Dear Recruiter/Future Employer,
I sincerely hope that you are well and that my letter helps you understand me as a candidate a little more before you skip ahead to the next, I’m sure, equally-deserving candidate’s application.
I received a call from a company last Friday and they were wondering if I was available to do an interview on Monday, today. The caller mentioned something on the lines of finding my CV and contact details on AngelList. I figured it must have been from a few months ago but anyway, I agreed because I can’t see any downsides to taking interviews — you can only get better the more you practice right? Well, that’s what I think anyway, I may be wrong.
So, I had the interview today and it went well- again, in my opinion. Though, during the course of the interview, for the first time ever, the interviewer actually voiced a thought that I know every recruiter or interviewer who has ever looked at my resume, has thought about. I know this because the thought has haunted me for years and I have worked hard to rectify it. The man said, “You have done quite a lot. It looks like you were finding yourself or something. Have you finally settled on something?” He won my admiration for asking this question because he wanted to understand and did not seem interested in jumping to any conclusions about me or my capabilities as a Product Manager. So, I explained to him in the most succinct way I could while in an interview.
Notwithstanding, I believe I have to come clean to you in advance in more detail and set the record straight just in case you happen to be one of the many people who will see my CV and wonder with curiosity and amusement, “What’s up with this candidate’s seemingly random work experience? Am I supposed to take her seriously?” The answer is a resounding “YES” and that is because there is more to my work experience than meets the eye and as cliché as this might sound, the cumulation of my experiences have made me the well-rounded individual that I am today. Here’s what’s between the lines:
- Why didn’t I choose a career in Accounting or Finance?
As much as I have grown to love Finance, I really do not like accounting. Regardless, it’s not a subject I actually consciously chose. It was a path that was chosen for me. You would not understand this unless you are Nigerian or come from a country where the parents play a significant role in the lives of their children especially in terms of their careers. Anyway, after my Masters programme, I decided I had gotten the degree and the knowledge but in terms of building a career, this just did not seem like a great fit for some absurd reason. I would have done great but it just was not me.
2. Why is my resume so laden with administrative roles?
Well, I moved back to Nigeria after university on election year on the heels of a recession (tough to the power 100). My parents wanted me to get a stable government job and I had come back and immediately registered for NYSC (it’s like mandatory industrial placement coupled with some military training). The role in which I was deployed to was, in some books, a prestigious one that people would kill for but it was an administrative role. Nobody tells you that once you start off your career in a certain role, it would take a great deal of effort to pivot especially in a country like Nigeria where underemployment and unemployment are the orders of the day and you have to be grateful that you even have a job especially one that pays enough for you to get by. It took me five years of conscious effort and fighting to pivot to anything- just anything that wasn’t a painfully routine desk job pushing paper and getting paid good money whether you exercise a brain muscle or not- and that’s how I discovered the world of tech.
I was referred an Executive assistant role at a company that seemed vaguely familiar but it was a stark contrast from my job at the time at a federal government agency — which I loved but I found intellectually numbing- I craved some excitement, something creative that’d keep me on my toes always and was far from routine. I jumped at this role even if it meant that I’d relocate to another city. Thankfully, I got in and right from day one, I knew that I was where I was supposed to be which at the time for me seemed like it was the company itself but over time, as things became clearer, I knew that it was software technology. It was at that point that it dawned on me that I could be more but only if I pushed myself hard enough out of my comfort zone.
So, I made it a point of duty to learn about every role that was connected to my bosses at the time- Marketing and Sales and figure out how to wriggle my way out of the EA hole. Luckily for me, my bosses Alexa and Chris would ask about my plans to transition into other roles in the future and that gave me the boost of confidence I needed. Being a remote EA became increasingly difficult and one of my bosses decided they could not deal with the long distance. Of course, I saw that as my opportunity to transition within the company. I interviewed for several roles, spoke with every team lead in the Lagos Office and I finally found some work I could help with in Marketing. It was events marketing and digital marketing which I was pretty great at until I was made redundant in March 2019.
It was a huge blow to me because I was dreading going back into the job market as an EA- I mean, let’s face it, I had years of experience as an administrative personnel and a few months as a Marketing Associate. The job market is not that generous with opportunities but I had tasted of the forbidden fruit and there was no going back.
3. How and Why did I zero in on Product Management and UI/UX design?
In 2018, My former boss, Alexa, probably did not realize it at the time but she introduced me to UI/UX design when we were discussing website design options in one of our external meetings. She mentioned that she used an app called Marvel to design wireframes and I’d never heard of neither the term nor the app so I went a-googling! I designed my first wireframe that day using Marvel. You guessed right — it was absolutely terrible but I loved it! Subsequently, I bugged the only Product Designer at the company at the time, every chance I got to pick his brain.
Product management came as a suggestion from a friend and former colleague at Andela who I was trying to build a startup with. I had been nursing my health for about 5 months at the time when he called me and said, “Uchenna, have you ever heard about Product Management? It’s basically what you used to do for us at startup x. I think you should just make it official and sign up for a course but just read up on it first”. I was excited, googled it and it finally made sense that the things I enjoyed doing were an actual field called ‘Product Management’. Finally, I could pivot to a role that I enjoy, that’s in tech and I could do remotely even when having a flare-up. It was perfect! UI/UX happened to be a module within the PM course I took at Utiva and it was very interesting that that seemingly random statement by my previous boss had prepared me for this- at least I knew what it was, I could talk about Marvel!
In conclusion, I believe in the interconnectivity of things. My job working with pensioners as a Data entry operator definitely prepared me for my job at Andela because I was able to interact and relate with so many people there who I’m still in touch with. If I was closed-off I would not have met Ade who told me about Product Management. If I wasn’t a curious cat from my work as an Economic Analyst, I would not have known about UI/UX or even had the fundamental skills required to learn or use the tools I have used during my 2 years in tech. If I did not have people skills or communication skills, I would not have ever met or discussed with my two former colleagues at Andela who I’m currently working for at Alta Labs and Payfi. If I didn’t work as a Product Manager at Alta Labs, I wouldn’t have been able to have technical conversations with my clients as a Freelance UI/UX designer.
My path to Product Management has neither been conventional, smooth nor straight but I have learned a million lessons on my journey here that have made me into the great Product Manager that I am even though I am far from being the best that I can be. Now, I can answer the 5-year plan question in an interview with all certainty and say, “Yes, I have settled on Product Management and I see myself being a Senior Product Manager in a company that I love- where I fit in and my values align- a place with genuinely great people, brilliant minds, a passion for design, managing a team that comprises of 50+ people.” Product Management and UI/UX design are paths that I CHOSE — they were not chosen for me by my parents, job vacancies, unemployment or society’s expectations. I naturally gravitated towards them like a paper clip to magnet and it is the most exhilarating feeling in the world to choose, love and enjoy what you do.
Thanks for considering me and I hope that you see now that there is more to a person’s resume than meets the eye. Sometimes, like in my case, the randomness of the experience is not as a result of a lack of focus by the individual but more as a result of availability of opportunity, hard work, laser focus, determination and persistence to reach one’s true potential.
I hope you stay safe.
Uchenna Angel Kalu-Uduma