In 2022, we have seen almost every University graduating the best of its students. But what does it take to hit it on the job market? How do you spot opportunities? How do you present yourself when an opportunity opens up?
Under our YES Initiative Mentors Engage Forum, we hosted an online Career Information session where we invited three distinguished panelists to share with university students and graduates tips on preparing for and navigating the job market.
We are happy to share with you the curated version of the session:
SB: Good evening, all
After a long break, welcome to the first, which is also the final session of our Mentors Engage Chats in the year 2022. I am your host, Samuel (SB), team leader of the YES Initiative.
Mentors Engage is a platform created by YES Initiative to enable various professionals to come and share their experience, knowledge, and expertise with our group of college students and interested members of the general public.
Propelled by our motto which is : “Inspiring a brighter future through education”, Youth Empowerment and Support Initiative-Malawi (YESI) exists to empower secondary school students and youths in order to influence their lives positively. We achieve this by providing tuition support, resources, and mentorship for academic and personal development.
Since 2017, we have supported over 50 needy secondary school students with tuition fees in the Salima district. Our team of college students under the Secondary School Mentorship program has conducted over 30 career guidance and mentorship sessions in Salima and Blantyre districts.
First the ground rules, the group is closed to all participants except the moderator and panelists. If you have any questions to ask the panelists, please direct it to my inbox and I will ask on your behalf. At the end of the session, the group will be opened for comments from the audience.
In this Career Information session, we have three panelists, Mrs. Esnat Chilije Suleman (ES), Mrs. Getrude Chinangwa Gangata (GG), and Mr. Charles Kabena (CK). I will shortly post their profiles as part of the introduction, thereafter, I will start with the questions that we have. As the moderator, I will be mentioning the name of a specific panelist when a question is posed, and when they are done, I will be turning to the next panelist. We intend to take a maximum of 1 hour and 30 minutes, if we still have questions after the duration, we will schedule a second session to tackle the remaining questions.
First, let me introduce our panelists:
Our first panelist is Mrs. Esnat Suleman:
Esnat is a holder of the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, a Master of Business Administration from the University of Bolton (UK), a Bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences (Economics) from the University of Malawi, and an advanced certification in Capital Market Development and Regulation from the United Nations Institute of Training and Research, Switzerland. Furthermore, Esnat is a graduate of the Gordon Institute of Business Science Leadership Accelerated Program (South Africa) and the Florida Southern College Executive Management Program (USA).
Esnat has worked within the Malawi financial sector for about 14 years in different capacities and has extensive experience in Financial Analysis, Investment Management, Corporate Finance, Capital Market Operations, and Treasury Operations. She is currently the Head of Treasury and Investment Banking at FDH Bank Plc. Before joining FDH Bank, she worked with the Malawi Stock Exchange as the Operations Manager and with NICO Asset Managers Limited as Senior Investment Officer.
Furthermore, Esnat is a registered business valuer, a member of the Malawi Capital Markets Association Executive Committee, and is licensed as a Securities Representative by the Reserve Bank of Malawi.
Charles has 11 years of rounded communications experience, including five in management at the senior level. Currently serving as Communications and External Engagement Manager at World Vision Malawi working. Charles leads strategic communications for World Vision’s Global Fund projects tackling Malaria, HIV/AIDS, and TB in Malawi. Prior, he worked in Communications consulting for the World Health Organization and the Malawi University of Science and Technology.
He holds a Master of Science in Communication for Development from the University of Reading (UK), a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the Blantyre International University, and a Diploma in Journalism from the Malawi Polytechnic.
Passionate about investing in children’s education and communications, Charles is also the founder and team leader for DreamShare Foundation and Talk about media.
Mrs. Getrude Gangata:
Getrude Chinangwa Gangata holds a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resources Management from the Bunda College of Agriculture (currently LUANAR) and a Master of Philosophy in Nuclear Science and Technology from the University of Ghana).
