This week, we talked to Asha Mweru, the Kenya Country Manager of Sinapis about how to get a job as a country manager. For all the job seekers who say to themselves – “Ah, I can’t get a job as a country manager until I have 10+ years experience”…you need to read this story!
About the company: Sinapis is a Nairobi-based organization that empowers aspiring entrepreneurs in the developing world with innovative, scalable business ideas by providing them with a rigorous Christ-centered business education, world-class consulting, mentoring services, and access to seed capital.
- You don’t need the experience to get the job as a country manager – you just need to show passion and zeal to learn on the job
- Major skills you need to get the job as a country manager are project/program management, business development & partnership building and good collaborative skills
- In order to get a job as a manager, it is important you can structure things – not just to execute, but to create a structure that will allow the project to continue and be monitored sustainably
So Asha, tell us about your career.
I was first an entrepreneur and I tried building a company for a year. Unfortunately, we worked on the wrong model – low margins, high volume, and it took too long to break even. But I did learn a lot about what it takes to build a company and is probably what made me into who I am.
Then I transitioned into a PR job at Sinapis for 3 months. I hadn’t studied PR though I had some experience from my entrepreneur life and I was well connected with the entrepreneurship ecosystem. I then got the Sinapis partnerships lead role because I found that I’m naturally good at selling. I did a good job so a few months later I moved into role to scale partnerships and validate the scaling model. I loved scaling using the partnership model. 8 months later country manager job came up at Sinapis and I was offered the opportunity which I jumped right on it but of course with a lot of doubt in myself but worked my way to enjoying the role.
Why do you think you got the job as Country Manager if you didn’t have experience in that field?
I think sometimes its just – are you willing to learn, can you figure out deliverables quickly and are you just going to do it. I’m smart, I learn quickly, and I am passionate about entrepreneurs. So even though I didn’t have the specific skill for the job, I had the determination to do it and the mentality – It’s gonna happen, it just has to happen. So I said, “Ok I don’t have an MBA, but let’s give it a try” …and here I am.
What would you say your major day to day activities are?
My job is divided into a couple of main aspects – there is a lot of partnership building and business development. It is also my job responsibility to identify trainers for our entrepreneurs and a lot of program management as well. I make sure classes actually run smoothly, are allocated a trainer, and that the entrepreneurs are learning.
As a manager you also can’t escape administrative work. Are people doing what they need to be doing, when do I file this report…So that’s my main day to day activities as a country manager: Program management, business development and a little bit of admin. I definitely enjoy the execution part of any strategy we come up with though.
What is the skill you need for this job that you can’t live without?
Honestly, I think I could not live on this job without being a good planner. We have to plan for classes way ahead of time and say “this might happen, and we need a plan B.”
The second thing to do a good job as country manager would just be being a great salesperson: Being able to present an idea very well, present the value, and follow up to make sure we close the deal and lastly you need to be good at collaboration with teams
Do you think this comes naturally to you or do you think it’s training?
First and foremost, I have a great boss. It’s easy to emulate her because she does things to a high standard that I know I need to meet. Also, if I don’t know what to do, she guides me. The way I think about it is if my boss can do it, I can too.
I did have to learn a lot of things on the job. When I came in, I had no idea how to do project management. I just assumed I’m smart enough to do it and I just need to figure out how to learn. So I learned, adjusted my views on what it takes to project manager, and began executing.
What are your biggest challenges with your job?
First, I needed to learn how to say no, and realize it does not make me a bad boss.
I had to learn to delegate and understand that training other people is important (even if I could do the task myself in 5 minutes).
The third thing would probably be something I noticed about myself – I realized that it takes me a while to make a decision, especially with hiring people for a job. I’m not sure if that is a challenge or not, but it is something I think about but gets better with time.
What skills did you have to learn when you took this job?
Half of the skills I gained came from learning on the job.
The first was learning how to pitch. I really needed to learn in a short time how to sell an idea, and show its value. I pitched a few times as an entrepreneur, but the corporate world is a bit different.
Also, my job is all about making sure our entrepreneurs get trained in business skills. I actually wound up being their trainer for many courses that I had never studied myself – HR, marketing, operations etc. But because of this, now I am able to train any class on pretty much any subject, and I understand these subjects pretty deeply both academically and practically. I can even build a curriculum. It has significantly built my business skills.
What tech tools do you use on this job?
For project management, I use Wrike.com. I love Excel for building out a schedule. Occasionally, I do use Trello to build out tasks and so I know I have specific projects. I am pretty old school though I couldn’t live without my pen and paper. I plan out my work in my Moleskine.
What experience (professional or academic) best prepared you for this job? Did it tie in at all?
I’m not sure – I studied IT and business. I certainly use the IT and business. But did I think I would end up here? No. I thought I would get a job in a tech company or build my own thing. So I don’t think my education translated to exact knowledge for my job – I use my training sometimes kind of broadly, but not on a regular basis.
How has this job improved your professional skill set?
The country manager job has taught me how to work with structures and how to create them. Now, I love structures and being able to say – OH, is this how we are going to be doing things? Great. Whenever I have chaos, I step back and say – Let’s decide how we are going to do this, build the structure and execute. I also think about how I get feedback, update people on progress, & aggregate things sent to me. I structure that and then, I can move on.
What would be the next logical career step for you based on your experience in this job?
There are a few logical steps. One idea is doing the same job on a much bigger scale. At Sinapis, we’ve moved from 7 entrepreneurs to 300. So I know what it takes to scale a program and still retain try and retain quality. I am also interested in doing something internationally, working with different cultures, demographics, and business levels or challenges.
The other step could be advising policy and development around entrepreneurship. Because from this job, I understand the impact entrepreneurs can have and what type of ecosystem they need in order to thrive.
What advice do you have for job seekers about how to apply for a role in your field?
If you are in an early stage in your job hunt or career – you need to be able to learn and learn quickly. Also be forgiving to yourself. You will make so many mistakes and you just need to learn from them and say – “I’ve made this mistake, I will probably never do that again. I’ve learnt, now I can move on.”
If you are at the later stage of your career, I would think about what can I give to the company and what can they give to me. You should also be open minded and able to say – “This may be a different way of doing things but I can learn and perhaps even get it better”
In general, to job seekers – I just get so upset when I have this person who just rushes through applying for something and the application is unprofessional. Or, not taking the time to research the company or do an application assignment.
If you want a tip to impress HR – do your research thoroughly. If you are writing a cover letter, show me your values. Don’t make me think – “Do I want to hire you?” Show me why you are a perfect fit even above the skills I am looking for.
Also remember that first impressions do matter, so be as professional as possible at all times.
Lastly, whenever I am looking to hire, I always look at potential in the person to grow with our organization. I think about where they move from here. I wouldn’t want someone where this is just another job to them. So I always ask myself, “Why does this person want to be here, is it a good fit, will the person stay and grow?”
Thanks, Asha, for the amazing interview!
Sinapis is actually hiring for another country manager right now. If you would like to apply, please send your CV + cover letter to email@example.com with subject line “Country Manager 1734” (And don’t forget to research Sinapis beforehand for the cover letter!)
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If you would like to read more about how to approach writing a CV, I would recommend checking out our article “10 CV Fixes to Get Noticed by HR”
That’s all for now, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback in the comment section below!