How to Go from Intern to Manager in Under One Year

  Arielle Sandor wrote this on
June 23, 2015 | 15 Comments

Elizabeth tells Duma Works how to get an internship in Nairobi and how she became a manager in under one year. If you want to know how to get a promotion and be indispensable as an employee, read this.

This week with the Duma Works WHAT IT TAKES blog series…

We bring you a very interesting story about someone who was connected to a 3 month internship through Duma Works and who then found herself in a management role just a few months later.

This extraordinary person is Elizabeth Karuru and she is the Artist Relations and Communications Manager in charge of Uganda and South Africa for Mdundo.com

Mdundo.com is an online music distribution platform aiming at making music distribution easy, transparent, and beneficial for both musicians and fans. They are one of the startups in Kenya funded and based out of the Startup Garage on Ngong Rd. Founded in 2012, Mdundo got its start with 10 Kenyan musicians; Nazizi, Collo, P-Unit, Jua Cali, Mejja, Alpha Msanii, Juliani, Mbuvi, Alice Kamande and Octopizzo. Only 1 month later, in December, Mdundo launched the service officially after establishing its first corporate partnership with Airtel Kenya.

Let’s hear what Liz has to say about her career journey and how she had WHAT IT TAKES to go from intern to manager in such a short period of time.

Main take-aways:

  • As an intern, you need to be ready to do whatever work is given to you – and to be able to approach the challenge with a smile
  • In a startup environment, the best approach to take with your project is to test-validate-reflect-renovate…and test again. The worst thing to do is run out of ideas
  • Being honest in your interview is so important – you don’t need to use big words and try to be impressive. Just explain what you like and why you will add value to the company
  • Working at a company with similar personality types does help. Even when you are being interviewed, you can probably begin to understand what the company “personality” and culture are like
  • If you want to become a manager, you need to prove that you will be able to take responsibility for coordinating an entire project and being accountable
  • “If you are ready to work, everything else falls into place”

So Liz, tell me about your career path so far.

I don’t have a very long story. This is my first permanent job. It was heading towards June – and I had a long holiday.

This job came about as an internship. I started for 3 months without a promise for a permanent job, but I needed something to keep me busy so that was ok.

Then, when the internship was over, to my surprise I wound up being given a permanent job on permanent contract.

In terms of different experiences at Mdundo – I was in the communications team to start. Now, I am the artist relations and communications manager in charge of Uganda and South Africa.

What did you study?

I studied psychology in school and got a Bachelors of the Arts in Psychology.

Did you have any other internships before this one?

I did front office work a way long time ago in 2012.

What were you expecting to go into when doing your course?

From a long time ago, I knew that as much as I was doing psychology, I wasn’t doing it to practice as a psychologist.

I loved what I learned but I wasn’t inclined to be a doctor. So I knew I was studying psychology for a business purpose that would be a stepping stone for a business post-graduate. I did it because it was different too – not many people were studying psychology. I thought that would give me an advantage in business as well.

How did you connect to internship at Mdundo?

When I was still in session in Feb 2014 in school, I just went to the career fair and found the Duma Works tent. Someone told us to sign up. We weren’t sure why this site was different from other job boards, but we figured we would try it – the person told us Duma Works looks at interests of job seekers and matches them to the employer. So I just signed up and forgot about it.

Then, in June, I got a text message from Duma Works that Mdundo.com is looking for an intern for 3 months and that I should reply with this code.

So at that point, I wasn’t really looking for a job because I was on holiday but like I said, I figured I would see how it goes. I followed up, sent the code back over SMS. Then, I was told I qualified the following day and that I should expect a call from the COO of Mdundo.

I went into the interview which went well and I was one of 10 people who were picked.

Elizabeth tells Duma Works how to get an internship in Nairobi and how she became a manager in under one year. If you want to know how to get a promotion and be indispensable as an employee, read this.

Photo credit: Mdundo Facebook Page

What did you do right in interview that set you aside?

I think the thing which gave me marks was my honesty. I was not trying hard to impress. Because actually I came for the interview at 5 in evening. The day was already over. I was just honest. I didn’t overthink the questions or try to come up with an impressive answer. I didn’t make him think I was trying hard to impress him.

The whole time I talked about my opinions and interests and how it would add to the company.

I knew that DUMA has matched me and because DUMA matches people based on their interests. I figured I would just stay true to what I know, and went from there. Honesty and openness made the conversation good. Even when I was talking to the COO, I didn’t feel the need to over talk or over compensate. I just went all out, told him about what I do, what I’ve learned, and how I would feel about working in that position and that went well.

Why do you think you were successful intern?

I was ready to work no matter what and I came with a very open mind. I didn’t have a certain perspective – a bias. I didn’t have anything in my mind that would prevent me from working. I figured I could do anything as long as I set my mind to it.

I would just do whatever I’m told because it would make me an easier employee to work with since management knew they could depend on me to do anything.

Also because Mdundo is made up of people who are outgoing, loud, and easy going. That helped because that’s basically my personality – I’m easy going, I laugh a lot, I’m open and I tell a lot of stories. So that really helped me because I share a personality type with a lot of the people on the team.

The fact I was ready to work in anything – that worked well for me. That’s why I got a permanent contract in the job.

What skills have you gotten on the job?

Number one is that I have learned market research. When I was doing my internship with Mdundo, I was only working in Kenya. But when I began in Uganda, I had to start from scratch. I had to look for clients without being on the ground. I had to do online communication, research, and reaching out via cold calls.

