How I rose from secretary to head of operations

 What does it mean to start your journey at the bottom of the career ladder and work your way up? Joanne Kabiru, Head of Operations with a leading investment bank in Kenya was recently headhunted from a competitor bank and as she tells it, she knows all too well what it means to start at the bottom. “All these successful people you see around started somewhere” she says.

What was your first job and how much were you earning then? I worked all through my four years in campus (BSc in Mathematics and Computer Science -Catholic University). I started off as a mere secretary where I would be tasked to errands such as cooking and serving tea. Then for two years I worked as a research assistant and lastly in my final year I got an internship with a leading cement manufacturing firm. I, however, got my first ‘real’ job after campus as an IT Assistant through a leading recruitment firm. My salary at the time was Ksh20,000.

What’s the worst career mistake you’ve ever committed? I am an open person and sometimes I think I tend to share too much. In the past, I have made the mistake of over-sharing my personal life at the workplace. It goes with the territory and unfortunately you find that you shared information with people who can’t wait to spread it around. Lesson learnt though; keep personal life private and even when you have to share, be selective on whom you share it with.

What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received? (Thinks) Don’t be too picky on your first job. Unless you have a god father in high places or come from an affluent family, you can’t afford to have “I need a 50K job” mentality; you have to start somewhere just like everybody else. Also, it’s important to align yourself with people who can push you out of your comfort zone.

Why do you think you’ve been successful in your career? I do work hard. At the end, employers can’t pay you enough. I live by the mantra of whatever you do, do it well. Be on time. Be a model and steer clear off office politics. Or as Martin Luther King put it, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry…..” Sometimes you won’t even like your current job but you have to do it with integrity.

What are your future career plans? Five years from now I want to be a chief executive of a stock brokerage firm and still continue coaching people on their personal finances.

What’s your advice to young job seekers in Kenya? One, use your networks wisely. In essence, use what you have (networks) to get what you want. Two, volunteer. It doesn’t pay much but it gives you the much needed experience. Three, push yourself. Do things that you are afraid of. That’s the only way to grow out of your comfort zone.

Do you have a career journey to share? Get in touch with [email protected] or visit www.careerpointkenya.co.ke


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