Currently, she works as Dosimetry Officer at Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority. In her work, she is responsible for the laboratories that monitor radiation exposure of people that work with radiation sources. So far, the Authority has managed to monitor over 250 workers all over Malawi. The Authority also does inspections and quality control tests on radiation-generating equipment such as x-ray machines in radiology departments of all hospitals in Malawi.
I’d like to believe we now have an idea of who are our panelists this evening…
SB: Our first question to the panelists: What motivated you to choose your career path?
Charles, Esnat, then Getrude.
Charles: I loved stories from way back. Even though I didn’t have direct people to look up to, I’m grateful I had books.
So I read as best as I could, and in the process got to know about Journalism. So I studied journalism, first with the Polytechnic, Centre for continuing education, and went on to finish at BIU for my first degree.
I published my first article right in school (that’s how much I loved writing as a hobby).
And eventually found me at a few radio stations where I produced news before eventually being part of nation publications limited as a correspondent. And later joined World Vision as a communications lead.
Basically, that’s what I can share.
SB: Thanks, Charles. Over to you Esnat.
ES: I was motivated to pursue my career path because of the excitement as well as the challenge that it presented to me. There is no sense of routine in my line of work and there is continuous learning, mind application, and analysis. I also get to work with numbers quite a lot, which I enjoy very much and is also my area of strength. In more recent years I have come to appreciate the impact on the lives of people and the overall economy and that’s my source of motivation.
Unlike most people, I had limited knowledge and exposure to the options available to me when I was in college. I always believed that I would do mainstream economics. But after I landed my first job in the financial sector, my mind was opened up to many other possibilities. But it was maybe 3 years into my career that I became certain of what I wanted to do.
SB: Thanks. Now, @Getrude
Getrude: I was motivated by the fact that there was a lack of experts in the field of radiation protection in Malawi. So, I wanted to be amongst the first few in this field. Thanks
SB: @Getrude, I will have to put you on the spot. Out of the three panelists today, your path seems a little unknown. For the sake of our audience, what is Dosimetry all about? Why do we have your office regulate what it regulates?
Getrude: Dosimetry means the measurement of radiation doses of people who are occupationally exposed to radiation. Our office exists to regulate the use of radiation for various purposes in order to ensure that it is used for the right purposes only. We exist to protect the people and the environment from the harmful effects of radiation. Thanks
SB: Alright, thank you. Am sure some of our participants in the session may reach out to you so that they join this relatively new field.
On to our next question, @Esnat, how can one make the right career choice?
ES: The easiest way to tell if a career is the right one for you is to check if that career aligns with your values as a person, your strengths, your interests, and your long-term goals.
SB @Charles, any additions?
Follow your heart and your path. I chose Journalism because I loved it. I remember I was given a place to study nursing at some college and I knew I’d have excelled too. But not as well as I’ve done in pursuing my passion.
There are other professions that I’d have taken but just for the money. In writing and telling stories of people in need, I express myself and go out believing I’m making a contribution to society, promoting Justice and development. But it has also given me a living beyond my dreams.
SB: Very insightful from our two panelists. Anything to add, @Getrude?
Getrude: They have said it well. Mainly choose what your heart is passionate about. But of course, sometimes you go by how you have performed in subjects at the MSCE level. Thanks
SB: There we have it. Coupled with your passion and interests, check your grades.
Now, we have two unique scenarios and I want to hear what our panelists have to say…
1. Some students complain that they are studying a program that wasn’t their choice, they were redirected, what advice can you give to them?
2. Others choose a program because they do not have enough information, on the first day of college, they are surprised. Somehow, they crawl through the years, others even graduate with a degree in something they do not like. What can you say to such?
I am seeing, @Charles, already typing…
Charles: Gertrude is right for sure. We find ourselves in situations where we have to think and decide based on what we have. This is based on the idea of progress and making use of what we have. So, if there’s indeed a path we can take, suitable for our MSCE, I think there’s nothing wrong. But that shouldn’t make us give up on any of the careers we dream of.
SB: @Charles, you’re also the first to tackle this one…
Charles: Yes Moderator
I think you remember this incident from a month or so ago. So, I chanced on two girls discussing this other girl who is said to have burnt her degree, prompting a response from the university that conferred her the paper.
