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How to Job-Hunt in Competitive Africa?

Updated: May 2

With the brain drain that the continent has suffered from, the diaspora is welcomed with open arms. And the beauty of it is that we can all have a seat at the table, even when we've lived outside our entire life. Nonetheless, the enthusiasm that the diaspora arouses tied with the romantic ideals that we have of the coming back home experience leads us sometimes to believe that we've been awaited like the rising of the moon. Don't be mistaken, though. The job market is more competitive than you think.

The discussion is a bit more multi-layered than mere diaspora vs. locals. The priority is to build a skilled workforce to fill missing roles and fulfill the economy's needs to ultimately keep making strides to become middle income and developed countries. While diaspora's skills can bring new perspectives and enthusiasm into the mix, the local workforce has a deep understanding of the market and customer needs that the diaspora inevitably lacks by having not lived and worked on the continent. And therefore, in its efforts of building knowledge-based economies, skill shortage is also addressed by up-skilling the local workforce and strengthening existing skillsets.

In that light, you need to be true to yourself and do your due diligence, as you would do elsewhere, in determining your skillsets, strengths and weaknesses to identify where you can make a difference and see the positive impact of your work. Hence you can take control of your own journey to make it happen for yourself by:

1. Ensuring that You Have Enough Savings to Live Off for a Year

Getting a job, or getting a business rolling, takes time. Everywhere. It takes a significant amount of time and shouldn't be underestimated. And therefore, before deciding to live on the continent, you should assure yourself that you have enough savings live off for a year. It took me a couple of months to land on my first job interview when I moved to Rwanda six years ago. At the time, friends used to tell me that it took them about 7 to 8 months to start a job. And this was before COVID times.

The job you are looking for is a job that you love because when our careers match our interests, we approach work with a desire for personal growth to learn skills that will contribute to the country's growth.

Hence having enough savings will buy you time to prospect to build a strong network to advance your research and evaluate and explore the overall workforce ecosystem. Ultimately, this will prevent you from taking the first job that comes your way and doesn't fulfil your wants and aspirations.

2. Working Remotely for Your Current Employer While Job-Hunting

Digital nomads have known the trick for some time. It is possible to work remotely with just a laptop anywhere in the world as long as you have a strong internet connection. Returnees can basically do the same.

Even more so, the current crisis has shown us that remote work is developing firmly and steadily in some many ways, so perhaps your current employer wouldn't mind. You could be working for the same employer with the same employment contract, monthly salary and paid holidays.

If your employer is not open to it, you could be self-employed and sell products. If you have already gained substantial experience, you may have a strong client portfolio, which allows you to have a good rotation of mandates. Otherwise, there are also platforms like Fiverr, Upwork and Airtasker, which connect companies, or individuals, and independent freelancers. The services are varied. In these spaces, freelancers offer their services as voice over actors, translator, virtual assistant, web editor, developer and web designer. You could give courses and training online or even do consulting.

Alternatively, if you master e-business tools, you can set up your business. Through an e-distribution channel, you could market goods or services. You could mobilise resources and skills by working with employees and subcontractors to develop an activity on the web.

3. Building a Support Network

Networking is going to be critical throughout your entire experience as connecting like-minded professionals will increase your chances of hearing about job openings and getting a better understanding of the market requirements. The broader and more varied your collection of relationships, the more knowledge you will gain.

4. Evaluating the Playing Field

By having a network of like-minded professionals, you might get the foundation that you need to explore the overall workforce ecosystem. Exploring it will allow you to gain insights into the businesses that you could possibly work for and your competition, the people who could potentially apply to the same positions in which you are interested. Hence studying your competition will help you identify the market gaps and how you can differ from your competitors.

Evaluating the overall ecosystem will also give you insights into the market requirements to find out about the target market, where they can be reached, and what they're interested in. Plus, you will gain insights about the products or services that they use so that you could brainstorm on better products, add-ons, product bundles, and upsells that increase the average value of what is available on the market.

