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WHAT IT TAKES: How To Get A Job in Software Consulting

Brian Onyango tells Duma Works what it takes to get your dream job in software consulting. If you want to know how to get a job in Kenya, read this

This week for the Duma Works What It Takes series we have interviewed Brian Onyango to give us insights into his career as a software consultant.

Brian Onyango is a Senior HCM (Human Capital Management) Solution Consultant with Oracle. He is based in Nairobi and has a ton of experience in Solution Consulting – so he helps Oracle sell it’s HCM solutions to potential client companies operating in different industries.

The most interesting note from this conversation was the emphasis that Brian put on not just being a “Software expert.” What came up over and over again was his dedication to building relationships with his clients and making sure he tones down the “tech” for everyday English everyone can understand 🙂

TL;DR

  • Being a solution consultant means you need to be able to map your proposed solutions to clients’ needs based on the outcome of discovery sessions
  • Having business skills is as important if not more important than having IT skills
  • Be curious about a specific space in technology or business – be it Human Capital Management solutions, Supplies & Procurement solutions, Financial solutions, etc.

So, Brian, tell me more about yourself & your career path.

I’ll give you a brief overview of my academic background and walk through some of the internships and job roles I had before moving into Oracle.

I studied Business & IT at Strathmore University. This was helpful because when dealing with business applications, you can’t just focus on tech, you need to work on you business skills as well.

The go-to-market strategy for technology companies has been on-premise software for a long time. Now, there has been a change of approach to a more cloud-based model. Before, companies needed on-premise solutions to be installed and maintained in their data centers. This approach comes with a large capital expense and dedicated IT team in-house to maintain their investment. But not anymore.

I worked with the likes of Safaricom and KenGen in their internal IT departments to configure and customize enterprise software solutions.

Then, I decided that I was really interested in the Human Capital Management space. I started by getting certified as an SAP HCM Application Consultant – that covers recruiting, performance management, personnel administration, organizational management, training and events, payroll, etc. So I had to learn more about these modules in order to be able to work with internal clients at KenGen and deliver according to their requirements.

Once I had gained implementation experience with HCM software, Oracle got in touch and offered me a role as a Solution Consultant. I currently work as a member of the ECEMEA SaaS Competency Centre that operates across East, Central Europe, Middle East and Africa.

It is really important to fully understand the requirements a person within the HR department at a company would have. It maybe even be a good idea to work on the client-side first, before moving to a vendor environment. Meaning – first work at a company that would be having the HR software sold to it, before working for the guys selling the software. Working at the company that will use the software helps you understand requirements of big organizations eg. Safaricom or KenGen as well as those operating as SMEs.

What are your major day to day activities?

I get engaged in discovery sessions with prospective clients. I sit with their functional heads and technical teams to understand their current working environment – are they using manual systems and software or just manual systems? etc. This way I get an understanding of the best solution to position. There are times when customers may request a Proof of Concept – to verify that some concept or theory has the potential of being used.

I do assist with the completion of Requests for Proposals (RFPs). This is where companies have requested for software vendors to respond to their requirements with solutions that will best support their business processes and decision making. This is usually followed up with a solution demonstration to the prospect.

I also work with Marketing and Sales on demand generation activities and events.

What is a skill you can’t live without?

You definitely need to be a team player. This is because when you are talking about working at any organization, there are different functional teams that need to work together.

Furthermore, our solutions will interact across various departments in our clients’ organizations, and also with our clients’ customers. You need to be able to work together with all these guys to find relevant solutions that provide value.

You need analytical skills because when pitching to a prospective client, you need to show how to map their business processes onto our solutions.

I would also say that if you can build on your technical skills, that will help you. Because, in some situations you need to be familiar with the technological aspect as well. So essentially, you are working in tech, but having business in mind.

What are your biggest challenges with Solutions Consulting?

It is a field that keeps on changing. Especially with the shift from on-premise software to cloud-based solutions.

You definitely need to be someone who can quickly adapt and pick up on things fairly quickly. Especially in terms of innovation. You need to continuously research on your own, outside of the regular training you would get from the company. You need to always read up on trends in the tech industry and in the business area you are interested in. Eg. I am always reading up on HR best practices, and new solutions coming to market. This way, I am able to operate as a trusted advisor, instead of just knowing a lot about “tech.”

Were there any skills you had to learn on the job?

Before, I was not really in the HR space – I didn’t have a background in HR. That was one area I really had to read on and pick up. I was familiar with IT-related stuff, but not particularly in the HR space. I have had to skill up on understanding HR technologies and Industry Offerings.

What tech tools do you use on the job?

I participate in a lot of webcast sessions as most of the members of our team are based in Europe and across Africa.

Oh and lots of emails, haha..

Let’s see – I also use Visio to map out processes and flows, and Powerpoint presentations. For example, when we kick off a session or a meeting with a prospective client, I will always use Powerpoint to bring out findings of the discovery session before delving into Oracle’s solutions.