Market research was something I had never done before.

Another thing was communication – I am the voice of the company to the artists. I need to communicate in a way to entice them to give us their product without us paying a lot for it. I have to phrase it in a way to make them realize they are not doing a lot or using a lot of their resources.

For my job, I also need a lot of patience – I am dealing with people who are learned and not learned. Even annoying clients – you have to be cool the whole time and keep them happy. Patience is a good skill that I have learned. I never thought I could have so much patience.

I also have learned that if I don’t rely on others for help, I won’t be able to grow at all. I need to be able to talk to colleagues and see where I can learn things and improve myself.

Those are the major traits I have learned at Mdundo that I didn’t have before. But I am learning all the time. We are a startup at the end of the day, so it’s about building ourselves and the company at the same time.

How did you teach yourself market research?

Every country has a different entertainment industry. There are publicists that have different ways of doing things. The number 1 thing for me to do is learn about the entertainment industry in a new country and figure out how it works. I look at how artists record, how they are represented. If an artist wants to sign up for Mdundo but manager won’t allow, I can’t do anything. So I need to understand that set up to figure out who to talk to and what to say to them.

Understanding the entertainment market then helps me understand who I should be approaching – should it be a promoter that signs up a bunch of artists up or the artists themselves.

Once I learn that, I send those people emails to set up a call or skype. Sometimes to get their attention, we go big on social media – do a lot of Facebooking and social media until we have caught the attention of the artist.

Once we get their attention, then we can do calls.

I find sending an email first shows formality, even if I follow it up with a big Facebook campaign. So that works best. Then, we hopefully get a contract and the artist brings their music to Mdundo!

Do you do the social media campaigns?

Yes, if it’s from yourself as an individual, you can. But we also have a social media person who takes care of Mdundo social site. But when he is busy, we have to do it ourselves.

Mdundo Music Awards - Mdundo is where Liz got her internship and where she now has a job as an artists relations and communications manager in Nairobi

Photo Credit: Mdundo Facebook Page

Has moving from entry level to manager changed your way of looking at things?

In entry level, instructions are being shown to us. But now at this level, I am making decisions and giving instructions to other people. I come up with ideas that I ask other people to sign off on going ahead.

As a manager, you have to become more involved in decision making and understand or plan every aspect of every project that is going on.

The targets are yours now. You are answerable to targets not met or why a project is not working.

That really keeps you on your toes more than entry level. You are responsible not just for that single task, but the overall project.

How do you organize yourself to hit these targets?

Considering it’s a startup, we don’t have specific ways of working – every day is a new idea. So, one of the things which has made me more organized is thinking about needing a new idea at the end of each day. The way I think about it is – if this doesn’t work – we try this, and so on.

I always have to think of a backup idea, and then another backup, and another.

“If something is not working right, there needs to be another thing I can start working on. That puts me in a good place because I don’t wallow in something not going right. I always have a plan B.”

The other thing is I kind of talk. I don’t just sit down with my ideas, I am good at approaching other people to brainstorm and see what they have to say. So considering there are three of us with different countries outside of Kenya, we always share ideas. When we hit a wall, we always talk. If I’m running out of ideas, everyone can give you ideas and say – try this from this dimension, or this dimension.

That put me in a good place because I don’t run out of ideas. Talking to other people helps me prioritize what I am supposed to do and to understand what action needs to be done. I can tell my assistant – Try this, and if it works in this country, apply it to this other country. If it doesn’t work, try something else.

My biggest belief is in trial and error. If it works- amazing. If not, move on and try something else.

Do you have any advice to job seekers who are looking for internships right out of school?

Don’t be choosy about the task you want to do. Be ready to work.

I know that it is kind of hard to get a job at a position advertised because usually someone wants an experienced employee.

At school, we are not told to be humble but you really need to be. Understand that you will start at the bottom and then you will get the promotion you need. You need to be able to work no matter what the task is given. Don’t choose. Just do what you need to do.

And if you can’t do what your manager wants you to – speak out. Say it’s not attainable because of a certain thing. But if you can do it, just do it. That makes you a good employee because the company will know you are someone they can work with.

If you are ready to work, everything else falls into place.

Elizabeth tells Duma Works how to get an internship in Nairobi and how she became a manager in under one year. If you want to know how to get a promotion and be indispensable as an employee, read this.


Thank you so much, Liz! What a great insight into your journey from intern to full time manager.

I think the biggest take away is Liz’ last line – “If you are ready to work, everything else falls into place.” I would also add that if you BELIEVE you can do the work, everything else falls into place. What I’ve seen is that often people imagine that a project is so daunting and mysterious. They don’t believe they can accomplish such a big thing so they don’t even get started.

A project is just a series of tasks that need to be done and learned from. If you can and are willing to just put one foot in front of another, you will succeed. It is simply a matter of believing you can do it, and following through.

I hope you’ve learned something from this interview, and I’m so glad you got to hear an awesome Duma Works job seeker success story!

Here’s what you should do next:

1- If you liked this post, check out last week’s Duma Works interview about what it takes to get a job in animation, with Point Blank

2- Make sure to tell us all about your professional skills on Duma Works so we can connect you to jobs that fit your interests!

3- Share this article with your friends! It’s so easy. Just highlight the text on the blog and it will automatically share the quote on Facebook or Twitter – Cool, right?

4- Comment in the comments section below to let me know if I missed anything or if there is another topic you would like to learn about

See you next week!


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