A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

Series: Diary of A Reluctant Immigrant Part IV
By Muntu Chikondi

Older Series:
Series: Diary of A Reluctant Immigrant: Part I

Series: Diary of A Reluctant Immigrant: Part II

Series: Diary of A Reluctant Immigrant: Part III

The latter lesson I learned was that simply being an African immigrant meant that my previous work experience was close to worthless without the assistance of the social network that I had in Zambia, or the âgoodwillâ that I had built up during my career there. I was several months into my first job before I realised and accepted that this was really how things were.

Some may think my approach to job hunting is slightly unconventional - putting an advert on a website that advertises just about everything, and hoping to get lucky is not exactly the way most people would go about looking for employment.Ã'  To be honest, I had simply never really looked for work before. Every summer, as far back as summer holidays, I had interned for the same company in Zambia for a pittance.Ã'  However, the sacrifice of my potentially wild summer living and financially more viable employment paid off when, on my graduation from university, they were kind enough to offer me a temporary job and the promise to allow me to try for their graduate scheme once the recruitment process began.

Before I moved to London, I had one other real job which I had been invited to interview for; I suspect I got the job more because of my alleged good looks than anything else. The gentleman who ran the department had an appreciation for women who were easy on the eye and ear, though towards the end of my tenure in his employ I suspect I was not the latter.

However, during my time in Zambia, I was happy to spend my days working as hard as I could and as many of my nights partying as I could muster the energy for.Ã'  For the first few years of my Zambia existence, I had enough money to go out, or stay in, to have dinner with my girlfriends anytime I wanted, buy myself nice things and generally have the benefit of being young, free, and somewhat single.Ã'  I lived with my parents and sisters and really enjoyed my life, even sans Mr. Doright.

And then as girls sometimes do, I decided to dive into a relationship that started as a fairytale and ended as a minor nightmare. After several months of soul searching and self flagellation, I decided, or rather my mother and I decided that it was time for a change.Ã'  I donât think either of us really knew what this would mean for my career or my secure, happy independence.

However, having put out a professional personal advert, I was surprised to receive several emails in response (emails are vetable and easily blockable; I wasnât crazy enough to give out my number on a public network). Ã' Several were interesting and I decided to reply to them.Ã'  Despite all this correspondence, only one email actually led to an interview.

I also looked at the job section in a free magazine aimed at Australians, New Zealanders, and South Africans.Ã'  Once, thinking I had struck gold, I found an advert for a job that promised a fast track route to a management position.Ã'  It sounded too good to be true and it turned out to be.Ã'  It was a door to door sales job that involved trekking through high streets in different London boroughs and going into every business attempting to sell.Ã'  I had not realised that the interview process would involve walking up and down the street from eight to five oâclock, while I wore high heels.Ã'  The resulting discomfort meant that I lost interest soon after we began our walk up the street, even contemplating giving the group the slip.Ã'  I did, however, stay with them and at the end of the day was formally interviewed by one of the managers, who had supposedly started as a door to door sales person.Ã'  We were interviewed after our instructor had been debriefed - it would seem she was telling them who she thought would make it in the tough world of door to door sales.Ã'  I was shocked she thought I would make it given the fact that, unlike the other members of the group, I made no attempt to sell anything during our time together.Ã' 

Later that evening, I was shocked to find myself accepting the job when it was offered to me, though to be honest, I was just happy to be wanted.Ã'  I, off course, had no intention of taking it, having had a dayâs work experience. I did not turn up for work on Monday as expected.Ã'  Later I heard that they were used to this as a rather high percentage of people had second thoughts about being door to door sales people once they slept over their decision.

I was not completely unconventional in my approach. I also registered with various recruitment agents.Ã'  Ã' Ã' I now call them demon spawn, due to their perception of me as a commodity; sorry but they are lower on the rungs of decency than estate agents, which is, in my opinion, quite close to single celled organisms, though that might be an insult to amoeba, which have done nothing to me. Despite a truck load of communication, only two agencies were willing to take me on and actively look for work for me.

At the beginning, having never dealt with agents, I thought they were actually interested in assisting me; how quickly I learned.Ã' Ã'  I did decide that I needed all the help I could get as I figured I should find a job, any job in order to leave the hostel, and went to several of the interviews they obtained for me in an attempt to achieve this. Some experiences were better than others.

One of the first interviews that the agents arranged for me was for a telesales job; I did not realise this until I got to the interview, having never encountered this kind of employment before, either as an employee or as a victim of their unsolicited calls. Ã' When I was a student in England the telesales industry was not as large and invasive as it is now and I was too busy skiving lecture to consider taking on any sort of employment.