Reflector and AirPlay are also cool ways of projecting your presentations and demonstrations from mobile devices.

What experience best prepared you for this role?

Well, my course was technical but had business units, you need to be able to speak business language instead of just technical language. If you go too much into “tech” there is a high chance that you could end up losing your audience along the conversation. So my Business-IT course helped me learn how to balance that as well as working closely with my customers, both internal and external.

How has this job improved your professional skills set?

My current job takes a different approach from previous roles that I held. I would deliver solutions to internal stakeholders, mainly the HR department at KenGen. Now it is more client-facing, you need to be confident in front of people – they need to view you as a trusted advisor and that what you are proposing will help them execute their organizational strategy. They should know if they have challenges, they should come to you.

What is your next logical career step?

At Oracle there is a lot of room with regard to career development. You need to have passion in whatever it is you are doing. For the next two to three years I want to progress along the independent contributor track and then see what next.

What advice do you have for job seekers?

Be very open minded and willing to learn. Get out of your comfort zone and innovate on new ways of solving business challenges, also learn about a specific industry and the trends within it.

Technology needs to find its value within the business, so do lots of reading on your own, join forums, go to conferences dealing with the subject matter of your interest.

Through this research and engagement, you get a perspective of what to expect in this type of role. Because once you’re in the role, you are expected to deliver.

Oh, and have a curiosity to know what what is going on – current affairs! You always need to be on top of your game.


Thank you so much, Brian! What an insightful interview.

I particularly liked the part where Brian talked about mapping software solutions onto current client needs or challenges. Oracle is definitely not a startup, but I think a lot of people working in the startup scene can learn a thing or two from that principle.

For all those thinking about jobs at the likes of Oracle, SAP, or IBM, this article is a great place to start learning about what people will expect from you when you get to work.

What should you do now?

  1. Tell me about your professional skills on dumaworks.com so if there is a job opening in your field, I can let you know!
  2. Give your feedback on this interview through the comments section below.
  3. Share this interview with your friends! Knowledge is power, and sharing this will make you look smart 😉
  4. Let me know in the comments section if there is a particular job sector you would like to learn more about so I plan an interview about that topic.

Have a great week! 🙂

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WHAT IT TAKES: How to Get a Job in Communications & PR

Duma Works interviews Josephine Mwangi, head of Communications and Marketing at the Nailab to help you get your dream job in marketing or PR

Happy Thursday and happy belated Madaraka day!

Welcome to the latest and greatest Duma Works‘ What It Takes post, where we interviewed the lovely Josephine Mwangi, head of communications and marketing at the Nailab.

Josephine has a great background in PR, communications, interactive marketing, social media – you name it. Plus, she has worked in a large corporation, an agency, and a startup of sorts. Therefore, she has a lot to say about the different workplaces and the shifting face of marketing and communications. Josephine now works at the Nailab, which is a startup accelerator that offers a 6 month entrepreneurship program with focus on growing innovative technology driven ideas.

Because of her work at the Nailab, Josephine has experience managing multiple brands at a time – both the Nailab itself, and the startups they incubate. She has to the create a consistent brand message for all these stakeholders – not an easy task!

TL;DR

  • Communications & Marketing is a super dynamic field that changes everyday because of the rapid pace of social media and other interactive marketing
  • People pursuing this field need to be in the business of constantly reinventing themselves and their branding/communications strategies
  • Skills required: Excellent writing skills (to handle writing press releases); Excellent analytic skills (to understand based on data what content users are engaging with and appreciating); Excellent strategy skills (to understand how various media channels work together to promote a solid brand identity

So Josephine, tell me about your career journey so far.

It’s been an interesting course – I kept telling myself in school that there is no way I could have dedicated 4 years of my study life pursuing a degree in communication and not get to practice it. I had fallen in love!

My experience started off with Togo consultants where I did my internship for 3 months – it was a lot about conference management, which I knew very little of, but that is the essence of internship – to learn. It was during this process that I began to realize how the practical is so off from the theory. Communications/Public Relations is a very wide field and the big thing was that I didn’t understand as a whole what communications entailed.

I joined Gina Din Corporate communication as a client service executive knowing I was ill-prepared for the task but I love a good challenge 🙂 It was while here that I was introduced to the strategic part of communications – when you take a 360 perspective and bring together strategic communication, PR, event management and experiential marketing (mostly targeting consumers), not forgetting the segmentation of both the internal and external audiences. This was my “ah-ha” moment.

Once I understood the 360 perspective from a strategic standpoint, I could take a deeper look into how to engage different stakeholders at different levels. The proposition you have for different clients is different – the channel of engagement  you use differs. This is dictated by various factors, primary being relevance.

