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Monday, August 13, 2007

Predicting Interview Questions


Words by Francis Kahihu

When is the last time you attended an interview? You would bear me witness that the day you receive communication that you should attend an interview brings forth both pleasant and anxious emotions. The excitement however seems to be overshadowed by the fears related to the uncertainty of the nature of the interview.

In preparing for an interview, many begin wondering what will become of them during the actual process. Some feel overconfident while others fear they may not be up to the task. The truth however is, by the time a prospective employer calls you for an interview, there’s already have an impression that you have what it takes for the position. Woe unto those who manipulate their CVs to appear as though they meet the qualifications even when they well know they are far from qualifying. I have occasionally interacted with resumes that have very little representation of the senders. Desist from pasting your name on a generic resume. Be original. Be you.

How would you feel the week before the interview if you got a peek into the interviewers’ marking scheme? It would ease the tension within and give you the courage to face the panel. Today, I will take you through some common issues that many panelists will want to hear from you. Remember that in most cases, the Human Resource offices will invite five persons for every one position they intend to fill. This then ought to inform you that the competition is stiff and only the best carries the day. By ‘best’, we don’t always mean the most educated; neither does it always mean the most experienced. It just means the most appropriate person for the job in terms of attitude, personal drive, experience and training.

During the interview process, the panelists have with them notebooks on which to record their ratings of each candidate. They are graded by percentages hence each of the panelists eventually averages the performance after which the panel discusses each candidate.

There are questions that you ought to be prepared for always by the time you attend the interview session. Some of these questions are: Tell us about yourself. Why are you interested in joining our organization? If you are currently employed, why are you planning to leave your employer? Why do you think you qualify for this position? How much salary do you expect from us? Were you to be picked for this position, when is the earliest you will be available? These are a mouthful but would always find their way into the interview room, through whichever order.

For you to approach the session relaxed, it would be helpful to seek for responses on most of these questions. To ensure that your responses are relevant, as an interviewee, you will need to do a lot of background info-search so that you have as much information about the employer and the position as possible. You should seek to know about the successes and the challenges that the employer has recorded over the recent past. This makes the panel perceive you as an interested partner.

When asked to tell the panel about yourself, take that as the opportune moment to display your relevance for the position they are interviewing for. Do not beat about the bush by telling them about your place of birth, your favorite sport and your family. This could be said later but at the start, let them hear you as one with capacity to fit in their kind of environment. Hint at some of your most marketable skills, but only that which is relevant to the position or the organization.

And what’s your salary expectation? A number of times when I have been in panels, I have come across very interesting responses to this question. One man said, ‘I don’t know. Give me what you feel comfortable with’, while a lady responded by saying ‘Give me twenty thousand!’. For this question, there may not be a clear-cut response. What is needful is for you to conduct an informal market survey to establish how much salary is paid to persons of your training and experience by that kind employer. For this, you may want to interact with employees of the company to source for some information prior to the interview. Only remember not to seek for appointments with the bosses as this will lead to automatic disqualification since it’s regarded as canvassing.

Lastly, on issues of availability, for those who are unemployed, go ahead and let the panel know you are available immediately. However, for those who are employed and are seeking to change jobs, remember that your current employer needs some notice if you are to quit, hence let the panel know the amount of notice you need to give. This projects you as a responsible employee. If you portray yourself as one who is available immediately, the prospective employer will definitely suspect that if they offer you the opportunity, you will as well abandon them without notice.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Stuck in the wrong career


Words by Francis Kahihu

Does it really matter what career I get into so long as it provides for my daily needs?

I have worked among university and college students in Kenya for a couple of years and established that many students are in colleges they do not like, undertaking programmes they would love to discard upon graduation. This is especially rife among students in public universities since the selection is determined by the Joint Admissions Board. The competition in securing placement forces many to select even programmes they do not like as long as they get to the university.

You don't have to look very far to find people who are trapped in the wrong job or profession. Carpenters who should have been accountants. Accountants who should have been horticulturists. Horticulturists who should have opened an animal shelter.

