Category Archives: education

Is there anything as silly as a job interview?


In today’s economy, getting a job in the formal sector is a bit like finding a unicorn. It is a hard and often thankless task. What is even worse is that , browsing through the Twitter and the endless LinkedIn updates and the Facebook and the Instagram, everyone else is living their dream life except for YOU.

I have had lots and lots of awful, painful and embarrassing job interviews that ended in polite rejection letters. I’m sure I am not the only one. During my long, long years in under/ unemployment, I made a few observations that made me think that the whole concept of job interviews is quite silly.

1. We are all reading from the same script

It seems like HR people ignored their training in favor of internet articles on interview questions. Which explains why every single interview I have ever had rarely strays from the path of ‘tell me about yourself, what are your strengths, what do you want in life.’

Does anyone actually expect any honest answers? It would go something like this:

‘I have a degree that taught me a lot of American theories. I am very good at putting pictures in my Power Point Presentations. If I don’t know something I will go on Google until I find it. I want a job because my mother is threatening to kick me out of the house. And this jacket is the only formal piece of clothing in my wardrobe.’

This tells you nothing about what I can actually do, and it tells me nothing about what kind of company you run.

2. Interviews are only good for weeding out blatant liars and psychopaths

Since we are all reading the same articles from Wikipedia and Business Insider, you can be sure that anyone with an internet connection and an empty bank account has memorized all the answers to all your tough, probing questions.

‘How much are you currently earning?’

*Laughter* ‘Less than I would like’

‘Could you give me a rough estimate?’

*more laughter*

‘It’s too early to start digging my own grave’

I understand the employer’s dilemma. Which is  basically, ‘Can I actually spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week with this person without killing them?’

But since we all have to hide our real intentions behind buzzwords and adjectives that convey our enthusiasm, this can be very difficult.

Which is why people are often hired through networks. At least you have someone to stand up for you and say, ‘this person will, at the very least, show up everyday and use big, impressive words.’

3. The lies go both ways

I once went for an interview where we spent a considerable amount of time discussing my ‘flexibility’ and ‘willingness to go the extra mile’. What they were really asking me was whether I was willing to work on weekends and in the evening.

The real answer, of course, would have been,

‘MADAM, I AM SELLING MYSELF TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER. HOW MUCH WILL YOU PAY ME TO WORK ON WEEKENDS AND IN THE EVENING?????’

Instead I made noises about dedication to the project and my desire to grow my career.

4. We tend to forget that we too should be interviewing the company

The behavior of the person interviewing you can tell you a lot about the company culture. And whether you actually want to work there. You should be able to spot a slave contract disguised as a learning opportunity.

You can also tell the person’s thinking processes by the way they handle the interview: lateness, last minute cancellations, aggression, using the interview as a chance to display superiority and so forth.

There is once I was interviewed by a woman who seemed physically repulsed by my presence. I soldiered on and answered her silly questions but I knew without a doubt that I had already failed. If I could go back in time, I would have asked her point blank why she looked so disgusted. It would have made for a much more entertaining experience for all involved.

In fact, if you fail these kinds of interviews, thank God because you dodged a massive bullet.

5. You should never stop interviewing

This is a new piece of advice that I haven’t tried yet. Basically, you should always be scanning the horizon for new opportunities. And actually go out and interview, even if you have no intention of moving from your current place of work.

That being said, if you actually do find a job that you genuinely enjoy, with people that you get along with, doing things that you like, then thank your lucky stars. I have heard that such things actually exist.

For the rest of us, let’s keep memorizing answers from the internet and smiling like our lives depend on it. Oh, and throw in a few curve balls, especially if you realize that you have zero chances of getting hired.

I want to hear your ridiculous interview stories.

[Sorry HR people, please don’t take offence.]

 

 

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A brief summary of African Ideology: the pub version


Yesterday, I had a very strange exchange with a fellow on the Twitter, who posted an article by that loony scientist Dr Richard Lynn (of the black women are ugly because of too much testosterone fame) claiming that atheists are more intelligent than the average Bible thumping, Jesus loving uneducated cretins running loose in our streets.

I told him that  using this man’s research to prove a point is a slippery slope that leads to weird Nazi like arguments about race, intelligence and the value of human beings. Stuff that you really don’t want to get into.

Somehow, the argument descended into a flurry of links with information about the colonized African mind and misinformation about the great black race, with lots of references to the Egyptian civilization thrown in for good measure.

These things reminded me a lot of myself when I was in my late teens- obsessed with Bob Marley, slavery and finally discovering the truth about Africa. With the obligatory shaggy ‘fro, questionable sources of information and lots of beaded jewelry. (We all deal with teen angst in different ways, okay?)