Then I moved to communications and marketing at Equity Bank, and I was introduced to media buying. This ideally entails identifying the advertising channels with maximum impact and minimum cost. I hadn’t done that before. Media buying meant that I had to talk to people in media houses, radio stations, and other print media channels to secure an advertising slot. Then, I worked on the ad content.  If it was on radio, I had to design a spot ad with the help of the station so that the tone was appealing to their listeners. That was very interesting for me – especially creating media campaigns around themes and translating that into print and electronic messages (60 second messages).

When I came to the Nailab, I began to see the value of all that I had learnt since I had to now look at the 360 from a brand establishment point of view. Nailab is an organization that had little exposure both as a brand and their primary customers, the startups. So I had to create my own strategy. To create the strategy, I had to understand the different brands I would be managing. So my challenge was that I had to figure out how to incorporate brand equity with startups as well as with the Nailab.

My previous experiences came with sufficient budgets. But at Nailab, I was introduced to the zero budget standpoint. I promise at some point I wanted out…..Who markets with no money?? I had to have a heart to heart with myself to convince myself to stay, and from that moment on, I developed my own motto – “Whatever the means, it has to work.” It has been an interesting process.

I have had to be innovative in my approach to marketing communications just like startups. For a very long time, people didn’t understand the essence of the structure of communications versus marketing. To many, they are all one and the same thing. Duma Works shows how to get a job in PR, marketing, communications, branding, design, and more

If you were to define PR how would you define it?

PR is more of a strategic communication process that helps build a trustworthy relationship between organizations and their desired audiences. It ultimately grows the interaction process of your product/service with that audience. PR also goes beyond what you say as an organization and you can actually rely on testimonial by a happy client/customer asserting that the “Experience” that comes with your offering is worth every minute.

What would you say your major day to day activities are?

I wake up, get to work. The first thing I do is to go through social media platforms and what the analytics are behind the posts. I also have to analyze what has been published in the mainstream media from a competitive perspective and also industry related as that helps us understand trends.

I manage Nailab the brand, as well as assist startups in creating their brand equity. One of the major things i have to do is make calls to media networks to tell them what is new and why this is of public interest. That’s media relations.

I also have to look into TechSahara, our online magazine about startups in Nairobi and ICT related business news. We started it as a platform to create a dialogue around startups and what is going on. I share a couple stories written that day on our social media to hike interest and dialogue. I also need to see if the things being published are aligning to our corporate strategy.

I never realized the strength of social media before I came to Nailab – mostly because I can do a campaign with paying almost $0.. Over the course of calling for applications for Nailab, I have only done it over social media. And every time, we get over 100+ applicants, simply from social media. That is why it is so important for me to monitor those social media platforms to make sure I either align messages to our brand (Nailab, or our startups), or speak out about something currently trending.

Editor’s note: the most important thing about social media marketing is tracking what people are clicking on! Read an article about this on our favorite social media blog, Buffer, here. Josephine works at a brand activation in Nairobi - read this interview with Josephine for the Duma Works blog to help you land your dream job.

What is the skill you need for this job that you can’t live without?

Adaptability – you need to be so adaptable. If there is one thing I have learned over the course of my career, it is that communications is not like an accounting career where everything is set and there are defined structures and methods. I mean 1+1 from a traditional viewpoint can only add up to 2 right? Communications is very dynamic.

So when I started off my career, there was nothing like social digital communications. The only thing we had was traditional channels – clients just wanted to have their stories run in the Standard, Daily Nation, etc. By the time I got to the corporate world at Equity, corporates were now talking digital because of its low barrier to entry and the interaction it offered, so I got started learning about that.

As consumers we have become attached to the brands that we use constantly and that’s why if I’m unhappy with my brand, I feel entitled to a certain degree of good treatment. Thanks to social media, I can let them and the world know I am important. Any person in communication needs to learn how to have this interaction with their virtual audience, because that could make or break the brand in a matter of seconds.

So, be completely adaptable and understand that if consumers say this channel of communication is what works – ITS YOUR JOB TO FIGURE IT OUT – and the greater questions is who is the audience on this channel and how do i speak to them in a language that relates.

Do you think PR is changing quickly over time relative to other careers?

I think PR is actually changing more rapidly than other sectors because everything is dictated by the audience. The practitioner just needs to look at behavior and adapt to that. Before, all I needed to do was get my story or print on TV and people buy – now the audience seek to understand the process so am obligated to do a Youtube video that teaches, engages and at the same time entertains so that we have top of mind recall.

So if you studied PR – structures will get defined and redefined by audience time and time again.

Editor’s note: Check out this awesome article about how to weave in social media strategy to PR strategy.

What are your biggest challenges with your role in PR?

Keeping up is so challenging! I’m one of those people that takes time to get accustomed to new things. It takes time for me to learn but I know I need to learn really fast. Sometimes I feel stuck in what I know because it works, so that’s a been challenge for me.