I've found there are several reasons why people get, or stay, on the wrong career path. Money is never the main cause. That's because, unless you are truly at the subsistence level, I find that money is all too often an excuse used to mask deeper issues. Let's take a closer look at what some of those issues might be.

Turning Other People's Dreams into Your Own

Listen to the case of Rehema, a graduate from one of the local colleges. "When I was young and unsure of what I wanted to be when I grew up, I asked my dad 'What would be a good job to have when I grow up?' He told me, 'an engineer.' I didn't really know what an engineer did, but I figured I could do it. I made it a goal of mine to become an Engineer and made a point to take classes in school that would prepare me for this line of work.

When I entered college and signed up for my engineering coursework, I was faced with the reality of engineering not being very interesting to me within the first term. To top it off, I wasn't very good at it either. Still determined to achieve my goal, I told myself I can't give up (so stubborn of me). So I ended up in a field similar to engineering called Safety Engineering.

Safety had some technical stuff to it, but it also had some behavioral stuff to it. I thought I had hit the jackpot... but to make a long story short, I hadn't. Safety was 10% fun and 90% not. I've been in the field for a little over six years now and I'm ready to make the jump. Funny thing is, my husband says that I've been talking about getting into school counseling or any other field since I started in my first job out of college. I wonder why I never listened to myself...until now :)"

Rehema is certainly not alone in turning a deaf ear to one's inner calling. Classrooms and professions are filled with people who are living someone else's dreams. That's because it's not the major, or the job, or the career path itself that's so hard to let go of. What's hard to give up is other people's approval — especially if they happen to be people you love and respect. Walking away from a career, even one you know deep inside is all wrong for you, means risking that esteem. As Rehema is learning though, it's never too late to start listening to the one person who knows more than anyone else about your true gifts and interests — you!

Not Being Willing to Admit you Made a Mistake

As Rehema's story also demonstrates, the real pressure that keeps us on the wrong path is self-generated. At some point along the way, Rehema shifted from fulfilling her father's notion of the ideal profession to not wanting to give up on what had become a personal mission. Despite her brother's attempts to point Rehema toward the right road, she opted to continue on like a driver who stubbornly refuses to admit she's lost direction.

Despite the occasional story about a doctor who left to become a florist or a lawyer turned musician, the overwhelming majority of unhappy people choose to stay miserably stuck largely out of pride. For a lot of people it's a lot easier to keep that lousy job than to stand up and admit to the world that they zigged when they should have zagged.

Not Wanting to "Waste" the Degree

Then there are those who really did love their chosen career — at least in the beginning. But over time, they and their occupation, well, they just grew apart. If this sounds familiar, chances are what keeps you on the wrong path is, just like a relationship gone bad, it's hard to walk away from a career into which you've put so much time and effort to say nothing of the financial investment.

John Powell once said, "The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing." If you identify with any (or all) of the reasons for getting and staying on the wrong career path, don't waste time despairing. Instead learn and then act.

Turning your hobby into a career


By Francis Kahihu

What is it that you like doing beside your mainline job or educational pursuit? That could be your hobby. A hobby is that activity that occupies your mind, body and soul when not engaged in your mainstream career. Hobbies are those activities that you create time for, and get involved in consistently.

I have perused through hundreds of CVs and checking on the last page where we usually indicate our hobbies, I get astonished at the lack of emphasis or hobbies suffer from. To many people, the hobby section is just a necessary inclusion onto the CV to make it resemble other CVs. Many times, we rarely give enough thought to exactly understand what our hobbies are, but since we are expected to show them on the resume, we record them with little thought.

Hobbies are an integral part of our career growth. They can be elevated to the status of a full fledged career, or used to boost our career prospects. During career counseling sessions, we endeavour to help the client understand what it is that they like doing. These interests have an interesting link with the careers people eventually settle on. Hobbies should not be treated as a by-the-way. They form a key building block on your career progression and hence should be recognized as a critical component to value.