This got me thinking of the debate about Africa, the different forms it has taken over the years, and my changing opinions about African identity, nationhood and other ways we try to make sense of a world so hell bent on proving that we are doomed for eternity.

And since I love lists so much, here is my list of  philosophies that you are bound to come across in bars around the continent:

1. The ones living in the Past before the Past

I’m talking about the past before the past here. Before pre-colonial times to that space where information is scant and fantasy rules. These are the people who like to argue about whether or not Ancient Egypt was ruled by black Pharaohs, and in that way, shielding themselves against anyone who thinks  that Africa was a bush-land populated by people a few degrees smarter than monkeys.

The fact is, there are no known written languages originating in Sub-Saharan Africa, so we will never really know what went on before international trade began (8th Century?) All our information therefore comes from traders, missionaries and slavers, so yes, the objectivity of their reports can be questioned.

The past before the past philosophers use this lack of information to lay fantastic claims like ‘Africans discovered science but rejected it because they realized it was evil’.

But why this obsession with Egypt, when there are plenty of other examples across the continent? Is it just a way to hide an inferiority complex by clinging on to an example that fits the  ideal of a classical empire considered to be powerful and civilized?

This is dangerous territory because it makes you look like a nut and eventually people will avoid you.

2. The Pan- Africans

I blame this one squarely on those books we were forced to study in high school. As much as I respect our post-colonial writers, I don’t think we should be feeding this narrative to impressionable young people 50 years after the end of foreign rule.

I’m talking about the people who think that colonialism in to blame for absolutely everything. That, before the 1800s, we lived in a utopia where men and women were equal, everyone lived in harmony and died peacefully in their sleep after a life well lived.

This is often followed by an idolization of leaders such as good old Bob in Zim and the late, flamboyant Gaddaffi because they are supposedly finally kicking out the evil colonialists and freeing their people from oppression.

Once again, it is difficult to tell fact from fantasy and colonial propaganda because we were not doing any recording of information ourselves.

Sadly, whether or not the Pan Africans are right, it is virtually impossible to go back to this kind of life. I suspect that the damage done to our cultures and values by the violence, humiliation and subjugation that came with colonialism means that what we have today is a mangled culture that is doing more damage for us than good.

And of course, playing the blame game means that taking responsibility is conveniently avoided.

3. The Afro-politans

The source of this term is an article about life in the diaspora for young, educated and well off Africans. Despite it’s playful and entertaining tone, it provoked some measure of outrage from the kind of people who concern themselves with these debates.

I’m not sure I can be objective about this one, because I do check many of the boxes here. However, as some people have pointed out, ‘Afro-politanism’ looks more like cultural commodification (think chic leather bags and handmade jewelry), rather than an actual identity.

It is also useful for people navigating different cultures,  and suits the ‘Africa is rising’  crew because it makes us look a little bit more glamorous and cool and civilized.

4. The ones who just don’t care

Thank God for pragmatic people. Thank God for people who are more interested in working and living and not endless naval gazing. Thank God for people who don’t live in their heads but face life for what it is without making excuses.

These people probably never even finished reading a single book by Ngugi. They aren’t interested in the dusty past and whether or not Egypt was ruled by black people.

They want things to work, but they don’t really care how.

They have a point though,  I mean, is this kind of debate even useful anymore?

Objectively digging into the past is useful in order to understand the present. But doing it in order to find excuses and avoid responsibility? Not so much.

When wtf becomes ‘G*d F*%#ing d@*nit’ and then some…


I haven’t posted in a while, mostly because I was festering in a great big pool of my own misery, and I couldn’t see any humor in my situation.

I wrote about my search for an internship before here: but as time went by, things did not really improve. I had one interview with one of the largest companies in France and in the world (hint, they were mentioned in Michael Moore’s movie Super Size Me, for serving crap, obesity inducing lunches to American high school kids, as well as complaints about everything from racism to environmental destruction: in other words, your typical eat-babies-for-breakfast-multinational-devil-incarnate.)

I should have known something was not right when they cancelled the first interview and asked to call at 8.00 am in the morning. Or when they called 15 minutes later. Or when they switched my second interview to 4.00pm. But none of that stopped me from preparing the shit out of it, in it to win it style.

But the girl I spoke to didn’t seem very impressed. In fact it seemed like there was something really smelly under her nose. Later, my professor cried racist like Julius Malema in this video:  but I wasn’t really convinced.

