However, I figure it is more beneficial to share from my personal experience. As John would say, “that which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim…” So here goes…

The year is 2003.

My youngest brother, James Ndegwa, and younger sister, Charity Ndegwa had, as Kenyans like to say, cleared college. Freshly baked holders of diploma from Kiambu Institute of Science and Technology, KIST. They joined thousands of other young Kenyan men and women churned from the colleges and universities each year to become part of the job seeking fraternity. That period between ‘clearing’ college or uni and landing a job is a trying one. One never has a straightforward response to the question everyone you come across will ask: What do you do? You are not in college. You are not working. The answer usually starts with ‘I have just cleared college/uni…”

My sister and brother, like other fresh from the oven graduates from shags, packed a bag each and found their way to Nairobi, the Green City Under the Sun, to look for jobs. College life with its dreaded CATS, exams, and horrible assignments was behind them. Behold, the dawn of a new day. The future beckoned. Surely, somewhere in Nairobi sky crappers there was an employer in need of their newly acquired skills? Someone must be eager to hire a zero-experience secretary (that was Charity) and a zero-experience electronics technician (Jamo).

They moved in with me. I made the usual adjustments that one has to make when a rela moves in with you with no move-out-by date in mind. Things are pushed under the beds to make more room. Meals are planned more carefully. Githeri features more frequently on the dinner menu – it is more filling than rice or chapos and is less expensive. You buy half a loaf of bread for breakfast. It has seven slices, so anyone eating more than two is depriving someone else of breakfast. There are unwritten rules about the TV remote, who sits on which seat…the whole nine yards.

A week went by. Two weeks. Three weeks, and still no jobs. After about a month, I decided it was time to have a talk about job-search strategies. First, I wanted to know what they were doing towards securing a job. The response was predicable: they were looking at the newspaper vacancy ads every day. I wanted to laugh out loud, but I did not. That is exactly what I had done several years earlier as a fresh graduate from Chiromo. I religiously scanned the classified columns looking for someone who might be wanting to employ a fresh Botany & Zoology graduate! Like, seriously? Exactly what type of a job might that be? Zoo Keeper Apprentice? Some entry level Plant Taxonomist?

It is amazing just how naïve one is after college. Sure, you occasionally find some generalized vacancy advertisement looking for graduate management trainees. For the most part, however, employers take out newspaper ads to advertise for positions requiring experience, vast experience.

I asked my sister and brother how many jobs they had come across within the time period for which they were qualified. Zero. For over a month, they had scanned newspaper ads and had not submitted a single application because there were no suitable jobs. Yes, that was shocking… Not! This was not a bad job-seeking strategy. It was no strategy at all!

Next I wanted to find out how they spent their day, from morning to evening. Blank stares.

I must have read the riot act, but I will leave out the details. Suffice to say I reminded them that they were in Nairobi to LOOK for jobs, aka, tarmac. Here was my prescribed strategy. Every day, they were to leave the house at the same time as when I left for work, which was before 8 am. The earliest anyone was allowed to come back to the house was 4pm. Those were the days of Kenya Bus. Special discounted fares ended at 4 pm, so the idea was to take the last of special-fare bus back home. They were to go to Industrial Area and, starting with the first street, Addis Ababa, knock on every business establishment and ask for a job. Industrial Area streets are arranged in alphabetical: A- Addis Ababa; B – Bamburi; C–Changamwe etc. I also needed a daily report every evening. I know, I am not a nice big sister, but my job was to ensure they got job.

And that is the strategy they implemented starting the very next day. They hit Addis Ababa road.

Was it easy? Was it fun? Of course not. They were turned away in some places. It was January and Nairobi sun can be unforgiving. Walking in Industrial Area from one company to the next is not anyone’s idea of good times. Having to take a crowded bus back home, because a Matatu cost ten shillings more can be stressful. That is the reality of job seeking. But within a few days, some companies had shown interest and accepted their applications. The change was almost instantaneous. They became hopeful and motivated. I think they even stopped seeing me as the evil big sister (I hope!).

To my utter amazement, they both got jobs within two weeks! I must confess that the most I had hoped for was for them to realize jobs do not come by easy. One has to be deliberate and proactive about the search. It turned out better than I thought.

In the interest of hearing from the horse’s mouth, I asked Charity, now a successful Human Resource Administrator for her advice. She contributed to the list below.

  1. Look for a job – Do not hope for a job. That sounds basic, but many of us hope to find a job. That is what I did as a fresh graduate. Waiting for manna to fall from heaven was last recorded the day the Israelites harvested their first crop in Canaan! Tarmacking entails getting out of the house and hitting the road.
  2. Know where to look. This will depend on your experience and your profession, but if you are fresh from high school or college, newspapers ads might not be a great place to start.
  3. Do something towards the job search – everyday. If you cannot answer the question ‘what did you do today toward looking for a job’, you are probably hoping for manna to fall from heaven. There is never shortage of things to do towards finding your next job. Update and edit your resume/CV, search for relevant information, or talk to someone who is in the same field and ask for advice.
  4. Package yourself for the job. You cannot appear at the reception looking all dusty and beaten. The receptionist will not allow you to see the boss! Carry a wet fabric or a brush to deal with the dust before you get to the entrance. Deal with the sweat too – have some face tissue with you (That’s from Charity’s archives of ‘It happened to me” haha)
  5. Be psychologically prepared for an interview. Sometimes you appear at the company just when they are looking for someone like you. Be ready. Do not ask them to interview you another day.
  6. Answer all phone calls pleasantly and professionally. That unknown caller could be your next employer. That phone call should never find you in bed. Ideally, employers will call after 8am. Wake up at the same time you would wake up to go to work. This way you avoid the awkward moment of having to receive interview invites with a husky voice.
  7. You can seek advice from those working in the same industry or those who have gone through the process successfully but remember this is your problem not theirs. Do not sit back and wait for them to give you updates on things they promised they would assist with. Follow up.

P.S. If you have tried and tested tips, please share. I would love to hear about them!

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2 Replies to “Jobless & Searching: Strategies for Landing Your First Job”

  1. Hey.. this is so timely. Subscribing today & my 1st read is what i can really relate. thanks for this… For the past month, i have truly dealt with sweat.

    1. Thanks Vincent. Are you looking for a job?
      Wish you all the best! And if I can be of assistance – e.g., reviewing your CV/Resume, I would be happy to do so!