Look at the world around us. We have over the years witnessed astronomical growth of economies catapulted by focused hobbies of persons. Consider the sporting and music industries for instance. Men and women are minting millions of shillings as a result of laying a due emphasis on the development and recognition of their hobbies. We have witnessed a trend where graduates have ‘dumped’ areas of academic training in favour of career pursuit through hobbies. We have numerous examples around us of architects turned musicians, teachers turned marathoners and engineers turned footballers. In other words, a hobby possesses an equal capacity as a mainstream area of study. At times, hobbies have been known to even pay better than the conventional careers

Our educational system has perpetually placed a very high premium of the academic performance. In fact, the rating of school performance in this country is primarily on someone’s performance in the classroom. Even those who excel in the pitch and track are labeled failures despite their capacity. This tendency has made society vilify involvement in growing our hobbies. How many times do you hear parents admonishing their children by telling them ‘ you did not go to school to play’. This is indeed detrimental as some of the students are uniquely endowed to succeed if they followed the path charted by their hobbies as compared to classroom prowess. We are all wired differently, and our lights will not go on if the wrong ‘batteries’ are used to switch us on.

Some of you have very strong hobbies, hobbies you passionately consider. It could be playing musical instruments, playing football, writing fiction or poetry, or even sightseeing and travelling. These hobbies represent some of the most lucrative sectors in the market today. Even hobbies that have been considered passive like watching football can be transformed into a career by engaging in a business like starting an enterprise where persons with a similar hobby can converge to watch soccer. We are all witnesses of the booming business that is clubs and hotels which have fitted DSTV decoders. The owners smile all the way to the bank after every day of premiership games.

Hobbies can also be used to bolster ones career. In an era when there is stiff competition not just in entering the job market, but also in being sustained in the payroll, employers are keen to keep employees who offer them more that just the service they were recruited for. There is appreciation of the positive publicity that an employer gets by virtue of their employees’ excellence in different extra-employment engagements, like sporting or corporate social responsibility. Some companies have been known to prefer employing candidates with certain extra-curriculum qualities in addition to the advertised requirements.

It is becoming common nowadays for people to have their hobbies serve as an extra stream of income. With this, they do not wholly rely on a single source of money. This trend has the benefit of providing the much needed sense of financial security so that you do not entirely rely on the monthly paycheck from your employer. This security eventually propels the individual to perform even better at the workplace, and at the same time fully exploit the who they are. Such a person lives to the fullness of their capacity.

Look at the last page of your CV again. What have you listed as your hobbies? Ask yourself how you can jumpstart the process of strategizing on a better use of these great resources. Do not let them rust. Polish them up, and you shall be surprised at the visibility you shall create towards yourself. Your market value will rise.

Mourning Families Need Help After Burial



Everyday of our lives, there is a family that is mourning. Over the last couple of months, with the increase in insecurity and road carnage, many families have been plunged into mourning. Every member of the society is today either directly or indirectly affected. We have relatives, colleagues at work, friends, or even ourselves mourning at one time or the other.

In many Kenyan cultures, whenever a family loses a member, whether close or distant, there are assemblies from the day the sad news reach the village to the day the body is laid to rest. The mourning family receives lots of guests at this moment. In fact, mourning sessions serve as effective fora for persons to touch base with long-time--not-seen friends and relatives. In other words, the homes and lives of the bereaved are packed with persons and activity.

Our culture has taught us not to visit mourning families empty handed. Faithfully, then, do we visit the families with a gift in either cash, ‘shopping’ or service, in that we are willing to spend and to be spent for the sake of the bereaved family. We run errands for them, volunteer to serve in the fundraising and organizing committees, and even plan to drop their kids to school. In this, the bereaved family is overwhelmed by our presence, our presence in all forms and shapes.

With a sad face, we all shake the hands of the affected, wishing them our sympathies. In most cases, all members of the neighbourhood must pass by the bereaved home lest it be said that they partook in the death of the deceased. We all turn very generous, albeit not to be associated with the death being mourned. We contribute money to support the funeral arrangements, escort the body to its final resting place, and then, vanish. Yes, we all vanish and leave the mourning family deserted. Lonely.