I mean, if I walk around screaming ‘is it because I’m black?’ How far do I expect to go? Saving the race card for later, okay? No need to max that sh*t out.

As the desperation threatened to burn an ulcer into my stomach, I watched my whiny classmates land fabulous internships with mega companies. I was in hell.  A boring hell at that, because all I could talk about, think about, dream about, was my lack of gainful employment.   Of course, I could always slink back home in shame and pretend that it was my plan all along. Or not.

The months dragged on and pretty soon I had to move out of my student room. My life was in the dump like this:

9 months worth of my life in the trash

And bought some caviar to celebrate just for the f*ck of it ( We have to ‘celebrate’ endings just as much as we do beginnings…yeah? ):

And took a final tour of my town:

As if YOU could resist!

The thing that everyone does:

That thing where you take photos at night because the lights look pretty

But, on the very last day, after scrubbing away all traces of my existence, bags packed with homelessness looming ahead of me,  I finally got it. THE phone call.

Hello, Kristin…yeah, so after talking to some other candidates [yada yada how is the weather Obama] I’d like to offer you the internship.

I’m not going to go into details of my wacky interview, because I want everyone to think that I’m cool and savvy and I have an awesome internship.

That thing that people do, ati can I have some time to think about it?

Nothing!  

I said hell yes. Threw my arms up in the air and said ‘Take Me!’

All I have to do now is not get fired.

Honestly, it was hard.

FYI, I promise my next post will be more entertaining…

Laziness, Ignorance and Chance: the Weird Ways we Get it Right


Now that I am looking for an internship to possibly launch my glamorous and enviable career, a lot of little things are coming back to me.

Like one of the first times I was called for an interview. I had seen an advertisement on the USIU notice board  calling out for freelance writers, and I thought, ‘yeah, I could do that!’

So I sent my rookie cv and cover letter , with a sample piece I had written for my distance learning assignment, which, at the time I thought was a very clever piece. (Just like when I will read this post years from now and think, aaw, how cute.)

And then I waited. And waited. Aaaand waited.

Finally, I was called for an interview. ‘Hey, am THAT awesome- lets do this!’ I thought.

So I put on my only white shirt, a pair of odd looking pants I thought were formal, rounded off the newbie look with some inappropriate jewelery and got there on time, just like the career center advised.

I remember the reception had that nauseating chai ya maziwa kwa thermos smell and I nearly gagged as I waited for an eternity to be called into the interviewer’s office. (PowerPlay!)

Maaaan, the guy was old. And he was asking me all these questions about search engine optimization and ad words and all the shit we take for granted today, but in 2009, was cutting edge stuff. Obviously, it never occured to me to research on ‘writing for the web’ and so I fumbled around for answers- even cracked a couple of jokes. The guy was so old, it was impossible to be nervous- not even when he asked me, ‘If you love to write so much, how come you don’t have more work published?’

Good question. I still think about it today.

Then he went on to tell me that the ‘work is pretty basic, nothing special- just write 1 000 words on a destination that we give you, and you get a bob a word.’

I left, and waited for the call. It never came. Obviously, I did not impress enough to do the ‘basic work’.

A few weeks later, (or maybe months, not so sure) I saw another advert. Looking for freelancers. This one asked for an original piece to go along with the application.

This time, I was inspired. Probably smarter. Possibly a bit of both.

I wrote my article one afternoon at Fifi’s (and rewarded myself with a beer afterwards) and I have to say, it was much cheekier. A couple of days later, I got an email with a list of topics to choose from as well as instructions on how to write for the web. Pay was per articles, any discussion or consulting could be done face to face. In short, I was in. All I had to do was write, and if they liked it, they would pay.

How simple. How beautiful.

After a couple of stiff, awkward posts, I sort of got the flow. Then I was put on a monthly retainer. Yeah baby.  It was one of the best assignments of my life. The euphoria from finishing each task could have rivaled a hit of cocaine, I’m pretty sure. Eventually, the rumblings about a job offer came too.

(And then  I left for France)

Anyway, obvious differences:

Ancient guy asking for 1 000 word articles and conducting meticulous interviews. Who the hell reads 1000  word articles online? (You probably skimmed through this post, with like, five other tabs open.. )Versus, you write, if we like we pay- and keep it short and sweet.

I was still the same person, basically with the same skills- but who could make the best use of them? Who could see my potential?.

Honestly, where was I suited better? No wonder I failed the first interview- I just was not a match for the ‘mutton dressing up as lamb’ company. Thank God I wasn’t saddled with that dinosaur company: maybe by now I’d be going through three thermoses a day….

