Everyone that comes abroad has a story; this is part of mine.
When you first come abroad, what do you expect? Stable electricity? Roads with no pot holes? These are realistic expectations. Do you expect to attain good employment with no hassle? Well, my answer to this question before I left Nigeria was ‘yes.’
I came to the UK at a young age (approx. 18 years) with the mindset that I could easily get any job. I mean I was a hard worker and always had good grades (like hot brains or what!). However, I was about to be thoroughly disappointed and the next few years became some of the toughest years of my life. I mean job hunting is a game; first class and good grades can only go as far as landing you an interview in a relevant field. It was a steep learning curve for me and it happened slowly because I had never worked in Nigeria, talk less of coming to a foreign land to hustle. I didn’t get a lot of guidance and as at then, I knew the phrase 419 in Nigerian context but didn’t know it existed abroad too.
Several factors worked against me. The biggest was location. A large city like London or Lagos will have more employment opportunities than a rural area. The area where I first lived was more like a village which had little job opportunities making competition for employment fiercer. Let’s not forget my strong Nigerian accent and my dark milk chocolate skin which was a strong contrast to the white milk chocolate skin around me. But God has his ways; he is a strategic God and at this point in my life, I understood the importance of wisdom.
Enough talk. Now to the story.
First Vacation 2010
It all started during my first summer vacation. I was in a Ghanaian University and had my vacation in the UK. Resting was far from me as my mum was seriously hustling and I felt I needed to support. I didn’t feel comfortable and productive sitting home and doing nothing so job hunting started. I had a three month vacation so I thought I could get some Administrative or Accounting jobs to do within that time. I approached the search like some Don; like I could easily get what I wanted. Contrary to this, I got either rejections or no replies. Reality dawned on me. So what was the problem? No experience! From the replies I got, I figured this out. I turned my focus to cleaning and menial jobs.
Even with the cleaning jobs, experience was required. I applied for and got a few temporary jobs which I eventually added to my CV. Subsequently, I was able to get a better housekeeping job in a resort. These were like apartment hotels (aparthotels) with minimum two rooms, a sitting room and a kitchen. We had a set no of aparthotels to clean in day and even if they were dirtier than usual, it was no excuse to slack. I also got a job in Sainsbury’s (whom I eventually worked for after graduating but I’ll get to that later). I was tasked with picking and packing orders for online customers. I also trained on Checkouts for like two hours during my induction which worked to my advantage sometime in the future. After the vacation was over, I felt like a conqueror. I went back to University for third year and phase one was over.
Second Vacation 2011
During my next summer vacation, I felt I had better knowledge of the UK job market than I did the previous year based on my little experience. After all the numerous job applications, I finally got a full time (Mon-Fri 40hrs/week) temporary housekeeping job more than 15 miles away cleaning a student accommodation. It was quite an experience – from removing mouldy food in the fridge to turning macho overnight in order to pull beds out to clean behind the beds. I also got a job cleaning at a pub/bar working Saturday and Sunday morning. From cleaning drunken vomit to nasty toilets, this was quite an experience too. Phewwww! I honestly have a high level of respect for cleaners. After all this hustle, I went back to University for my final year.
When going back to University after each vacation, I always went with bags of treats. People never knew how I came about the money to buy them. My lesson from this was to value what I was given.
After I graduated and fully moved back to the UK, I told myself it was time to move beyond cleaning jobs and asked God for direction and wisdom. I applied for Graduate jobs, Internships and even unpaid jobs but everything just went south. I felt like location wasn’t working to my advantage and after I briefly visited London, I considered moving but decided to wait for the right time. I got a bar/pub job serving customers at the bar and waiting tables. I wasn’t experienced at all but was keen on learning to the extent of studying the menu and offering to serve customers who ordered something different to what I knew. I eventually got fired from this job due to a change in my availability as I decided to do some courses that I felt were necessary and due to some poor rating given to the pub by a mystery shopper. Mistake I made was that I didn’t fully understand the requirements of the job (which was flexibility) due to desperation.
I didn’t let being fired stop me despite my fear that it could affect my job search. Sprees of job applications started again. On one special day, I was led to walk round the city centre going into every shop and store handing each of them a copy of my CV. I was fortunate that one of the retail stores called me about a week later for an interview and I was eventually hired on a permanent contract to work on the hot food counter. I worked with different types of cheese and hams and learnt to make ciabatta’s.
Following this, I was led to apply for a temporary night shift position in one of the branches of Sainsbury’s (whom I had worked for before). Notice how I used the sentence “I was led?” I was making certain moves and I didn’t understand why I was but my spirit kept telling me it was the right course of action. I believe that God was speaking to me. I left a permanent position to a temporary one, I took a risk, and I moved with faith; somehow I found favour in my Manager’s eyes and was given a permanent contract. This position was for replenishing shelves and dressing the sales floor. It was a night shift position working 9pm-7am and it was very physically demanding. In addition to doing this, I found a website that posts voluntary jobs and found a role for a Credit Controller. I applied and got it. This was my first job ever in the Accounting field. I was working the night shift, the voluntary job and taking about three courses at the same time to improve my employability. It was very overwhelming! Were the courses necessary? To be honest, I don’t know but its all part of the hustle.