Remember the last time you lost a friend or a relative. You indeed appreciated the company of myriads of friends of people around you. They offered the much needed support. They held you by the hand as you planned for the burial of your loved one.Then, the dreaded day came. You lowered the casket to the grave. And that was the beginning of another experience. Later that evening, after a very busy previous night, the visitors are gone. The home is suddenly silent. The seats are empty and the silence in the home is so loud that it scares. It seems like the crowd has gone with the departed friend.

Then the reality of the moment rudely strikes. The level of mourning heightens. You now mourn two losses, at times three. First, the loss of the family friend, secondly, the loss of the company in the evenings and thirdly, the loss of the chicken, the goats and the crops since in most cases they are trampled upon during the ceremony.

There is a general thought among humans that the bereaved family needs support and solace only during the period when arranging for the buarial of the deceased. We fail to cover the whole distance with the family in need. We walk with them halfway through and leave them to trudge the hard part. With the disintegration of the family unit, there has been little support offered even by the family members to each other. The members who live in the cities drive off after the burial and hope that those who have been left behind will stabilize. With this, we abort the process of supporting the mourning.

Mourning is a process. It starts off with the announcement or anticipation of a loss, prevails through the process of planning for the burial, and proceeds to haunt the mind of the bereaved long after the burial. It is never fair to imagine that the family or person in mourning recuperates the evening after the burial of a loved one. In a way, it seems to offer some sort of psychological cushion when the body of the deceased is lying in the morgue. The family members feel that their kin is at least accessible. The evening after the burial usually awakens a rude shocker. The loved one is now six feet under, or has been cremated. In a nutshell, the loved one is gone, gone for good.

It’s at this point in the mourning process that the bereaved persons critically need solace and company. Ironically, society deserts mourning persons at this point. This has been known to plunge persons into post burial depression. This is generated by three factors. First is the loss of a loved one, and the realization that they will never meet the, again. Secondly, the bereaved person comes to terms with the responsibilities they have to bear with the demise of the loved one e.g. paying school fees and hefty medical bills. Thirdly, the person feels after days of enjoying the company of friends, they are suddenly dropped. Silence visits the home, while a lot of psychological noise rules the mind. This is a recipe for a distabilised mind.

The above are some of the reasons why we need to consider offering above average support to persons undergoing a mourning season. The persons need our presence and penny, before, during and after the burial. May I dare suggest that support is needed even more after the burial? And so, if you did not make to visit a mourning family as they arranged for the burial of their loved one, it is not late. A grand opportunity awaits. Plan to pay them a visit and offer support after every one else is gone. You will be surprised at how much they will appreciate your concern.

We have watched on the media, and experienced in our neighbourhoods the fact that in times when death strikes a home, children are usually oblivious of the goings-on at the home. They only observe that the family has received many visitors suddenly, and later loss all the visitors, after a trip to an upcountry home (for the burial, but they fail at times to grasp exactly what is happening). Gradual withdrawal from the mourning family helps the children come to terms with the demise of a loved one. Let us learn the art of offering strategic support to persons affected by death.

Gaining the coin, losing the family




With the globalisation and liberalisation of the world economies, the family is becoming an endangered institution. There is currently a rush for the shilling. The cost of living has arguably gone up, hence the need to bolster sources of income to sustain family needs. With the demand at the workplace; the businesses, organisations and governments have had to offer opportunities to their employees far away from their spouses and children. And the lure has been enticing. The paycheck smiles at the recipient and the allowances are handsome. This for sure serves as a motivator for persons to desire such opportunities.

With the Kenyan economy unable to churn jobs for the ever increasing trained human resource, many have found the solace of seeking for opportunities in far away lands. Currently, South Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia and southern Africa have served as enticing destinations for hundreds of Kenyan professionals and middle level personnel.