Some people have concluded that the said university is useless. Others are even questioning the wisdom of pursuing the degree that she did ‘in the present climate’. And there are other funny arguments too. I think it’s a serious and confusing conversation that doesn’t need to be taken at face value.
There’s a dangerous scale that needs to be stepped up with caution. Otherwise, there are kids being misled that they have no job because of their choice of a degree, or the school they went to. These may all be true, or entirely wrong. They’re told if they studied what that other person did, they’d be employed. Or be employable perhaps. Looking at Malawi at the moment, there’s no degree good enough to help you work your way out of a failing and a shrinking economy characterized by so much.
We should highlight one more thing here. Education is important. It is a sure way to lift people out of poverty, combat growing inequality, and bring an upward trek of increased social mobility.
Perspective is important. Focus on the forest and not just the trees.
SB: I have noted @Esnat is typing… Come in, then @Getrude
Esnat: There is a popular saying, “when the world hands you lemons, make lemonade”. So my answer is simple, make a long-term plan! and in the meantime make the most of the opportunity that you have before you. There are many other people that would have done anything to get there. I know people who have completed 4 years of university and a couple of years later gone back to pursue their dream program. Sometimes you find that the combination of the two programs gives you a unique advantage. Everything happens for a purpose. At the end of the day, there are so many paths to the top of the mountain but the view at the top is the same
Getrude: I can advise that for the first degree, the best way is to choose according to your MSCE grades. Here your choice can align with your passion or not. But you have more chances of being enrolled in college if you go by your grades. But in case it doesn’t align with your passion, don’t quit. Study through it faithfully. At the master’s level, you still have a chance to major in what you want.
SB: “there are so many paths to the top of the mountain but the view at the top is the same”, says @Esnat Any addition @Getrude?
Esnat: I would also like to add that quite often people have a first degree in an area that they are not practicing so unless it is a very specialized or technical area then you may not have much to worry about. You can also get a professional qualification that will align you with what you wanted to really do in life
SB: Alright, thank you. And here is our final question of part 1 which has to do with academics…
Most fresh graduates have the fear of what they may do when they go into the industry. (The fear comes in in terms of what work are they going to be doing since people outside say that theory and practice are two different things) what can you say about this and how can they overcome this fear and become productive?
@Getrude to respond first…
Getrude: Having that fear is inevitable. I also had the same fear when I got employed. I was posted to a district that demanded an officer with much experience in environmental management. But I remembered one thing about God, He cannot give me something that I cannot bear. And somebody said fear means False Evidence Appearing Real. So I knew that though to some extent it may be true that theory and practice are two different things, I believed in myself that I will be able to manage the work, and there will be somewhere to start from. People are there who can teach you the practice and you find yourself working well. Thank you
SB: I am sure whoever has fears, they have grabbed a tip. @Esnat, over to you.
Esnat: Theory and practical only appear that different when you are not practicing/working in a relevant area to what you learned or in an environment different from where the theory was developed. There is ultimately a place for every kind of theory. I remember thinking I would never use my econometrics in real life until I started doing economic forecasting, investment analysis, and valuations.
Having the theory makes learning the practical side easier. So there’s no need to be afraid or to worry. The theory is broad and sometimes goes beyond what is practiced here in Malawi but when you go into the practice you start to make more sense of the theory and then the two become more aligned.
The icing on the cake is that as a person just starting off in your career a reasonable employer will take the time to train you. No one expects you to be “all-knowing” in your first job
Charles: Can’t agree more. Well said.
SB: So, that’s it. You cannot be an expert at something you’ve just started. @Charles?
Charles: My two colleagues have said it so well. Like athletes, Practice. Practice. Let’s pursue opportunities to put our knowledge to the test. Let’s prepare ourselves for the opportunities coming.
SB: Thank you, our panelists. Before we cross on to Part 2, there’s a question from one of the members of the audience to Charles. I will forward it as it is…
How did Charles join World Vision?