And with the diversity of channels of communication, figuring out how to do it all whilst keeping the message consistent for all audiences is very challenging. It really gets me thinking and makes me step out of my comfort zone. For example, if I were talking to you on a radio interview, it’s not as much about the brand, but about the experience someone has with my conversation. So I need to figure out how do I get interesting enough, but not too intrusive and also appealing enough to attract my audience.

And then I need to make sure I am tying my message to the overall message. Telling that in the most appealing way is challenging. “But I am where I am because I opted to continue learning. I remind myself everyday of things that I don’t know – so I tell myself to keep learning.”

What skills did you have to learn when you took this job?

I have refined my writing skills. To be honest, I hate writing. I love to think, and I love to develop strategies, and so I just want someone to take things from my head and write it for me. I’m my biggest critic in my writing. I usually write something in the morning and then publish in the evening because I have taken so much time reading and re-reading.

I have also learnt to be flexible. The amazing thing about being in an innovative space is that people do not do traditional like sit down and have meetings, not in this day and age when we have Skype. Skype used to be so informal, and meeting face to face was formal! I have had to learn how to adapt… I still have a challenge with this but what to do 🙂

What tech tools do you use on this job?

I learned using writing tools as well – like Evernote. I love that it’s cloud-based so I can access things over my phone, laptop, etc. So it makes it super easy for me. Project management tools like Trello, easy to track an issue and also who needs to action and if am a barrier why and how i need to clear. Its magical. But you need to pick what tools work for you – if you use too many, you will just be inefficient  to a great degree. Whatever works, works.

What experience (professional or academic) best prepared you for this role?

I would definitely attribute this to my former operations manager at GDCC Carol Muthaura.

It was my first year in Gina Din and she takes me to this big government meeting where I met the Minister. So we get the list of deliverables and expectations and we are to develop a strategy and a work plan. At that point, I was coming from the mindset where the boss tell you what to do, you don’t jump until you’re told to (a product from my teachers in school). I wasn’t being proactive because I wasn’t sure that was the culture.

A week later, my colleagues ask me about progress and I gave them the magical answer “Boss lady is on it.” I’ll never forget the laughter that followed the statement. That’s when I learnt if your boss invites you to the meeting, it means you are doing everything.

And that’s what I like best about the Nailab – you figure out what to do and then do it. So I’m really grateful I was taught proactivity in the early stage of my career. It also taught me to think on my feet, you don’t cry at every crisis, you fix it. Cry later 🙂

And I think the one thing Sam always says is to just do it – make mistakes, and then learn from them. That way, you wear the face of the company, and you carry the company on your shoulders. Something i learnt early on.

When I presented a strategy from the agency, I didn’t present anything substandard because I knew it reflected on me and then the company, no one wants wants a tainted image so i learnt how to give my very best. To date i remind myself I am building me, just as I am building Nailab. If Nailab is progressing, then I am progressing!

How has this job improved your professional skill set?

I’m not a really big public speaker – but being the head of communications and marketing, I have had to speak on behalf of the brand. At first, I hated it, but then I got used to it. Over time, I have gotten more comfortable because I realize I know what I am talking about.

And networking – this was always such a nightmare. You know when you introduce yourself to someone at an event and after the niceties the cricket sounds are super loud making it even more awkward? Well, being in PR they say networking should be my strength – it never was, still isn’t. But with time, I have understood the value of my networks. So awkward silence and all engage 🙂

Also, fashioning strategic communications planning – When I started out, I used to just Google “communications strategies.” Now, I internalize the situation and create a strategy that will propel the company from point a to point x – stepping back and seeing how the audience perceives the brand – and changing it to how we want audience to see us. This way, I have learnt to immerse myself in the brand and create the character that we need to relate with the audience. Learn about how Josephine thinks about markeitng and PR so you can get the skills to land your dream job

What would be the next logical career step for you based on your experience in this position?

Wow, very good question. A lot of people have asked me that – Why haven’t you set up your own PR agency, PR is about the network etc. I had never thought about it. The thing I actually want to do the most is training – training young people to use their PR career to help enhance themselves and the organizations they work with. Also how to be adaptable enough, and how to use your tools to the maximum.

So yea, I think my next step would be from a training perspective. There is still such a low understanding of PR – and the tools we can use. ie. Email marketing, communicating with audience. Media relations is the loudest branch of PR in Kenya, but it’s not all that you get from PR. If people gained a greater understanding of that, they could be better in their career.

What advice do you have for job seekers about how to apply for a role in your field?

I think my biggest advice would be figuring out – what are you passionate about? And then asking yourself why.

When you’re younger, you can be driven by sensationalism. But when you grow older, you realize what you love. Like, I got into communications because I realized that I am driven by relating to an audience. I was always doing drama festival, poetry, music festivals. By the time I was choosing my career – my dad sat me down – I told him I wanted to do psychology – he said – you know you need to do medicine for that? Then, he asked me what I have always loved, and I was like – um, communicating with people.

