Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Tables Have Turned

Besides learning how to hold a pencil and write in cursive in first grade, applying for jobs my senior year of college is the most tedious, frustrating and time consuming thing I have ever had the displeasure to do.  I hated the application process: drafting dozens of cover letters to apply to jobs I didn’t even want, spending hours trolling through online job boards that allowed you to search anywhere between 10,000 and zero jobs(but nowhere in between), attending presentations on application skills that emphasized the importance of wearing long pants to interviews, being asked by job recruiters if I was willing to relocate to Peoria, Illinois (no.), seeing my LinkedIn connection requests rejected, and checking my calendar to see the prospect of graduation and unemployment creeping ever closer. 

In the end I was able to land a terrific job which segued into my current position, and I’m overjoyed to be able to conclusively say that the number of contacts on your LinkedIn page has absolutely no effect on your job prospects.  After enduring and fretting through the hellish job application process, it seems like destiny that now the tables have turned: I’m looking for trainers to run plan-making and motivational workshops in the villages, and I’m the one who has to hire these people.  Instead of struggling to answer “where I see myself in five years,” I’m the guy on the other side of the table asking the questions.

The hiring process began in the town of Soroti, where my advertising budget for the position was $3.  I created a posting on a free online jobs board, and then walked to town and spent my entire budget on printing 20 flyers and buying a roll of tape to hang them with.  I walked around to banks, large supermarkets, and medical centers asking to speak to the person in charge and then getting their permission to post my ad outside their building.  It took me about an hour and a half to hang the 20 posters all over town, and by the time I returned to the office I already had two application emails waiting for me in my inbox.  

It was the beginning of the deluge.  I received over 40 resumes for a single part-time job, and at least half of the people came by the office in person to present me with their credentials.  I had to go around town tearing down my posters within 48 hours of hanging them up, and as recently as two days ago I’m still getting emails from people in Soroti who heard about the position and wanted to apply.  I got applications from EVERYWHERE: one guy from a town 400 kilometers away didn’t know the local language but offered to learn it for this position, people who came by the office to apply would bring their own resumes and also the CVs of a couple of their friends, and most online applicants sent their resumes more than once if they didn’t get a response in a hour or two.  My absolute favorite application was an email from a graphic designer in Khartoum, who said that he was willing to begin work as early as two days from now if we granted him a visa, and closed by adding that “artists are capable of many skills.”  His email had been Google translated from Arabic to English.

The more jobs I applied for my senior year, the more systematic my applications became.  I sent an email with a resume, I had several cover letters that I would modify for different types of jobs, I followed up with a call or email within 48 hours, and basically all of my friends and classmates followed similar guidelines, formatted their resumes like mine, and included similar information in their cover letters.  What I’ve learned is that a Ugandan resume and job application look very different from an American one.  In the header of their resume basically every Ugandan lists at least two telephone numbers, their tribe or ethnic group, and their religion.  Applicants also describe their personal interests and skills.  A couple of skills that stuck in my mind from different resumes are “god-fearing,” “relaxation,” “writing with pencils or pens,” and “unmarried.”  The resume also comes stapled to a sheaf of papers, transcripts, certificates and commendations.  People include their graduation certificates from as far back as elementary school, form letters of recommendation from every organization they’ve ever worked for, and photocopies of their passport or drivers license to verify their identity.  One man included an official notice from the Soroti chief of police certifying that this particular person had never been accused of sex crimes against children, which I found funny until I had the disquieting thought that no other applicant had included such a certificate. 

All told for the two positions I hired for I received over 70 resumes.  I interviewed at least 25 people, with varying degrees of success.  Some people were so shy as to be inaudible, even though I was sitting two feet from them.  Another man gave a long answer to a question about his work experiences in rural communities, and I realized midway through his response that he didn’t know what the word “rural” meant.  I got through an entire interview with another man before he told me that he had no clue what job he was applying for: he had come by the office to get more information, and when I invited him to interview he agreed without asking a single question.  Not one single applicant looked at the Village Enterprise website before talking to me even though it was printed on the flyer, and I didn’t interview a single person who was less than two years older than I was.  

It’s been quite a process.  So far (for those of you keeping score) I’m one for two on the hiring process: one of the trainers I’ve hired is terrific, and I had to let the other one go earlier today.  Luckily, I already have a significant stockpile of resumes, so I don’t have to look far to find my next applicant.

Villagers with their artwork

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The two ladies on the far left had never held a pen before.

Soroti Town

 

You can see that rock from EVERYWHERE

Kampala Bus Yard

Parallel parking at its finest.