I have nothing against telesales people; actually thatâs a lie, they come somewhere above estate agents with their unwelcome badgering. However, to be honest this is not what I envisioned for myself.Ã'  I perceived call centre work as a studentâs job and my perception was proved right at the interview, which was populated by students from Londonâs many universities.

It was a group interview (which I had never heard of or ever experienced before or ever again) and the process was complicated by the fact that one of my former (in)significant otherâs cousinsâ was one of the other interviewees (shockingly, given the scarcity of Zambians).Ã'  She, off course, neither knew who I was nor cared, but her presence completely unnerved me and made me realise that this was really not the place or job for me.Ã'  I was therefore, not sufficiently motivated to do anything meaningful at this particular interview.

Having been told that I was not getting the job, I found two fashionable and interesting ladies who had also not made the cut and we decided to venture into the nearest pub (thatâs a bar to you non UK dwellers.)Ã'  The closest one was adjacent to the tube station (how perfect is London?) and they had a special on - Ã' buy three glasses and get the bottle free, which off course led to an afternoon of slow intoxication.Ã' 

The only interview the agents arranged for a job I was even remotely interested in during this time was for an analyst.Ã'  It was covering maternity leave for a woman who worked at a government project designed to give children from underprivileged families a good educational start.Ã'  The interview was in two parts; the first part was a test of excel skills and the second was a formal interview.

I realised early on in the job searching experience that I greatly disliked formal interviews. I am very English in my perception of self promotion; I feel it is arrogant and showy and find it exceedingly vulgar. I also prefer not to reveal what I think is personal information to people with whom I am not acquainted, unless I am intoxicated, when I can be the hostess with the âmoistestâ, talking to all and sundry about myself. This reserve coupled with the previous personality trait poses a problem when I have to speak about my accomplishments in interviews.Ã'  Unfortunately, I have still not learned how to do it.Ã'  Needless to say I did not get to cover the analystâs job; my recruitment agents feedback being that I was not seen to be very confident as I was reluctant to speak about my abilities and achievements.

The other recruitment agent seemed determined to get me into telesales and sent me to another interview.Ã'  I was trying to work out what exactly I was being asked to do when I realised it was simply to call up people (mostly the elderly) and tell them that they had shares that they had either forgotten about orÃ'  thought they had lost when companies merged or were acquired by other companies.Ã'  The gentleman interviewing me attempted to sex up the job but it was essentially a telesales job; it involved calling people to harass them into doing something they had not planned to before they spoke to you, though granted this was something that really did benefit them.

I was late for this interview, having decided to walk from the hostel, as it was quite close, though I only realised this once I had left the company that I was to take up employment with.Ã'  It was a lovely summer day and I walked to the interview in my high heels, which was obviously unwise. I was however, unaccustomed to wearing anything else when I donned my work outfits and did not think to change my dressing with my change in location. Even more unwise was not printing out a map to the location, which resulted in my getting lost; I had to call the recruitment agent twice before I found the place, which was inconveniently situated in a back street.Ã'  Despite my tardiness, I actually got the job, even managing to dictate the start time of the training.

I needed to ensure that the training started as late as possible as I had the second interview with the only person who had actually read my CV, though I now suspect he misinterpreted it.Ã'  The company was a start up personal insolvency business and my interviewer was one of the founders and very passionate about the venture.Ã'  He outlined the processes involved in minute detail and the interview took almost two hours. He was quite young and handsome in that Hugh Grant English sort of way; I believe he would be referred to as foppish if he was to be described in a Jane Austen novel.Ã'  He was also the first person who had interviewed me who appeared as nervous as (if not more than) I was; his hands were shaking as he drew organisation charts and process flow charts on a near by white board.

I thought the interview had gone very well and was slightly surprised and disappointed when he did not call or email me (I later learned that he was simply disorganised and forgetful.)Ã'  So a week later, on my way to my second telesales interview, I phoned him.Ã'  He hummed and âaarhâedâ and asked me to come in the next day to meet one of the other partners at nine in the morning.Ã'  Hence my reluctance to start my telesales job training at nine in the morning.Ã'  I met one of the other shareholders, who was an altogether more believable partner. After this meeting, I was asked to start the next Monday as they needed my services as soon as possible. I off course phoned my recruitment agent and did not go back to the telesales job, though taking it would have saved me the extortionate London transport costs that travelling to this particular job was going to cost me.

And now I need to open a bank account; but that is off course is a story to be told another time.