So he said – ‘You don’t try to fix dogs’ legs – you have always tried to communicate through art, poetry – so that’s what you’re passionate about.’ And I thought to myself – man, this man does know me. And that’s how I got into what I loved.

Whatever career you want to get into – make sure you do an assessment to see what you are passionate about it and that you are not just listening to external influences.


Thank you so much, Josephine, for your time and insights!

For me, this interview was very helpful to understand the role of someone in communications. The thing I learned that I didn’t know before was that communication is PR, marketing, social media, and strategy all in one – at least from a managerial perspective.

If you are going to be working in a bigger company, and coming in from an entry level, chances are that you will plug into one of these functionalities – either you will be writing press releases, designing print media, managing social media accounts, etc. When you want to progress to management, you should be able to understand and/or execute on all these different functions.

Great! So here is what you should do now:

1- Subscribe to this blog if you are interested in getting alerts when we publish these awesome interviews and other helpful articles, like how to improve your soft skills

2- Sign up for Duma Works if you are looking for a job or trying to advance your career

3- Send me an email (arielle@dumaworks.com) if you are interested in sharing your professional journey with the world!

4- Leave a comment below if you have any questions or comments on this article. We want to hear what you’re thinking and help you apply this article to your career

…Until next week!

WHAT IT TAKES: How to get a job as a Country Manager

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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.

TL;DR

  • 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 apply@dumaworks.com with subject line “Country Manager 1734” (And don’t forget to research Sinapis beforehand for the cover letter!)

As always, if you are interested in receiving relevant job alerts on your phone, please visit our website and tell us a bit more about your professional qualifications.

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!

What It Takes to Be a Senior Business Advisor

Samuel speaking at a conference

Samuel speaking at a conference

This week, we interviewed Samuel Mwangi, from a large NGO in Nairobi. Sammy is a Senior Business Advisor and helps the enterprises this NGO supports to get their businesses “together.” In all honesty, I learned a lot from this interview because I, too, didn’t completely understand what it meant to be a Senior Business Advisor in an NGO capacity.

TL;DR

  • Having a science background actually helps you to become a better business person (scientific method, anyone?)
  • Being able to conduct cash flow analysis is very important, especially at first glance
  • The market is shifting to think less about what papers you have and more about what skills you bring to the table

So Sammy, tell me a little about your career background.

My whole career is based on a few things: As a scientist, I’m trained to think and find solutions to problems. As a development person, I am trained to identify gaps in society that need to be filled. As a business person, I’m trained to close gaps. So that’s how I see myself and my career. I was initially trained in botany and zoology, and then moved into getting trained in cross cultural communication and international development. I did consulting in the private sector in business development and supporting small entrepreneurs. In the end, I wound up in development. Also, I have been running my own businesses since I was 13 years old. Now being 32, I have 18 years of experience in business, and that has been my biggest gift.

What caused you to shift from science into development?

In my career, I started as a volunteer for one year in a Christian organization. Then, I did a course abroad in international development with that same Christian organization – an exchange program. That caused a shift because initially, I wanted to study Bioinformatics and system biology. But, through this experience, I became curious about using business as a tool for development – how can we use business as a tool to help bring people out of poverty. So that’s what I’ve been doing for my career life. Well, that and running a business on the side – that’s what you call side hustle.

What would you say your major day to day activities are?

Like it says in my title, I advise businesses – big and small. In order to do that, I deal with things like project management, business development with new companies, looking at the books to help them put together their records in better ways, linking companies to market, building business strategies, segmenting business ideas, giving people actionable points to focus on and achieve, and helping companies do financial analysis.

Sammy

What is the skill you need for this job that you can’t live without?

Whenever I look at a business, I can look at the cash flow and know exactly what is going on. And because of my experience, I know what works and doesn’t work for the business.

What are your biggest challenges with your role?

I think my biggest challenge is that I am a perfectionist. Sometimes, I push myself too hard, and push other people around me very hard, and have very high standards for how fast people should do things. My role depends on a lot of other people – interacting with them and getting feedback. So sometimes waiting for that all to come together is frustrating for me.

What skills did you have to learn when you took this job?

Oh I have learned how to manage people – how to give and receive feedback, how to give support to my leaders and team members and to act as a guide rather than an authority about where a project can go. I have also learned how to be humble and be patient both with myself and others. What else…I have learned how to look at cash flows, balance sheets, and conduct financial analysis more critically. That was a big one. I had to take time to read books and grow myself in that area as well since I had dropped out of an MBA course. I actually might go back to complete an MBA course at some point  to perfect my abilities.

What tech tools do you use on this job?

Microsoft Outlook is my best friend for planning of meetings. Of course Word and Excel. I use Excel for literally everything. Creating budgets, even note-taking sometimes. And hardware! My diary. That is one of my best friends. I like booking things into it and writing notes in it.