With all this movement of persons, one key casualty has been the institution of the family. But just what shall it benefit a wo/man if s/he gains the world and loses his/her family? There has been a concentration on the contribution that human resource exportation makes to the economy while we have overlooked the damage caused to the same economy by the failure of the family institution as a result of taking up job opportunities in far away lands. Regrettably, many of the opportunities have been categorised as “unaccompanied”. This means that the employee is not expected to have their families with them.

The society is divided on this. There are those of the school of thought that getting a well paying job in a far away land is welcome as it guarantees a better future for the family. Granted. On the other side of the continuum are those who hold the position that they would rather stay at home with the family, earning little but maintain a closer relationship at home. For this group of persons, they find satisfaction in relating personally with the family members, though with little income. The arguments advanced by both philosophies somewhat find justification in the national psyche and the society hence divides on this (what side of the divide are you?)

I have worked in the humanitarian world for a significant period of time now. Through this period, I have interacted with the minds of many humanitarian aid workers. One common feeling is that given a chance, few if any would want to be away from their families. In essence, many are forced by circumstances to flee their homes, and this plunges them into a mourning season upon departure to take up far-away postings. There are those persons, on the contrary who are as happy to leave their homes. To this group of persons, the need to provide for the family far much outweighs the benefit of family company. And each of the groups finds justification in their propositions.

However, even as the debate rages, the fact of the matter is that the family institution continues to suffer in silence. Spouses are torn from each other, parents and their children are torn from one another. At times, the scenario is such that the family unit is divided into three parts. Each of the parents goes their own way, while the children are either taken to boarding schools or are left at the care of the extended families. At this, the parents leave the nest earlier than the children and the responsibility of taking care of the kids is taken up by relatives and friends. These families seek to link up after a period of about two to three months when the parents are on rest and recuperation, commonly referred to as R & R.

There are always hopes that the R & R period would coincide between the parents, and at a time when the children are available for holiday. This is usually a big gamble as it rarely happens. This then translates to the family unit linking up after an elongated period of time. Experience proves that bonds in a group get stronger the more the opportunities you have to meet. Fears and anxieties are shared, and solutions proposed. This knits the group together, and produces an environment of trust. On the contrary, when the time invested is reduced, there is a certain impact on the quality of fellowship and relationship that develops within the group. And the family torn apart by distant job engagements faces the challenge of loose bonds.

To come closer home, there is another scenario that is quickly gaining momentum. There are families that daily live under the same roof but are miles far away from each other. The family barely meets. The parents get home late after hard work, and have to leave early for work the next day (to avoid the grounding traffic jams on our roads). The children on most cases are home relatively earlier in the evenings, concentrate on their school work and engage the television programs as they wait for dinner after which they retire to bed. The family meets, sorry, crosses each other in the morning in the streets of the house as each hassles to get ready for the day’s activities and to beat the daily competition for space on the roads and at the bus stage.

The rush for the elusive coin is having an unprecedented effect on our society and a need to arrest the impact is rising. Many children are currently orphaned even when their parents are alive, while many spouses have separated though they live within the same house. The bond that defines a family is replaced by the coin that defines success in the wider world. The support that families offer each other is absent as members seek to align to systems that offer the much needed help. The television and the peer groups have taken over to address the vacuum created by absentee parents.

There is need for a paradigm shift in the society today since the effects of the failure of the family unit is to affect the same society producing this output. We need to revisit our value for family and realise that no other system can effectively replace it. As career parents, we would need to seek for the support of our family members in making decisions that affect them and seek for alternative ways of making ends meet. For instance, many spouses are driven out of home by the demands of their partners and children. A parent in charge of his/her family ought to take a bold stand and explain to the family the consequences of denying each other time. Let there be an emphasis on the need to be together as opposed to the need for an extra coin. I feel the men, arguably the heads of the homes, ought to take charge and arrest factors that are so determined to tear apart the family. For, nothing shall benefit us if we gain the whole world and lose our families. After your job is gone, you are left with your family. Your family is the institution that will take care of you in your old age, and accompany your lifeless self to the grave eventually. Honour it while stocks last.