My point? Sometimes there is a good reason we fail interviews. Because it just wouldn’t work out.

Any stories about how you finally sold your souls to the corporation? Please do share

Tell Me About Yourself….and other invitations to shoot yourself in the head


This post is unashamedly about myself. In a way none of the others have been.

It started on Monday evening, when I checked my inbox and saw a magical subject line:

Phone Interview with Company X.

Wow, how incredible. Finally, someone had taken the time to open my resume and read my cover letter. Someone had decided that,

Hmm…this one seems interesting, I would like to know more.

I tripped. I was all like, ‘Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God!’

Internship/Job hunting is a lonely business.  I knew from past experience that asking for advice on how to make myself pop on paper would yield little result- I got glowing reviews after sending my package for a critical analysis, only to discover grammatical errors, uneccessary statements and a host of resume no-nos.

Despite this, I still started by consulting on the axis of evil: ‘tell me about yourself, strengths &weaknesses,  5 year plan?’

After some uninspired advice, me and my friend Google spent long nights discussing the best way to answer ‘what are your professional goals’ and ‘do you consider yourself a team player’.

Gradually, I crafted (and I do mean crafted, like lovingly molding each word as though my life depended on it) my answers. I wrote about all the teams I had been involved in- from the Chinese group members who at best had a rudimentary grasp of English, to the Morrocan no-shows, to the AIESEC teams with their all consuming energy . Yep, I had been there, and I knew my sh*t.

I read about the company’s products, asking myself which ones in specific I would be involved in, and how I could contribute. I even analysed them using a business model we learnt the other day just to have it all together.

I was ready. I drank coffee like a fiend and did some yoga stretches.

What could possibly go wrong? We began.

Here are some excerpts from my session:

HR from X: Tell me about yourself

At this moment, I looked down at my prepared answer. And I asked myself, who is this person I have described? Can I really convince HR that she exists?

And then my descent into interview nightmare began. I could hear myself rambling on about my education, my school activities. All that about slipping in your achievements and talents? Gone. Instead, a stream of words colliding into each other. I remember I mentioned leadership. And something about challenge and learning quickly. And a lot of uuuums. I mean a lot.

Then I remembered to ask, ‘Anything else you would like to know?’

HR from X: You studied at USIU, why did you not go to the States instead?

Saaaaaay, whaaaaa? It had never ever occured to me to study in the USA. Especially after I saw the school fees. Now, I could simply have said, ‘My goal was always to study in France so as to improve my french. Also, France has excellent business schools’

Nice, simple, clear.

But noo….

After uuuming for a couple of minutes I said:

‘Well, there was the recession. And to be honest I do not like US business theories. I do not like US business models. I think they are right on the line of criminality and extreme greed and generally unsustainable. I think European businesses are a lot more balanced. Oh, and I wanted to study in France because they have good schools and to learn French’

There you have it- the birth of Comrade Wairish.

Somwhere in the middle of my ramblings, I mentioned I blog. She honed in on that and asked, ‘Is the address on your CV?’

I told her that I have one on my cv, but it contains the ‘professional’ stuff I did when I was in Kenya. (because apparently people sometimes google you before an interview, and I thought it would be nice to have something other than my tweets and FB profile out there)

She asked if I could send her the link and I told her it’s personal. (Then why did I bring it up? *Facepalm*)

HR from X: You know it is easy to find things online!

Was that a threat? 

Then came: What are you planning to do after you graduate?

Me:I want to stay in France for at least a year.

HR X: But you know this internship is only for six months?

Me: Yes I know, ideally I would like to be here for a year, but I need a minimum of six months to graduate. But I really like the JD.

HR X: So what do you want? Do you want to stay for a year or not?

Me: Look, I can see that your internship is for six months. I applied because I like the JD. It is fine, I am flexible

Can you hear the nails in the coffin yet?

My enthusiasm cooled down after she gave me the ‘stipend’ figures. Bonus included, living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, I would have to live on bread and water. And not buy any new clothes ever. And probably try to ride the buses for free.

Despite everything I still feel euphoric. I don’t know if it’s the after effects of a liter of coffee, or the excitement that I finally had an interview. Anyway, I’m going to send my thank you letter, and really mean it- the practice was invaluable.

And as, we say, the game ain’t over until this fat lady sings.

Aluta continua!


Oh, the Power of Retrospect: Why I Will Always Love USIU


At the end of August 2010, I finally graduated from USIU with a degree in ‘blah blah blah’. I shared the moment with my drinking buddies, best friends, former best friends, comatose class mates and other bits of USIU furniture.