What experience (professional or academic) best prepared you for this role?

Science taught me how to think and be critical, and detailed. I love chaos and complexity because science trained me how to make sense of all of it – to create things out of messes, and I enjoy that. It also gives me a cutting edge because most people I interact with are trained in business. And so, my way of thinking is initially very different from theirs. They have knowledge that I don’t have, but I can be more critical and bring a unique perspective to things. Also, running small and large businesses myself helps me to also be critical and be very focused when I am analyzing a business, especially looking at the bottom line. I start from the bottom line and work upwards. 268 (1)

How has this job improved your professional skill set?

This job has really helped me for my next big thing. The types of people I interact with are very different and has helped me gain insight into food processing that I wouldn’t have gotten before. Through my job, I was able to get trained in the US in the food industry and meet a bunch of businesses over there. Seeing the structures they have in the US opened my eyes to possibilities we have here and increased my competitive edge.

What would be the next logical career step for you based on your experience in this position?

I think for me the next big thing would working at one corporation. That’s what I think would give me a lot of satisfaction in the sense that I can do focused business development for one corporation, and not many clients.

What advice do you have for job seekers about how to apply for a role in your field?

What I think is that the market is slowly shifting from looking at what papers people have to what people can be able to do. The trick will be seeing what people can do and then what gap the company needs filled. If you look at business people all around the world, they didn’t train in business. Most HR managers have degrees in psychology or sociology – degrees that are basically about interacting with people – but not only about HR. If you look at most CEOs of big corporations, you realize they have degrees in mathematics, physics, something not conventional. But they have been in the trade a long time and have become good business people. I think that value is the important part – people who can challenge themselves to apply whatever skills they have to find solutions. Not just people with papers in the industry. It doesn’t matter what you study, the point is that you can be whatever you want to be, just do it well.


Thanks so much, Sammy! I think this interview will be really helpful for people who are studying the sciences to think more broadly about their careers. I also think it will be interesting for people in the NGO sphere who have this thirst for growing companies, and have a business background.

Please comment with your experience in this role or with any questions in the comments section below, and subscribe to the blog to stay updated when we publish another interview. And as always, if you are looking for a job or are looking to hire in the NGO sector, please make sure to visit and complete your profile on www.dumaworks.com.

That’s all for now, folks! Stay tuned in for next week’s What It Take episode, where we will explore What It Takes to be a User Experience Designer (aka “UX Designer”).

What It Takes to Be a Human Resource Manager

Photo credit: Zafarani Mansurali

Photo credit: Zafarani Mansurali

This week for Duma Works’ What It Takes blog series, we interview Beryl Opar, the HR Manager at Kopo Kopo.

This interview is particularly interesting because as HR, Beryl not only gives advice about pursuing a career in HR. She also has general advice for applying to jobs in general! #job #gatekeeper

TL;DR

  • Many HR professionals are actually formerly from/obtained their first degree in the customer relations, psychology, commerce, marketing or other related fields
  • HR admin tasks are becoming more automated – to position yourself, focus on becoming more strategic
  • Your work ethic and attitude can land you in a job even if you didn’t study the relevant course work
  • Network, network, network! It helps you stay ahead in your field and also get connections to job opportunities

Tell me about your career journey:

I studied and got a masters in Business Management at Warwick Business School in the UK.

HR wasn’t actually my first career choice. I thought I was going into finance/economics or development work!

While job seeking, I got a temp role at Macmillan Publishers in NYC. I was helping with CV mining and interviews. It was supposed to be a three month gig, but then a position opened up in HR – it was a department of 10 people, servicing approximately 3,000 employees and I was handling benefit coordination.

Why do you think MacMillan hired you for HR if that wasn’t your field?

Probably for my work ethic. I wasn’t the best hire if they were looking for an HR qualification. But when I was there, I worked hard, I had a good attitude (I’m told), I was eager to learn, and always delivered.

And you moved back to Kenya…

Yes, I missed home and could see opportunity here – I could see more development and infrastructure in Nairobi, and wanted to take advantage of being young and able to relocate easily.

So I moved back in February of 2012 and that’s when my job hunt began. It’s not fun, I know how it feels. It seems to take forever. I did consultancy jobs here and there. I worked with Kimberly Ryan in Upper Hill. I also did a consulting gig for an insurance company and a solar company – helping them become compliant with their policies and handbooks.

So what does your day to day at Kopo Kopo look like?

I would call myself a generalist at Kopo Kopo. I am responsible for a lot of things.

At the moment, I’m doing a lot of recruiting – from looking at CVs to making a job offer and everything in between. Also, we are expanding into a few other countries which means project managers often need help with work permits/visas and health insurance etc. in other countries.

What are your biggest challenges with CVs?

The inability for people to translate their achievements onto paper. They don’t know how to stand out, to highlight relatable and transferable skills – especially candidates right from school.

