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By Francis Ewherido

I gave a young man a link to apply for job recently and his first question threw me off balance. “How much are they paying fresh graduates, sir?” From shock, my countenance changed to anger, and then disappointment.

Focus

But I knew that if I reacted the way the man in me wanted to, nothing would be achieved from my efforts, so I yielded to the God in me. I suppressed my emotions and sat him down.

I explained to him that I know he needs money at this time to take care of his immediate needs.But I do not believe that salary should the priority of a young graduate looking for a job. There are more important criteria.

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In the 80s, when my friend and I were pounding the streets of Lagos, looking for jobs, we almost died of frustration. Everywhere we went to, where there was vacancy, they wanted somebody with experience. At a point, we screamed in exasperation, “How do we get the experience when nobody is willing to give us a chance?”

Till date I still believe that getting a workplace to acquire valuable experience is more important than your start-off salary. No young graduate should give up such an opportunity because of the size of the pay.

The other critical factor is for the new entrant to know what he wants on the long run. Is he looking for valuable experience so that he can go and start his own business, or he wants to build a career in paid employment? If he wants to acquire experience to enable him start his own business or practice, start-off salary is inconsequential.

In fact, he should even be prepared to work probono, provided he will get the much needed experience. Some of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria earning 10s of millions of Naira in legal fees today started off with salaries as little as N400 monthly, same with accountants and other professionals. But they persevered and hung around the establishments because they were getting valuable experience.Now they are reaping the rewards of the earlier sacrifice and perseverance.

If you want to remain in paid employment and build a career, start-off salary is also not important; experience is. As you progress, you need to move to a stable establishment (if where you are has no job security or progression on the long run), where there is job security so that you can work hard and smart and climb the ladder.

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A well-established company also means that when you retire, for example, 30 years later, you will be entitled to gratuity and pension. With a good retirement plan, your gratuity, pension and the investments you made over the years would ensure that you retire in relative financial comfort.

Young people need to be very careful; if not they will fall into the same hole many people before them fell into. One phenomenon that misled some young adults in the 90s was the emergence of literature on entrepreneurship, aka “sack your boss.”

Many people, who had no business with entrepreneurship, swallowed the messages hook, line and sinker. They sacked their bosses and became their own bosses. The outcome was financial struggles. They are still struggling.

In homes, where parents provide good mentorship, the parents will know the children who will strive as entrepreneurs and those who need to be in paid employment to strive.Such parental guidance was either not available or commonplace in those days.

Consequently, some young promising graduates, who had no business running a business or a private practice, branched out on their own. The smart ones among them realized their mistakes early and retraced their steps. Others did not and got stuck in a vicious cycle of financial instability and unfulfilment.

It is very painful when you see some former school mates or friends from the past looking unrecognizable today. Life has battered them. Some of them were very intelligent and promising in school; they left school with good grades. They made the wrong turn at the two way junction a few years after graduation and they are still paying dearly for that error of judgment.

In their 50s, virtually all of them are too old to be employed. Employers go for younger blood. Moreover, they are already set in certain ways and would probably not fit into many of these working environments. In addition, the levels at which they can be employed are occupied by younger people in their 30s and early 40s. Somebody over 50 would be out of place.

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A major problem that many of them now face is that they have not put anything,or enough,aside for retirement, and there is no company to pay them gratuity and pension on retirement. The only retirement plans they have are their children, who might not even get jobs early enough after graduation in this harsh economy.

And when these children finally get jobs, they have their own plans. Their parents are scarcely their priority.  It is very rare to see adult children, who make their parents’ welfare their number one priority. So these people are in for a very uncertain future and that is not good for old age with its attendant challenges.

In contrast, many of their contemporaries, who chose paid employment, have risen to high positions in their establishments. Those in public service are directors, permanent secretaries and so on. Those in private businesses and organisations are now in top management positions: senior managers, general managers, executive directors, chief executives and so on. Some have even retired with generous packages.

But there are also those in paid employment, who underachieved and those who were snuffed out by high-wire office politics. Self-employment/business ownership versus paid employment; I am not saying one is better than the other. Know which one suits you and play there; the probability of your success is higher. The bottom line is a happy and fulfilling working life and that comes when you are in the right place doing what you enjoy.

So, young people, where do you fall into? If you have not been properly mentored by your parents, you better get a mentor to guide you. Taking a plunge into paid employment or self-employment/business ownership without knowing which side of the divide you fall into is courting a life of financial struggles, unfulfilment and misery. But before you get to the point of taking a plunge, let money take the back seat.

I am proud to be a product of Igbo land – Chimamanda Adichie

First things first. Getting a job in Nigeria is tough business, so you cannot begin to put salary on the front burner. Get a place where you can acquire the necessary experience and showcase your skills. Better opportunities will come along.

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