In our day, bitching about USIU was an acceptable pastime. We couldn’t get enough. The not-quite-right food in the cafeteria, with all it’s creepy cats. The barely dressed freshmen at Fifi’s making eyes at the Nigerians. Too much work. No internet. Library books weighing a tonne. Bzzzzzzzzzzzz….the sound of endless whining and moaning.

Anyway, fast forward 2011, and  I was logging on to my current school’s intranet to upload some assignments. My friend asked me, ‘did you have that shit back in Kenya?’ I said, ‘Hell yeah, and it worked most of the time!’

And that got me thinking…

A little comparison between USIU and my current school wouldn’t do any harm….

1. Show me the money: Every year in June, GoK lets us know that we have to pay a little more for bread and beer. And USIU adjusts the budget, upwards. Because students still need to eat poisonous mince meat in the cafetereria. And the the little issue of the multimillion dollar library (that was) being built. Not to mention the expansive hockey fields, multimedia center and the like.

But my peoples up here? Finally got a ‘triple crown’ rating. It’s a big deal, because only six other schools in France have it. It’s prestigious and presumably says something about the quality of education here.  Their reaction? Increase the school fees, increase the number of students (minimum sixty), reduce the number of trips and fire a couple of lecturers. Also, charge for all the other previous freebie stuff. Oh, and nothing else changes. Capitalism much?

2.It’s all in the fine print. You said Internet: Students are often a bunch of whiney little brats who will complain at the slightest defect in facilities. ‘What do you mean I have to carry three free course texts per subject?’ What is this? ‘A three storey, fully stocked library with private study carousels?’ ‘Jesus Christ! You threw in a shitty dispensary AND a free gym?’ ‘Have mercy Lord, we can subsidize our club trips and activities?’ Off with their heads I say! Communists!

In the land of accreditations,  there are at least 4 000 students here. Our library is spread out over one floor. I can see the entire collection by doing a matrix 360 degree turn in slow motion.  But don’t worry, we have ‘wi-fi’ and you can log on to do ‘research’ (facebooking each other about the professor’s gay earring) as long as you are willing to try connecting for at least half an hour. Really, I should have brought my safaricom modem.

Our projectors turn the most artistic  ppts into a hideous mass of yellow, and the cool lecturer who wants to show  a movie? He cant- our sound system died a slow death somewhere at the beginning of the century. You want to exercise? Take a walk to town. Feeling sick? Practice your French with the public health system. But don’t forget to pay your triple crown fees, s’il vous plait.

4.Rainbow Nation: We go starry eyed talking about diversity. We salivate over posters of happy, multicolored university students. Triple crown has got diversity. Lots of it. It’s a mini UN up in here. It’s a pity we spend all day with exactly the same people.

I don’t know, I liked rotating classes in USIU. Seeing spaced out Psych students and strung out IST guys. Collaborate with nerdy accounting types. I liked that I could pick and choose my classes, and there would always be that weird guy at the back of the class with ‘out there’ opinions.

But I’m back in primary school. Same faces, different day. Over and over again. 9.00 to 5.00. At least we get to go to ‘open bar’ parties with ambulances waiting outside to treat the regular alcohol poisoning and sprained ankle.

The thing is, we are like a hundred little schools crammed into a couple of buildings. There is the MGE which is not the same as the Msc, which is better than the IFI, which ranks better than the ISCPP which is not as bad as the ISCE…so we live together, but only because we have to- and our directors battle viciously for financing, so not much love lost there.

5. Event Management: You know how they say ‘too many cooks spoil the broth?’ They knew what they was talking about. Things can get tricky when the person in charge of examinations is not the same person in charge of assignments who is not the same person in charge of course outlines who is not the same person in charge of the classroom who is not in charge of the timetable and no one knows where your lecturer is. Let’s put it this way- I sat an exam in October 2010 and I don’t know if I passed or failed- even though school ends in May.

So Kudos to USIU, who had my certificate ready in April- a whole 4 months before graduation.

And then there was Fifi’s, where we all happily complained about Gillie and Ken and not knowing anyone in the bar anymore. Nothing will ever compare to having a drink with my people there. Call it nostalgia. (And, as soon as I leave triple crown, I will have another basket full of nostalgia too)

…One thing I won’t miss though, is that ridiculous song we called our Alma Mater. I mean, really???

Of course, I will remember all the good and beautiful times I had here. And all the nutty professors and all the afternoons spent discussing the nuances between branding and selling. Most of all, I will remember all the things that forced me to grow up, or as my professor says, ‘You brats need to learn to look at the bigger picture- and stop complaining so much’.

btw: what do you miss the most about school?