What do you look for when hiring other HR people?

For an HR person applying for a job – I would focus on their unique skills, their ability to learn and their attitude. You can easily get your diploma in HR – it only takes about a year. For me, it’s more about professional skills e.g. are you innovative, a team player, a problem solver and someone who takes initiative.

What is a skill you can’t live without?

If I had to pick one, I’d pick people skills – I am dealing with people all the time.

In HR all employees are basically your clients – from entry level employees to board of directors to C level management. If you have good people skills – it works.

What skills have you learned on the job?

I have had to learn employee relations and negotiations. For example, I look at benefit plans and negotiate with vendors to get the best “bang for the buck”.

How have you learned all these skills?

I have an amazing mentor – she is a Director of HR with 15+ years of experience. I am always calling to ask what to do and how to do it. I am also constantly reading up on trends/ best practice and I am in the process of obtaining my HR certification by September 2015.

What tech tools do you use at work?

We use all the Google apps and Google Drive. LinkedIn for recruiting. We also use Trello, Survey Monkey, and Excel (specifically pivot tables) among others.

What experience best prepared you for this role?

All my previous work experience – including that one Summer I took a job as a Starbucks Barista in New York City.

My Masters in Business Management also helped me understand basic financials, measuring corporate performance, strategy analysis and dealing with people in organizations. This has enabled me to think strategically, as an owner of the business.

At the moment I am studying for my HRMP examination, which is administered by HRCI, and I’m learning a lot.

How did the role improve your skill set?

The role definitely made me step outside my comfort zone. I do things like work on HR policy documents, performance management, budgeting, and create training plans – The best way to learn is by doing!

What is your next career step?

I would like to continue doing more strategy and ‘big data’ in an HR capacity. I try to see where the HR industry is heading and position myself in a way that I am a global and regional business leader in my field. I always try to think 5-10 years ahead for my career.

I see HR changing a lot – HR professionals are moving away from administrative tasks – in fact, admin work is being taken over by computer applications and software. I want to focus more on HR strategy, so I can have an opinion in the board room.

What is your advice to job seekers?

Network, network, network! It’s a hard market and unemployment is so high. There are only a few really good roles. Go to meetups, seminars, and conferences to find out what opportunities are available.

Actually, the way I found out about my current job was by telling everyone in my network that I was looking for a job in HR. Finally, one of my friends connected me to Kopo Kopo.

You should also set yourself up as the best qualified candidate. So if you can, get all the relevant qualifications you can afford.

Lastly, you should definitely tailor your CV. At least based on what I’ve seen – people aren’t researching the job well and just sending blanket resumes everywhere. It’s not always the best strategy.

I know it’s hard – I job hunted for a while. But do targeted research and target the top jobs you want. If possible, get to know what pain point the companies have and see how you can fill it with your experience, skills, certifications, etc. That way, in an interview, you know how to really stand out and how to contribute to the company.

Thanks so much for all your insight, Beryl! I hope this is helpful for both people trying to get into the HR field, and those trying to go from HR executive to manager. Remember, if you are looking for an HR role, make sure to create your professional profile on Duma Works so we can alert you with any job openings.

Stay tuned for next week’s publication of What It Takes, and as always, leave your comments in the comments section below if you have any questions or comments.

You can also check out last week’s edition of What It Takes, where we interviewed Mugethi from the iHub, and she told us all about her career and what it takes to be a Community Manager.

What it Takes to Become a Community Manager

Mugethi at her workplace, in the iHub. Photo credit: Abu Okari

Mugethi at her workplace, in the iHub. Photo credit: Abu Okari

Mugethi Gitau is the Community Manager of the iHub. I had a chat with Mugethi this week to get a better picture of what it means to be a Community Manager. Hopefully this will help you decide if it’s the right job for you, and if you would be a good fit. If this article perfectly describes you, maybe you should be applying to Community Manager job openings…

Mugethi admitted to me at the beginning that even she didn’t know what that role meant when she applied. It just goes to show that everyone starts from square one.

This blog post is part of a series on the Duma Works blog called “What It Takes,” where we are talking to experts in different fields about themselves & their day-to-day activities to help job seekers understand what employers are really looking for when they post a job description. 

IN SUMMARY

I. The most important skill set:

  1. You get energy by being around people
  2. You are a good communicator with all types of people
  3. Really experienced with social media and blogging
  4. Good at event planning & logistics

II. The next potential career move:

  1. Manage a bigger community
  2. Online community manager

III. What employers are looking for:

  1. People who have done their own independent projects ie. Planning events and starting a blog
  2. Clear, well expressed email communication
  3. Great people skills and strong social media presence

So Mugethi, to get started, maybe you can tell me a little bit about your career and how you got to become the Community Manager at the iHub.

It was a long journey. When I started University, computers and the internet was just coming up so I specialized in IT (with only 5 other women. The rest were men, imagine!)

