Sep 222013

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I love inspirational quotes. They are just words, but somehow brighten up my day and give me the kick I need most mornings.  They help clear my thoughts, keep me focused, give me renewed hope, inspire me to make necessary positive changes and encourage me to continuously move towards my personal and professional goals…

Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nelson Mandela, Napoleon Hill,  Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Henry Ford, Martin Luther King Jr, Vince Lombardi, Isaac Newton, Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Edison and Mother Theresa – known for very different things, but similar  in how their words have impacted on different generations… I love all good quotes…

I recently read Steve Jobs’ commencement address at Stanford University in 2005, almost a decade late. In many ways, his address moved me. I had previously seen some quotes from it, but reading the full address, gave me a clearer understanding of why he was who he was – a very successful entrepreneur. But what has Steve Jobs got to do with job searches?

A job search can be stressful even in the best of circumstances. It is challenging for most people and may be particularly difficult for professionals who suddenly lose their jobs. Losing a job throws  people off balance and into a state of confusion. The “why me” and “what next” questions are often asked. It is however important to remember that searching for a new job is not a one-way street to the top, but a process with ups and downs and should be treated as such.  With limited career opportunities, even the best of talents receive “regret” emails. Steve Jobs understood that life has its challenges, he said: “sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick”. When this happens, he also says “don’t lose faith”.

Although easier said than done, it is more beneficial than not for a job-hunter to have a positive attitude throughout a job search process. Positive thinking makes you better able to cope with the stress that sometimes comes with a job search and more resilient to whatever the process throws at you. Do not lose hope, even when things don’t go your way. A positive attitude motivates towards success.

As you keep searching, focus on positions that will give you personal and professional satisfaction and in addition, remember that when you finally find that great job, you will need a lot of commitment to be successful. It is therefore important to enjoy your work because you will be unable to fully commit to it otherwise.   According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2012, the average annual hours for workers in its member countries was between 15 and 25 percent of the total number of hours in a year. This, in my opinion is not so bad especially when compared to the “real” number of hours people work in many developing countries, with not-so-tight labour laws.

Whatever the number of hours a year a person works, the fact still remains that every second working is a second away from doing something that could be valuable. 25 percent of a year is a lot of time and should not be “wasted” doing something a person dislikes. Steve Jobs puts this into perspective, during the address, he said: “your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

If you can’t find a job that will give genuine pleasure, Steve Jobs says: “keep looking until you find it”.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t accept a “temporary” role while you are looking.  Times are tough, so it is impossible for many not to, but ensure you stay focused. Don’t settle”. Where possible, your temporary job should be a stepping stone. It should propel you in the direction you want, ultimately add value to and not hinder the process of achieving your goal – your ideal job. Sometimes we settle because it is a lot easier, but eventually, we regret.  

My favourite quote from his address is:your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life”Every job-hunter should reflect on what they truly want and aim for a job that is truly theirs.  A job that they feel at home with and will  push them out of their comfort zones. A job where they can gain new and exciting skills that are in line with their career paths , not one that people expect of them.

People will always have opinions about what you should or shouldn’t do, but they will not walk in your shoes, you will. So while it is okay to listen to what others have to say as it could sometimes be valuable, the career you decide on, should be yours and yours alone. Some of the most successful people in the world use their heads, but always go with what they are genuinely interested in. They follow their hearts. When job-hunters do the same, they almost always find career satisfaction.

You can tell a person living another person’s career life by their overall attitude to work. They dread Monday mornings, feel no motivation to excel and lack passion for what they do. On the other hand, when a person finds fulfilment in their job, they need little to motivate them. There is something intriguing, interesting and inspiring about how they describe their work. They always come alive when they talk about projects they work on.

There is no doubt that Steve Jobs address, although eight years old, still applies to job searches today.

If you are exploring new career opportunities and come across a lot of bumps along the way, remember: “however long the night, the dawn will break…” – this is one of my favourite African quotes.

Sep 112013
Are Foreign-Educated African Graduates More Productive Than Their Locally-Educated Counterparts 2 – An International Recruiter’s Perspective

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Since my last post, a few people have sent private messages requesting my opinion on the productivity of foreign-educated African graduates vs. locally-educated African graduates at work places. While I may not be the best person to compare both sets of graduates, I do have my views.

I believe the success or productivity of a person ultimately depends on the individual, although the environment (including the educational environment) a person finds his/herself in, can play a significant role. I say this because I have seen many Africans with first class degrees from their home universities, struggle in foreign universities when they try to gain a further degree. On the flip side, I have also seen professionals who barely passed their degrees in their home countries, excel in foreign universities.

Some may argue that it is because the standards are higher in some countries than others, making studying somewhat overwhelming. To an extent, I agree. However, I also believe that a determined person will excel in “many” environments.

Foreign-educated professionals are not inherently smarter than African-educated professionals. What we see is what happens when intelligence is or is not nurtured. Many foreign universities provide excellent levels of “free” support to their students – including Africans. Although branded as “free”, I would always argue that they are really not, as the cost is incorporated into tuition.

Nurturing intelligence can be expensive.  According to Education UK, the annual undergraduate tuition ranges from £7,000 to £25,000 and postgraduate tuition, £7,000 to more than £34,000. In simple terms, four years of university study can set a student back by anything between £28,000 and £100,000, for tuition alone. This is way beyond the reach of the average African.

The cost of education in many foreign institutions, almost always reflects the level of support provided to students as “expensive” universities need to justify why students should pay as much as they charge for tuition. If they do not, student applications will move elsewhere. Support is given to students to ensure they effectively maximise their time while studying and have a platform to stretch their intellect or challenge their thinking. It also provides a platform for students to strive for knowledge, understand their strengths and weaknesses, improve their hard & soft skills and become well-rounded individuals.

The right university support exposes students to the thinking of global leaders in their fields and creates opportunities. This is the least students; especially international students deserve to receive to compensate for the high cost of their education. Vincenzo Raimo the director at the University of Nottingham’s International Office agrees. To him, “international students need and deserve a level of personalised support and service commensurate with the level of investment they are making by coming to our universities”.

So how does university support reflect on a graduate’s productivity in a work place? Good university student support services are geared towards improving not just their technical capabilities, but also their functional abilities. Graduates with the right attributes are better able to succeed than those without them. When people are given the right support, they tend to flourish.

It must however be pointed out that universities are not the only platforms for students to gain work-related skills. Successful students regardless of where they are based, go beyond their school environments to access resources that can help them become employable and succeed in their chosen professions. It may be more difficult for some to access them than for others, but it is still possible, especially as the global digital divide decreases by the day.

It is a documented fact that on the average, a typical student from the USA, UK, Australia or Canada has access to a lot more educational resources than a typical African student. However, not every student from these countries, even with all the student and alumni support available, is successful. Not even students from top schools such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford and Yale University.

It is important for us to note that despite its challenges and although probably not proportional to its population, Africa still manages to produce graduates and industry leaders that can compete in the global economy.

An all-round education that focuses on developing students hard and soft skills, connecting them to the best employers or helping them identify entrepreneurial skills is a recipe for success. However, it comes down to the individual to strive for it, to really want it. According to a Forbes article, “recent graduates or more experienced workers – need to step in and take skills development… into their own hands”. If your environment is not providing what you need, look for alternatives where possible.

This is my humble opinion.

You may want to read my last article:

(Are Foreign-Educated African Graduates More Productive 1?)