Charles: I didn’t expect it, but thank you😊. I joined World Vision in 2015 as a communications officer responsible for programs in southern Malawi. Prior to that, I was consulting for them on different projects. And I’ve risen ever since and gone on to manage the communications unit, since 2021.
In summary, I can say that. But happy to discuss further this journey and the lessons learned.
SB: Thank you, Charles. At times, the path from university to getting a job is either an internship or volunteering for organizations or companies. Therefore, we would like to know, why are internships or volunteer placements important to students and graduates? First @Esnat
Esnat: My internship experience is quite minimal. I was an intern with Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN) for 2/3 months when I was in my final year of college. It was a very short internship so I didn’t do much except work on policy documentation. Nonetheless, I learned about the corporate culture which helped me develop the right expectations of the corporate world. I also worked under influential people which was a source of motivation for me.
The importance of internships and volunteer placements is really to provide one with exposure and to prepare them for what they can expect after graduation it can also help shape your career decision
SB: Thank you, @Esnat. @Getrude, any additions on why internships/ volunteering is important?
Getrude: Internship or volunteering is important because it gives you exposure just as said by my colleague, and it also gives you experience which most employers look for in their job adverts. You have something to add to your CV. Thank you
SB: Alright, thanks @Getrude and @Esnat
SB: So, having known the importance of internships, the next question may be: How does one get an internship? On this question, I would love to hear about your personal experience, your workplace recruitment process, or any other examples you know. Again, I will start with @Esnat, then @Getrude. Charles is temporarily out…
Esnat: I got my internship through the economics department at the university.
From the organizations I have worked with so far, I note that names are often requested from the various universities
In a few exceptional cases, interns come through other connections that they may have made or through personal relentless effort
So, performing well in a university increases your chances from my perspective
SB: Over to you @Getrude
Getrude: As for me, I did not do any internship. As I was waiting for many job applications that I had done, I volunteered to teach at a certain private secondary school in Chinsapo (An area in Lilongwe). I just approached the school management about my intention to volunteer teaching and they accepted me. I was getting very little money but I was happy that I was doing something rather than just staying home idle. As for the government which is where I am working, I can say that pay attention to the adverts for internships which are advertised almost every year. Apply for them and accept them when offered. They are really a good start for your career. Thanks
SB: Alright, thank you @Getrude
Charles is back. @Charle, I will give you a chance to tackle the question…
So, having known the importance of internships, the next question may be: How does one get an internship? On this question, I would love to hear about your personal experience, your workplace recruitment process, or any other examples you know.
Charles: Internships are really critical. I know of several colleagues at my workplace who started as interns and went all the way.
The practice is that a department or unit that needs interns informs our recruitment unit to organize interns for them to interview.
SB: Is that all? @Charles?
Charles: So often, they just go into letters that are dropped and look at the CVs. They also check on those who drop emails for the same.
We don’t do free internships, so that’s why the process is kind of controlled.
Free in the sense that they’re all paid internships.
SB: Thank you, our panelists, for all the responses. We had scheduled that this session will run from, 7 to 8:30 pm. We are now out of time, with 5 questions to go. Therefore, we will proceed like this. For the remaining questions, I will send the panelists and they will type and send them, we will include the responses in the pdf and blog links that we will publish tomorrow. However, there are three questions from the participants which I feel won’t be just if we close without tackling them. In that regard, allow me to bring the questions that are answered as quickly as we can.
SB: The first question is directed at @Esnat ……. It’s a bit tricky, I will copy and paste it below…………
“Do you think intern should be paid less than any other employee at any organization or company while doing the same amount and type of work?”, @265885176015, there we go……..
Esnat: My personal opinion is yes. The salary scale is a function of a lot more things than just the level of work.
Organizations set salaries for different levels of employment. And those different levels are based on the level of education, experience, and nature of work.
If someone does well during an internship, they are often given a permanent position at a higher salary
There’s a need to strike a balance that also motivates those who have been with the company longer and have more experience and are probably more educated
Charles: I concur with you. Otherwise, I’d there was equal pay, it would defeat the whole idea of internships. In such a case, they’d just go for a part-time person.
