Employment

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!

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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.

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!

Job Networking Evolution

Society evolves with technology over time.

In the early stages of a society, every business is a family business. Society is so unstable and chaotic that the only way to ensure your assets is to trust the people who are closest to you…and who you know where to find if anything goes wrong.

As cities become more gentrified and the family unit breaks down, companies grow outside of families and immediate social connections. People now no longer have that close knit family to rely on and being adopting those who used to be strangers into their “family” business. Governments and society even begin targeting companies that only hire within their family as discriminatory.

The reason for this being that as hiring became more complex with the rise of more complex markets, family members often lacked the skills necessary for the job. Family members then became illogical hires, while candidates more qualified existed outside the familial unit.

Tech comes in here at a very interesting place. 

Companies like DUMA, LinkedIn, and Branchout are jumping upon this opportunity to use social networks for the good. New technology and sophisticated databases are able to provide job linkages through social/professional/referral networks, while also ensuring that the person is a good match. These technologies are making it easier and faster for HR staff to find appropriate job matches. 

This ability to leverage social network and skills profile is going to become a key value in emerging markets, as trust is a huge component in hiring. These new technologies even turn reliance upon social connections into a social good. They do this by giving people an opportunity to expand beyond their immediate social connections and grow their professional network to connect with more work.

Test out the new age of hiring – visit us at www.dumaworks.com or reach out to us at +254 701 060 302.

Job Boards Are Dinosaurs (The Employer Edition)

dinosaur_1789816c

The subject line says it all.  Job boards are dinosaurs. They eat everything – time, money, nerves…and they deserve to be extinct.

Why would posting up an opening to the general public of everyone everywhere be the default successful, easy search option? It’s like searching for anything on Google without search engine optimization. You type in “baby panda” and your first hit is an article from a fantasy children’s book from the 1700s about “baby” Jesus that also happens to mention a “panda.”

Why do employers think it’s a good idea?

1-    It appears to be cheap

2-    It appears to be easy

3-    It appears to be effective – you get so many CVs, you must be able to find someone amidst the rabble!

Why we think it’s a bad idea?

1-    It’s not actually cheap – the time you spend sifting through the CVs is a waste of time.

Time = money. Waste of time = Waste of money

2-    It’s not actually easy – once you’ve successfully posted your job there is this endless void you sit in while waiting for that miracle job seeker to appear. I don’t know about you but I hate waiting.

Waiting = Stressful. Stressful = Not Easy.

3-    It’s not actually effective –

(Scenario 1) Once you think you have the best job seeker, you finally ask to meet them in person and because the job board is delayed, the candidate doesn’t show for the interview because they have already gotten a position somewhere else.

(Scenario 2) You get so many CVs, you don’t want to deal with looking through them at all, ask your sister for a recommendation of a friend/colleague of hers, and then hire them. Then you find out this person isn’t actually the best, then you have to fire and rehire all over again.

We have a lot of new tech running around in this small world these days. Tech is fixing so many things that usually happen slowly – you can send money via M-PESA instead of going upcountry to deliver the money in person. You can use Uber to find a trustworthy cab in your area. You can advertise your business to a targeted audience through Facebook. You get news and crime alerts via Twitter. These technologies are simple platforms to help you do things better. People start using them once they realize everyone else is doing it already.

So get ahead of your competition. Be a leader. Try out our method to make job boards a thing of the past. It’s free to sign up here and we promise we won’t try to eat you.