I lectured in colleges a year. Then taught ICT and business for 4 years. After 4 years I couldn’t grade another paper (I found it fun at first)

In between lecturing, I also had some other businesses where I would design business cards, and design people’s websites. I’ve continued this ever since.

Later, I got into some non-profit work, supporting orphans and other vulnerable populations with business coaching, mentorship, and access to microfinance.

My debut into social media was during the elections – I would engage people online through community debates about politics. I’d been on social media for a while but this is when I first started to use it on a serious level to brand individuals and push public agenda.

I even ran a nightclub at one point!

What would you say your day to day activities are as Community Manager of the iHub?

Meeting people all the time! I help tech tourists understand who we are and what we do at the iHub. It’s all different types of people coming in – investors, NGOs, researchers, entrepreneurs…

I talk to members of the community in our community space about what they are doing and I make connections for people all the time since I’m always meeting so many people.

I handle event requests and make sure they are valuable to our community. And, I update our social media and blog!

What is the skill you need for this job that you can’t live without?

An outgoing personality to be able to communicate well with all types of people.

And passion – I have a passion to work with entrepreneurs.

How has this job improved your professional skill set?

It made me better at communicating with different people, like “geeks.” The job has helped me learn how to bring people together and express myself on the online in-line with the iHub brand through Facebook, Twitter, and blogging.

Mugethi presenting at a community event

Mugethi presenting at a community event

What tech tools do you use on this job?

Google Calendar, Google docs, Evernote, (Evernote business card camera), Twitter for Mac, Basecamp, Slack, and Skype.

What would be the next logical career step for you based on your experience in this position?

Ideal next position would be managing a larger online community eg. Developer community on Facebook. So I would scale up from managing 100 resident members to 100,000+ globally.

What advice do you have for job seekers about how to apply for a role in your field?

If I were hiring, I would look for someone who is a good communicator, can write blog posts, can engage in social media, and someone who can compose emails and express themselves well.

Tech knowledge is very important – to be familiar with Google Docs etc. And it’s important that someone has done projects in their free time to show they can plan logistics.

I don’t always look at CVs, but if someone sends me an email like they are sending an SMS – with no punctuation and sheng, that is a huge red flag.

To end on a funny note, I asked Mugethi what she wanted to be when she grew up – her answer?

I was so sure I wanted to be a pilot! SO sure. I even had a boyfriend in an aviation high school and we were planning our lives around how to be pilots. But then he became a lawyer and I went into tech…But I’m so sure our dreams are still valid! 🙂


We hope this was helpful to understand what it means to be a Community Manager.

Remember, if you have the experience and skills to become a community manager (and can put them to the test!) make sure to update your Duma Works profile here with the skill “Community Manager.” 

If you are looking for any other career advice, make sure to check out some other posts on the Duma Works blog, like this one about how to pitch yourself to an employer in under 1 minute.

Be sure to let me know in the comment section below what other types of jobs you are interested in learning about!

– Arielle

Introducing our “What It Takes” Series

Find a job with Duma Works

What’s in a Name?

What do you wish you knew when you were applying for a job?

If your answer is: “What does this job title really mean?” then our latest “What It Takes” series is right for you.

The Problem

What do you typically do when applying for a job?

Usually you would first look to see what the skills requirements are on the job description, and learn about the company. The problem is that many job descriptions are not very original or descriptive. You see a lot of “team player” and “3 years experience in…” Job descriptions don’t always give insight into what your day to day tasks would be, or what things you will learn in this position.

Still in school?

This series is still for you.

We have also talked to tons of students (secondary school and college/university!) who wished they knew more about jobs so they could make a better decision when choosing a career path. As you can imagine, if you don’t know anything about what you would do in a certain position at a company, it is very hard to decide if that role is right for you in the future.

USIU students signing up for the DUMA Job network

Where Duma Works comes in

At Duma Works, we have spent the last 2 years working with young professionals around Kenya to help improve their chances connecting to the right job.

We have also spent incredible amounts of time talking to employers and really digging deep into job descriptions they have for open roles so we can make the best match.

Team on balcony copy

We have learned a lot in the last 2 years and want to share this knowledge with you.

What to expect

For this series, every week we will be interviewing professionals and getting to know the “behind the scenes” of their role. We will talk to people of all professional backgrounds – from customer care representatives, to Django developers, to operations managers.

Every company is different, and has a unique need for each job they hire for. However, hopefully these posts will give you some overall insight about specific roles that you are considering or pursuing or switching into for your career.

Help us help you!

1. Subscribe to our blog to stay updated about new posts we write – Knowledge is power!

2. Please let us know in the comment section below if there is a specific job position that you are interested in learning more about. We will try to cover all the requests we get!

3. Make sure to share these posts with your friends – life is better when both you and your friends are happily employed 🙂

4. Get excited about our post on being a Community Manager coming this week!