Ngongang Wandji Danube, an efficiency analyst at UNEP, treated us to an exciting session on careers on Friday the 14th of May 2021. For a start, Wandji notes that as one turns a new chapter of life following graduation from university, a vista of endless possibilities on which to tap their limitless potential opens up before them. One need only stretch their hands and grab them. While this may seem easy, it is not wholly so. The path to starting a career, in most cases for a majority of people, is never a straight line but a winding road down a valley of disappointments, rejections, and frustrations. Understanding this is then important as it enables one to develop the right mindset required to face the giant that job seeking can at times portend to be. Here is Wandji’s story.
As an international student taking a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering at Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria, Wandji knew that finding an internship was going to be a tall order when the time came. He did not know anyone in Nigeria and for a country in which connections mattered that did not auger well. “I thought long and hard,” says Wandji, “and decided that I would do my internship at MTN Nigeria. I remember for three weeks I tried meeting a manager at MTN who was Cameroonian. Each time, the secretary would tell me that the manager was not available. That did not discourage me; on the contrary, it motivated me to keep trying. Then my lucky day came, I remember it quite well.” As Wandji talked with the secretary, the manager unexpectedly came out of his office. “Opportunities never come twice, I knew this was my chance, the only shot I had at it if I was to get lucky” They talked and the rest is history. That is how Wandji got his first internship. He recalled how he really applied himself in that job, and that he was so excellent that his manager was impressed with his work. “He was so happy with me. He told me the door would always be open for me should I knock again.”
The job market
Wandji then moved on to work with MTN in Cotonou, Benin Republic for quite some time in between school holidays and then with Etisalat as a NOC Engineer. While working with Etisalat, his parent company Etisalat entered into a contract with Huawei and under the new dispensation, he was given a graduate level position as a Project Manager. “I felt I didn’t get a good deal working as a Project Manager under the new dispensation, it was not the point I wanted to be in my career. That was when it occurred to me that I ought to do a master’s degree and look for a better job.” For more than 150 applications Wandji made for master’s scholarships, he was rejected. “Bro that is when you know life out here is hard. There is no longer that money your parents give you in campus and that is when you know you are on your own. You have to figure it out!”
With this experience, Wandji reminded us that at some point as we try to define a career path for ourselves, some form of failure is inevitable. However, failure at this stage of life was important; it taught one that they had inner will and resilience they themselves didn’t quite imagine they possessed. He also told us that for the many job and scholarship rejections he got, he also gained invaluable insights. One had to constantly work to improve their skills and knowledge of their industry and keep working on their resumes and cover letters of each job applications they made, including for scholarship applications. Self-assessing and trying for the next available job opportunity each time they failed, and for each job opportunity one gets, they ought to put their best foot forward. “We are very replaceable. There are so many graduates out there looking for available, limited job opportunities. Any shoddy work that you do lands you on the chopping board quite easily. I was almost fired for accidentally pouring to waste Generator oil for a project I was working on.”
Working at the UN
Eventually, Wandji secured an African Union scholarship to do masters in Telecommunications Electrical Engineering at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology. While studying for his master, faced with the prospect of going home and starting all over again or going into academia, Wandji decided to try for an intern position at the United Nations. “Understanding oneself is also a key part of the process. This means knowing your weaknesses and strengths. While it is good to work on your weaknesses, by continuously learning new skills and developing knowledge of your industry, it is even better to play to your strengths. Ultimately, it all comes down to what you can and the other person can’t offer to the employer.” While applying for the intern role, Wandji leveraged his international exposure, something that the United Nations values, to ultimately get the internship position. “Even then, I have had to really apply myself, putting in extra hours. I had to be handing the assignments my boss gives me on time and be an attentive listener and a keen learner to survive thus far.” Wandji concluded by noting that in as much as pay can be a factor in us determining the kind of job opportunities that we pursue, it is not wholly so. He advises one to take a position that offers them an opportunity to gain invaluable skills for their line of work, even if it is at a cost of low pay. In the long run, they gain, as one can never take what is in a person’s head.
By Stanley Owade.