5. Stressing Your Core Differentiators

As the market requirements of your industry differ here, so are your competitive differentiators. What gives you a competitive edge; there is not the same here.

In that light, getting a better understanding of the market requirements thanks to your network will allow you to uncover your differentiators and pinpoint your niche skills relevant to this market. It will increase your odds of landing a job, set you apart from the crowd and make you a desirable addition to any company.

Identifying your uniqueness will help you target the right path and narrow down your search to specific roles. As much as job hunting can take time, applying everywhere without relevance to your profile will make you lose energy and give fewer results.

6. Entering the Scene as a Consultant to Build Case Studies

While job-hunting, you can work in the meantime as a consultant to make some money but more importantly to get some experience, keep expanding your network, further evaluating the playing field and get a stronger understanding on your core differentiators on this market. As long as you are capable of filling a demand, you should be able to find some work. And you can have the luxury of choosing with whom you want to work and how much time you are willing to invest in clients.

Though being a consultant might not be very profitable initially, this is the best opportunity to build your cases studies. Besides, it could empower you to bring to light the problem you are trying to solve. Then what you did to help overcome it. After that, you can include step-by-step details of the solutions and show how your solutions lead to tangible results for the problem by incorporating key performance indicators, data, and statistics that show the improvements resulting from your work.

I would make case studies a higher priority than the money, hence why I stressed that you should have savings because case studies are your social proof of your credibility. It is the best way to show off your work results and persuade potential clients to work with you. Case studies tell others how worthy it is to work with you. They highlight your successes and walk prospects through a story of how you helped a similar customer solve problems and generate tangible results.

7. Putting Yourself on The Radar

Putting yourself out there requires you to be more visible. It requires confidence, tenacity, assertiveness and self-belief that you are worthy of greatness.

To attract attention, you need to put your strengths on display and use your resources, skills, and knowledge to the best of your ability. These days, even more so with lockdown and social distancing measures, most conversations happen online.

Hence, this is an excellent opportunity to contribute to general discussions and identify the subject matters with which you would like to be associated. These subject matters have to be tied to curating and creating relevant industry content curation and creation. It will further showcase your willingness to explore all sides of ongoing and evolving conversations on topics of your industry, ultimately making your platform a valuable source of information.

8. Negotiating What You're Worth

Like anywhere else, employers don't pay you what you're worth. They pay what they think you're worth based on your education, your years of experience and the strength of your network. But you can control their thinking by demonstrating to them how you can meet market needs, what are your unique skills and what makes them qualified to serve the market, what you do that no one else does, what problems you solve for the market and what value you add.

While salaries in the public sector tend to be fixed, wages in the private sector greatly vary in range. Therefore, like anywhere else, you will find recruiters trying to low-ball you. They do so because they know that you want to be here are at any price and could play with your intense craving for being on the continent. While talking with an employer that made me believe that I was moving with a job acted shocked when I tried negotiating the salary by saying 'But I thought that all you wanted to do is explore your roots'.

Discovering your heritage is important, but it should never overshadow the need for a decent salary. Don't be afraid of walking away when the wages are not satisfying. It should be a win-win situation where you and the employer, can elevate the business and better serve the market. Likewise, you can't overprice yourself, as higher salaries also come with expectations and you need to deliver.

By articulating your value, you should be able to prove what you're worth, and this is where case studies come handy. While interviews can happen in settings where the receptionist is your cousin, and the recruiter is your godmother's sister, keep it professional, be assertive and tactful from the get-go. Circles can be small, especially in a city like Kigali, but you don't want everything to get mixed up. You still need to persuade them why you are a top-performer and why you stand out from everyone else. So explain your value, talk about your achievements and highlights them clearly and concisely.

To sum up, by only sending your CV and showing up to interviews you won't make the cut. The lack of knowledge of the local market requirements tied to sometimes our poor command of the language kind of makes us start the race with penalties. And therefore, we must be able to compensate elsewhere, and opportunities can be provoked. For this, you have to continually cultivate a reputation that optimises your chances of landing a dream job.

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