At some point, I started looking for opportunities in London by way of an Internal transfer from one store to another but even this proved difficult as I was now looking more towards Office jobs within the store. My lack of experience was the problem. This time I was led to volunteer to train on other departments whether unpaid or paid to broaden my experience. I spoke with those in the HR department and Managers of some other departments and training was arranged for me.
While trying to move to London, I was also applying for Masters Scholarships. On one blessed morning, I received an email that I got a part scholarship to the University of Birmingham. Now, plans changed and I wanted to keep my job at Sainsbury’s as employment is hard to get so my next course of action was to apply to a store in Birmingham which had immediate vacancies as my course was due to begin in less than two months. There were no vacancies on the recruitment website and I was distraught. But one day I was led to proactively call stores in Birmingham; this course of action landed me an interview and thanks to God, a transfer. The job was for Checkouts, serving customers on the tills and providing customer service. During my interview, I made reference to having some exposure to working on Checkouts based on my two hour induction three years before. I believe I found favour in the eyes of the HR Manager because two hours experience isn’t enough to get a job.
On my first day at my new store, the Checkouts Manager had put me down to work. She was under the impression that I was fully trained and didn’t realise I needed a refresher training. I could tell she was gutted and had she conducted the interview, wouldn’t have hired me. Woah! I dodged a bullet there! God does work in mysterious ways! Also, the lady that conducted my interview had been transferred out of the store by the time I got there.
At some point in 2014, as all job search efforts proved futile and towards the end of the second semester in Birmingham, I was led to move to London so I applied for a transfer and for the role of a Payroll Assistant. I made reference to the training I volunteered to receive in one of my previous stores and how I would be an asset to the team as I was trained in multiple departments and could provide cover. I got the job and moved to London. Now this role was within Human Resources but was office based and involved gaining all the skills I needed for an Accounting role.
London 2014 till present
While in London, I worked in this role for the next 8 months. All this time, I didn’t relent in my search for an Accounting position. However, nothing was coming through. Discouraging, isn’t it? Even with the Masters!
One fine day, I was led to look through Arcadia’s website and came across Merchandising. Merchandisers plan the stock that sit on the shop floor. They analyse past sales, predict future sales, decide how much of a product to buy, how much will be displayed on the shop floor and the combination of products to put on a stand. It was a career path that required the same skills as an Accounting position and required someone with retail experience (my 2+ years in retail and office based experience had paid off). I checked the career website of other retailers and found it to be a role that every retailer was advertising for. I applied to a few and got the job at Debenhams Head Office after doing an assessment test, giving a presentation and going through the interview. This was a big turning point in my career as it was my first job in Head Office. I learnt a lot and after about a year plus, I felt it was time to try looking for an Accounting position.
The job search was unproductive as usual until I stumbled upon a one-man company that was willing to give me a chance. They were into wholesale and retail of shoes. Having the name Debenhams on my CV worked to my advantage and they liked my enthusiasm. I however had to accept a 17% pay cut and no benefits (price I had to pay for experience). I gained so much experience here – I did the bookkeeping, the administrative element, helped with customers and even cleaned the office. I also got an insight into the difficulty and risks involved in running a business.
I woke up one morning and was led to the website of my next employer Deloitte. I hadn’t dreamt about them or even thought about them. I had no idea how they popped in my head but like I said the spirit of God was moving. I applied for the job, did three interviews and one assessment test and got it. I was at the small company for three months.
As I worked in Deloitte, I gained more clarity on what I wanted out of my career. When you work in a big company, you’re more likely to become a Specialist due to how responsibilities are divided. I felt at the start of my career, it was best to be a Generalist in my field then in the future, look to specialising. I worked here for a year plus. It’s been interesting to see how different businesses are run. I made my most recent career move last year and now I’m working towards completing my Professional Accounting Exams in 2019 finally.
It took me 4 years after graduating to land a job in my field (2012 to 2016). In total I must have applied for 200+ jobs and gone for 100+ interviews. It’s been a hell of a journey but I’m grateful for where I am today. I’m no Director yet but I’m on my way to becoming one. I’m glad that I kept pushing and that I had God’s guidance. If you notice, most of my experiences were intertwined. Something I did e.g. two years ago, helped me in the current year. Some may ask why I didn’t start my own business, I believe the right time will come for this; if it’s written into my destiny, it will come to pass someday. Are you in this same position? Never give up! If you have to start small, do that but take a step, make a move. Let nothing be too small for you. If you’re a Christian, recall Zechariah 4:10 which states “do not despise small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin and finish (paraphrasing obviously).”
Trust me, I made lots of mistakes and remember when I mentioned scammed earlier? I will lay out some hilarious experiences and mistakes under “My Job Hustle diary” which I’ll publish over the next few weeks so watch out. Also keep an eye out for my list of job hunting tips and several other articles I intend to publish about career and job-hunting.
Thanks for reading and I hope you’ve been inspired. Again, if you’re in a similar situation, no matter what country you are, please don’t give up. Be patient!