How to Get a Job in HR – Career Advice
This week for the Duma Works What It Takes series…
We talked to Beverly Chahonyo from Mode. Beverly has had over 4 years of experience working in the HR department of Mode and began with them from the very beginning. This means that she has had many insights about how companies shift over time from large to small – and how that affects their internal operations.
In case you didn’t know, Mode is an innovation Company that specializes in providing revolutionary technological Value Added Service (VAS) solutions to Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) across the Globe.
Here are the key take aways from her interview that you can apply to your career in HR, if you are a job seeker looking for what an HR Manager is thinking when you walk into an interview, OR, if you are looking to start your own consultancy (Beverly has done that too!)
- You need to be comfortable starting at the bottom of the ladder in your career and working to the top
- If you have a good idea, stick to it if it is your passion – but if you are going to do business with friends, be ready to lose the friendship
- It is so important to have a good mentor. For your career, entrepreneurship journey, and more
- HR is challenging because you have to balance the happiness of staff with objectives of the company
- HR is an important part of a growing company because as companies grow, there is more administrative work to be done with international flights, bigger teams, more logistics, and maintaining the close-knit office culture
- To job seekers – come early, review your CV beforehand, and come to the interview with a very positive attitude
Tell me a little more about your career path. What has your experience been?
Well, I went to the US for my Undergraduate and Masters. Then, when I got back to Kenya, people told me I was overqualified and couldn’t give me a job.
So, at the end, I had my masters degree, but started with an entry level position after a year and a half of looking for a job. My starting salary was 25K as an executive assistant. I was making more selling clothes at Lane Bryant on nights and weekends in the US while in school than I was after graduating.
Honestly, that was my biggest frustration. And my challenge with Generation Y is that a lot of them expect to start at the top and are not willing to work their way to success. The flip side is that they are brilliant and they know it. They are innovative and confident and highly skilled. They just need to learn to be patient..
What types of jobs did you apply for when you got back?
I tried the banking sector, but I couldn’t do it. I even had my first job offer letter from a bank offering 22,000KSH. He said, take it or leave it – we’re a great bank. But I just knew I couldn’t work for him.
So I worked as executive assistant at a local Embassy here in Nairobi. My main tasks were fixing tea and collecting data by reading papers because they didn’t trust me to do anything else. Mostly I highlighted news and left it on their desks.
Then, I moved to Mombasa and started doing client relations management at an ICT company.
When I came back to Nairobi, that ICT company offered me a position in HR. I said – I’ve never done a position in HR.
Plus, that was November 2007 and we were going through post-election violence, and I had just gotten hit by a matatu…I wasn’t really thinking about applying to this new position. Luckily, my boss chased me to make sure I applied for the HR position and I got selected by the 3rd party conducting interviews.
Wow! So you got started in a position that you never had experience with…how did that go?
It was baptism by fire – I got the job one week and the next week was payroll…So after beginning, it was running running running. After 8 months I actually quit because I felt that while this organization trained me so well and had given me such great opportunities, where they were as an organization the learning curve was very steep. It was an amicable parting as both parties agreed on it. I have maintained a great relationship with them.
This is my advice to Gen Y – Don’t burn bridges. Quit respectfully. I’m still in touch with my former boss.
Don’t quit in a way you see someone on the street and want to cross to the other side. You never know where you will meet them 5-10 years from now. Do it with honor, grace, dignity, and don’t offend anyone.
Have you ever run your own company?
I ran an HR consultancy for 2-3 years. That was an amazing experience. Kenyans do business in a very peculiar way. At least at the time they did. I believe it was Michael Joseph who said that Kenyans have “peculiar” habits. Peculiar isn’t always bad, it can be unique and positive and used as a strength or it can be unique and negative and seen as a weakness.
Our culture sometimes doesn’t allow us to say what we mean for fear of being rude / impolite. You can chase a contract for months and then realize it will never happen. But no one would ever say that to your face from the word go. Or, you do the work and chase payments for months as if you owe the company you did work for. It’s a lot of hard work. But over the past years the environment has changed and it’s getting easier to do business.
One rule of thumb / business is that if you will start doing business with friends, be prepared to lose the friendship, – what if they don’t pay you? Do you lose the friendship or give up the money owed? Another rule is that don’t take something at face value until you have signed a contract.
I also learned that if you have a good idea, stick with it, because it will pay off. At some point I was driving and living on fumes. But I knew I had a heart for what I was doing and I was doing it.
