Now I Know Why I Keep Missing Important Employment Chances
This was the second interruption into the Quantitative Skills discussion. In the second semester of the first year, Quantitative Skills is one the units, and perhaps the only unit after French for Beginners, that brought students at the Department of Communication Studies together. During this time, discussions were inevitable since the unit entailed the much-dreaded topics such as Record Keeping, Financial Mathematics, Budgeting and Taxation. The interruption, therefore, was unwelcome as it interfered with concentration required for such complex topics. Unlike the first interlude that went ignored, this time round some group members, three of the seven to be precise, resolved almost simultaneously to chip in with answers. Perhaps they were determined to help Lucy and this way succeed in keeping the discussion on track. This was not the case.
Perhaps stimulated by the discussion on Fringe Benefit aspect of Taxation, Lucy chipped in an observation that later turned into a personal experience. Like any other youth and job seeker, after attaining her diploma, Lucy had had big dreams of making it in life. Little did she know that these dreams would fade by the day as she applied for various jobs unsuccessfully. She would later land and leave various jobs on grounds that they did not come any closer to her expectations. In one of them, working for a local media house located in Nairobi, she quit after the managing director made sexual advances at her, and threatened to ruin her life if she did not play ball. However, this was not the cause of her interruption to this valuable academic session.
“It always pains me when I see less qualified candidates land jobs while more qualified ones keep tarmacking. These more qualified candidates oftentimes land jobs that do not match their expectations,” she intoned. This drew the attention of each of the members in this group. Before I could decipher the synergy of her utterance and the prevailing discussion, and before any other person could fashion an appropriate reaction, she offered an explanation. “Corruption and nepotism explain this phenomenon.”
“The Kenyan job market today calls for one to know someone to land a job. If one does not have a godfather, he or she must you must have money to corrupt their way through the phalanx of authorities. Where will a poor person with the right qualifications and skills get the money for bribery?” she probed. At this point, she narrated a personal experience in which she narrowly missed an employment opportunity with a renowned parastatal that deals in intelligence. She was amongst the 150 candidates shortlisted by Price Water House Coopers for the particular post out of the 6000 applicants who had shown interest by sending their applications. “The short listing gave me every opportunity to celebrate. I was sure that the auditors in Pricewaterhouse Coopers had seen my potential for this job, hence the inclusion in the short list,” she said. This observation drew the attention of everybody in the group. This time, instead of looking at Lucy as hell bent to distract the discussion, members were passionate about providing incredible inputs. Ruth echoed Lucy’s sentiments.
“I know several people with bachelors and masters degrees who are jobless several years after graduation”, she offered. “A friend of mine talked of a friend of theirs who holds a doctorate and does some work that a high school graduate should do. This is discouraging,” she opined. Shocked in disbelief, I was about to ask Ruth if she knew of the disciplines these people were pursuing in their studies when Lucy interrupted. Jubilantly, she added that in the same job market, those connected to personalities end up landing lucrative jobs. This is the point where Naomi, who once worked as a secretary at the Public Service Commission, intervened.
“This is not the entire truth. I have seen job seekers who have no connection come, face the panel of interviewers and because they are suitably qualified, get the jobs,” she said. She said that corruption and nepotism are a thing of the past in the Kenyan job market. “This is especially applicable if you are looking at the public sector”, she added. According to Naomi, even if a job seeker were connected to one of the panelists, it would take his performance before the entire panel to be successful. It is naïve to assume that a single panelist can influence the decision of the entire panel as far as picking a candidate is concerned. “The only postings in the government where individuals directly influence the appointment of employees are postings such as those of personal assistants,” She added. Ochieng, an employee in the government concurred with her.
Ochieng confirmed that it no longer takes knowing anyone to land a job in the Kenyan public sector. He further brought in an interesting perspective: vetting. According to him, those seeking high offices in the public sector are expected to meet and perhaps exceed high moral standards. In this light, candidates go through thorough scrutiny before landing certain jobs. Some players in the private sector such as banks are emulating this trend. In the understanding of Ochieng, this could be what transpired in Lucy’s ordeal with the intelligence parastatal.
“Once vetted by the panelists, the employer further vets the candidate thoroughly. Apart from contacting your referees, some of the employers take interest in knowing the prospective employee’s social life: whom one often hangs out with, where one spends their weekends and how do one relates to people in general. There are many way of realizing this. For instance, new media such as the mobile phone are handy. It is appropriate to imagine that in some sectors of the government, someone would be tapping into the prospective employee’s mobile phone conversations. With social media, vetting becomes very easy; one should not be surprised to know that someone could be tracking their movements physically especially when they are eyeing some key position in the government. Should one fall short of meeting the expected moral standards, then getting the job becomes a mirage,” he advised with an avuncular tone.
These sentiments were awakening to many of us on the reality of the recruitment process. It was clear that it takes more than just technocracy to land a job. It was up to Lucy, as well as everyone else, to evaluate their behavior prior to seeking employment opportunities with serious employers such as the government. It was getting late and we could not continue with the discussion in Quantitative Skills. Nevertheless, I went home knowing that I have to consciously evaluate my lifestyle from then if I am to impress any employers upon graduating.