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Uganda’s job market: It’s about who you know!

Brian Mukalazi

Uganda’s job market: It’s about who you know!

Uganda Airlines CEO Jennifer Bamuturaki and COSASE Chair Joel Ssenyonyi

I am quite sure that many of our readers have heard of this popular adage: “It’s who you know, not what you know”. In Uganda, you don’t not need to have the greatest skills, talents, or brains to get hired in the job market. It’s mostly a matter of being in the right place at the right time and saying the right things to the right people.

Every day offers evidence of this thesis and it is one of the hardcore realities of our adult lives. Almost every day, I hear of someone being selected for a job because s/he was recommended by a powerful friend of the boss. Others are simply liked by the person who has the authority to promote and are given the jobs.

I know of a Ugandan executive who was recently made the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for one of the major government parastatals but to everyone’s surprise, she had neither applied for the job nor did she possess the minimum academic requirements.

Have you ever asked yourself: why do some people shoot straight up to the top while others instead languish in the unending morass of unemployment or lower management? Well, the real answer lies in the strength of somebody’s networks and connections.

There are plenty of smart people out there, with the abilities necessary to deliver the greatest results in a workplace. But sadly, those things don’t really matter when you’re not well connected. You can get way further with who you know as opposed to what you know.

In these difficult times, job search is one of those real-world concerns of everyday life that no university degree or textbook can prepare you for. Job search and its related unwritten rules should perhaps be added in all programs pursued at institutions of higher learning in Uganda. Graduates will need to combine capabilities with other things such as know-who.

Normally, before somebody is hired for a job, at any level, s/he should be adequately assessed and of course, subjected to some tests. Key among those tests should be enquiries regarding their integrity, intelligence and maturity.

Employers should hire people with integrity. People with integrity tell the truth, and they keep their word. They take responsibility for past actions, admit mistakes, and fix them. They know the laws of the country, sector, and company and abide by them. They play to win the right way, by the rules.

But how can you test for integrity? According to Jack Welch, in his book Winning: “If a candidate comes from inside your company, that’s pretty easy. You’ve seen him or her in action or know someone who has. From the outside, you need to rely on reputation and reference checks”.

The test for intelligence should not mean that a person must have read Shakespeare or can solve complex physics problems. Also, having a degree in Social Work and Social Administration doesn’t really mean that somebody is intellectually inferior.

But the candidate must possess a strong dose of intellectual curiosity, with a breadth of knowledge to work with or lead other smart people in today’s complex business world. We should not confuse education with intelligence.

A lot of people actually confuse education with intelligence. I had a similar view in the past but with experience, I have met a lot of smart, intelligent people coming from every kind of school and sometimes no school at all. A candidate’s education is only a piece of the picture, especially when it comes to intelligence.

Another important ticket into a job is maturity. You can, by the way, be mature at any age, and immature too. Regardless, there are certain traits that seem to indicate a person has grown up: the individual can withstand the heat, handle stress and setbacks, and, alternatively, when those wonderful moments arise, enjoy success with equal parts of joy and humility.

Mature people are confident, respect the emotions of others and are not arrogant. But as with integrity, there is no real test for maturity. You still have to rely on reference checks, reputation, and gut feelings.

But with all that being said, I have met dozens of people who simply attribute their work success to ‘luck’ and I believe there’s also some truth in that. All careers, no matter how scripted they appear, are shaped by some element of pure chance. Sometimes a person just happens to be in the right place at the right time when the career door swings open.

Here’s some advice to job-seekers: you need to grow your networks, with people within your organization, industry and externally. The larger your network, the more access to opportunities you have.

Be part of social events. Take advantage of social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) to engage and connect with individuals that matter. Be result-oriented in whatever you do because the best way to get noticed is with results.

Last one: qualifications, capabilities and talents are great to have – and should be celebrated – but they are not enough to get you a job or promotion. They can get you at the door, but not in the room. And oh! I almost forgot: congratulations to Jenifer Bamuturaki on her recent appointment as the Uganda Airlines CEO!

Mr. Mukalazi is a Ugandan Executive and Socio-Economic Thinker



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