And we need to all be aware of this growing part of our economy. Whereas other organizations and companies will just get someone for a task, on a salary, short term and you go. But often, that goes to those with the qualifications and experience.
SB: Thank you Esnat and Charles. The participant who specifically asked that question to @Esnat am sure they have their answer. The next one is general; I will forward it as it is to the panel…
Is it advisable to be sending unsolicited application letters for internship a few months before finalizing your undergrad?
As for my situation, I’ve been trying to send several of them, but months have passed with no acknowledgment that they have received the letters.
Charles: Most definitely, yes. And be explicit about the experience you’ve gathered while at school. Volunteering, leading, etc. That’s important. Remember to title such emails even well.
I’m sorry for the lack of responses from some but don’t feel bad, and don’t give up.
Esnat: It doesn’t hurt to try your luck. At the same time never be disappointed if you don’t get a reply. Sometimes companies are just not looking to hire unless they actually publish an advert. It doesn’t mean you weren’t impressive.
SB: Thank you for the responses above. Our final questions look directed at @Charles . I will copy my chat with the participant for the sake of context……..
“Communication is a broad field with so many areas of study, which might be a little challenging sometimes to choose one area to master since we are not sure of the nature of the institution we will land into after school, what can be your advice on this? Do we have to like every area of communication even though some are less interesting and challenging?”
Charles: This is a great question. Communication is evolving with time and the growth of the internet. So indeed, to position yourself for the next job market, you need to ensure you diversify your skill sets.
Digital communication is the present and future.
As I said earlier on, I studied journalism and an MSc in Communication for Development. But as I speak, I’m attending lessons on Website Development.
And gone on to equally master graphic designing packages because these are the tools that help you deliver on the roles. So, in summary, master the skills and be as marketable as you can be.
SB: Alright, thanks, Charles.
What remains are questions in CVs and interviews, we will engage the panelists on the best way forward, whether to hold another session or just to type up the responses.
At this point, I will give a minute to each panelist to make their concluding remarks.
First @Esnat, then @Getrude, finishing with @Charles
Esnat: I will conclude by simply encouraging you to pursue a career in an area that you are passionate about. We spend more time at the office or in our businesses than we do at home if we exclude the time that one sleeping. So, you have to make the time spent at the office worthwhile and meaningful to yourself. I also want to encourage you to believe in yourselves. Be your own cheerleader. if you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else believe in you?
SB: @Getrude, your closing remarks?
Getrude: Thanks for including me on the panel. Involve God in your career pursuit. He will help you to understand your purpose in this life.
SB: Welcome @Getrude. And @Charles, how do you close?
Charles: Showing up is important in job hunting and life in general. Never doubt your potential. Always wear the ‘yes I can attitude’. The position we are in determines the decisions we make. The decisions that we make, equally flip to determine the position we get into. So, let’s be positive about our career choices.
Prepare like your life depends on them. Remember it’s a competition. So understand the Jon description and what’s expected of you. Pick out the buzzwords associated with the job and that work and give them an understanding that you are really interested.
Express yourself. Let the people know you as best as you can, humbly. Then let God work the rest of the miracle.
SB: “If you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else believe in you?” Mrs. Esnat Chilije Suleman
‘Involve God in your career pursuit. He will help you to understand your purpose in this life.” -Mrs. Getrude Chinanga Gangata
“Express yourself. Let the people know you as best as you can, humbly. Then let God work the rest of the miracle.” -Charles Kabena.
And that is how we close the session today. ….
On behalf of the YES-Initiative lead team, in a very special way, thank our three panelists for taking time off your busy schedules to be with us.
I would also like to thank all our participants for sparing your time to join us this evening. I hope you have enjoyed being part of the Mentors Engage Session.
Our Communications team will work overnight to make sure this chat is curated and shared as a pdf and posted on this forum, our blog, website, and Facebook page by midday tomorrow. Thereafter, we are all free to exit the group voluntarily.
By Monday next week, we will remove all participants so that we make space for participants who may be interested in our succeeding sessions.
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