What do you think was your greatest strength that helped you with this HR consultancy?
Mainly, my strength is in coaching and mentoring – that’s where my passion is.
I know I have a gift with people, and I know how to identify someone’s gift from within and pull it out of them.
I am looking to build my brand there and branch out into mentoring even more. June 15th was my 4 year anniversary at Mode. It’s been a long journey, but one that I have enjoyed immensely.
How do you stay up to date with your field?
I read a lot, and I had a mentor who was fabulous – she pushed me and challenged me and rebuked me when I needed it, cheered me on when I needed it. I also read a lot so I go out and get the skills I need. I currently have a mentor who believes in me and sees the next level and pushes me to achieve it no matter what.
I also work at an amazing organization where the company visionaries have faith in you.
So what is your main task in HR at Mode?
From the start, it was building systems from scratch: employee files, building JDs, and enforcing the employee manual. The company was also small at the time, so there was less involved with HR.
The company has grown. I currently handle HR – The admin side, travel and logistics, and learning and development. We also provide a hot lunch for employees every single day so I handle that as well.
Now that the company is multinational, we travel a lot across the globe. If someone loses their passport in West Africa for example, , my team and I have to figure out how to get them back into country (which has happened before!)
In HR, you look at where the issue is and think – where do I come into fix it?
What have been your biggest challenges in your role?
How did I get to where I am today? Blood sweat and tears. Sometimes you have to do tough things, and sometimes fun things. You need to find the perfect balance. But in HR, it will always be a challenge. Not everyone will appreciate the tough side or soft side.
As HR Manager, you need to make sure the interests of the organization and the people who work there are taken care of. The objectives of company and of individuals are usually aligned on , but when there is a conflict of interest , HR gets stuck in the middle.
There is a saying – When 2 elephants fight, the grass suffers. I find that HR is like the grass a lot of the time.
A lot of times management will have the impression that HR is too soft on issues and employees will have the impression that HR is always on the side of management. You have to strike the perfect balance and the decisions will not always be popular.
What solution did you come up with to fix this problem?
My team is brilliant, so we came up with various initiatives. One such initiative is called Thank you Thursday. On Thursday, we choose one person in a team and send them a thank you email – thank you for coming to work today, thank you for smiling, thank you for your contribution. It’s not always the expensive things that matter. Sometimes it’s just recognizing someone right where they are and acknowledging what they give to the organization daily.
Or “Sticky Me” – With this activity, everyone takes a sticky note and you write someone’s name on the sticky note. Then, everyone in the department needs to write something positive – even one word – about that person. So you hang that up and look at it when you’re having a bad day.
We did it with our department, then we did it with the founders – and they were floored.
So it seems like Mode has grown from small company to large and you have been there to witness all the changes.
Absolutely. Initially, Mode 4 yers ago had more of a family feel. If one person was bereaved, we travelled as a team – the whole organization to go and comfort them. Coming from 35 to 168 – that was hard. As we grow, we won’t always know each other’s names and faces – that comes with growth..
The question is – How do we get that back? It has been a challenge. We don’t want to go back to years ago and little structure. But as we grow, there are certain things we want to keep.
Most importantly, we want everyone to feel like they are a core part of the companyand pitch in together so they would feel like they are a part of it and their ideas are valid.
What does the selection process look like for you?
Recruitment for us is quite intense because we have a good working module. We can cut and paste our hiring system into another country now and it would work as long as due process is followed. But sometimes, that process is too slow for stakeholders. This is because of the dnamic nature of both the company and the tech space in which we play.
What do you look for when hiring?
I look for attitude, willingness to learn, and, this may sound strange – but willing ness to fail. For me, a good leader should be able to make mistakes, own them, and learn from them and then succeed out of your failures. I personally believe that you are only as strong as your weakest link and if one of us fails, , we all fail.
I tell my team – I will cover you and your mistakes to heaven and back. But once I’m done, I will look at the situation, pick it apart with you, and build you back up. When I’m done taking the heat for you and covering you as your leader, you should also be able to take the heat and learn from it: because that’s the only way you will grow.
Also, I can’t deal with issues of dishonesty and integrity. Don’t tell me you can do something when you can’t. Integrity is really key. I guess it’s all about learning to manage expectations.
As we grow, I realize we are not going to get the same DNA in people. But we don’t need the same exact DNA – we need to work towards common goal with same attitude.
I understand that not everyone is invested at the same level: but while you are here, have fun, work hard and with integrity, work hard and have the right attitude. That’s how you will succeed.
Do you typically hire for attitude or skill set?
A mix of both.
For example, I have people who have come in at entry level positions (receptionists, drivers etc) whom I have personally mentored and the company ahs created the right environment and some of them are now managing their own departments . You need to be willing to learn and allow yourself to be taught
Skills can be learned. Too often, we focus too much on skills. I could learn how to be a coder today and make money out of it. I can do anything I want to do, if I want to.
I don’t necessarily have a love for finance, but I am willing to take courses because it will be helpful for my career.
You can take anyone anywhere and they can sink or swim depending on what they believe they can do.
I want the most amazing person to join the company. If they have the right skillset, that’s great. But if they have the right attitude, I can definitely work with that.
Do you have a way of looking at things that makes you great for HR?
I did an MBA in Global Tech Management and undergrad in International Relations and Diplomacy. I landed in HR and it fit me, so I started to catchup skills-wise. In HR, you have to be willing to see people as people. I think as HR professionals, we get jaded because it’s can be too much – there are too many people with too many demands, and it can wear on you.
It’s important to take a step back every so often and reflect in order to go back to seeing people as people – not employees. It’s hard because this isn’t my organization, and in HR, I have to cut costs, deliver, and make things work. But, the day I lose the people-side of things is the day I need to re-evaluate why I’m here (whether at MODE or elsewhere in HR).
Early on in my career, There was once I had to terminate an employee because they stole. For me it was horrible, but my boss told me something I will never forget – “the day you stop feeling something when you fire someone is the day you need to walk way.”
Do you have any advice to job seekers coming in for an interview?
Come prepared – read over your resume before you walk in. Maybe you are nervous and you will forget what is in it or maybe you had someone write it for you and you don’t know how they worded it.
When I ask if you have any questions for me, I want you to engage and help me easily understand why you want to work for me.
Be willing to start at the bottom and move up but also know your worth. For salary ranges, find out going market rate because that way you have something to say when an employer asks you what you are expecting.
Also come early and smile! It makes all the difference. If it’s an interview panel, you don’t need to know everyone’s name. But if you can connect with me I will remember you because you looked into my eyes and smiled.
What do you think your next career step is?
My goal this year is to focus on learning and development – developing people. We have policies and procedures set up so now we can focus on the people side of things.
I was at a Strathmore event the other day and one of the questions asked was so eye opening – it was how to be a trusted advisor to CEO or business. I felt like that question was preparing me for the next level in HR.
Number one is speaking the language. A CEO wants to know about dollars and cents. A good CEO cares about people but realistically speaking, the numbers have got to make sense as well..
CEOs want to know that I understand business speak so if they were to put me on a board, I wouldn’t just be talking about the people, but also talk about the money we are generating to take care of people.
That message – that there is a certain language you need to speak to be relevant was so powerful to me.
A wise man once told me – “The way to make yourself relevant is to create the need and then fill it.”
Too often, we are looking for something to fill. Make yourself indispensable and don’t wait for people to hand it to you.
Thank you so much, Beverly, for your wonderful insights! Your story is so applicable to so many people, and I personally learned so much from our conversation.
I think for people going into HR, you need to think about the size of the organizations you are applying to. If you are looking for a role in a new company, understand that you will most likely be establishing all the HR systems and will have to do a bit of cleanup from previous months. If you are interested in joining a larger company, your role will expand to cover many different areas. Most likely you will wear many hats.
If you are the HR Manager, you will coordinate all those separate departments eg. travel, compliance, etc. If you are not in the management, you will probably specialize in one of those departments, and get little exposure to other aspects.
For people applying to jobs and want to understand how to improve your job interview, I think the tips are very apparent.
1- Make sure your profile on Duma Works is complete so we can match you to jobs that fit your qualifications
2- If you like what you’ve just read, make sure to subscribe to our blog to stay up to date with our new posts
3- If you haven’t read our post about how to move from Intern to Manager in under 1 year, you should check it out!
4- If there is anything you think we missed, or any other questions you still have, make sure to leave us a comment and we will respond right away!
Posted in Career Builder Tags: Career Advice, DUMA Works, Get a Job, HR, HR Jobs, Interview Help, job, Jobs Kenya, Kenya