Preparing for the Future

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Solomon Elusoji writes about how a university uses career fairs to give its students the edge

On a clear, windy day in March, Oluwafunmi Oluwadare, a final year student of Communication and Multimedia Design (CMD) at the American University of Nigeria (AUN), was at the Civic Centre, Lagos. She had come for the university’s annual career fair.

At the fair, she met with a plethora of representatives from top companies in Nigeria, from KPMG to Shell Petroleum to Guaranty Trust Bank. “You get so much opportunities talking to these companies,” she said, later, in an interview with THISDAY, “and it’s really given me lots of real-life experiences on what it takes to be job-ready when I graduate.”

Every year, AUN organises career fairs for its students and alumni, to connect them with potential employers; while graduating seniors explore career opportunities, current students seek internship openings to gain hands-on knowledge and industrial experience required for future jobs. “Over 60 per cent of the graduating class get jobs from the fair,” the university’s Director of Career Services, Grace Nwokoma, says. But, apart from getting jobs, Nwokoma notes, the fair also provides exposure for the students.

“Some of them are actually still in school, and they are here to seek for internships – they want to work during summer, and that helps them to make a smoother transition from schooling to the workplace,” she says. “Even on campus, we ensure that our students work. And that’s because we are trying to prepare them for the labour market. We also collaborate with some of the companies, to know what they want, to enable us know what to produce.”

Before every fair, the university’s Career Services Office, organises series of preparatory activities, including resume writing, interview tips, and mock interview sessions. These provide each prospective candidate with a simulated experience typical of a job interview.
This year’s fair, which was the tenth edition, was held between March 23 and 24. It had in attendance 23 companies and 20 Graduate Schools, both home and abroad. “There were a lot of companies that have never been to the fair before,” Nwokoma says.

Some of the corporate participants in the fair were: GT Bank, McKinsey, KPMG, Shell Petroleum, PwC, US Embassy, Honeywell, Deloitte, and Nadabo Energy, Phillips Consulting, Nestle Plc, Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company, AUN HR, Afrinvest, Stanbic IBTC, Diamond Bank, Ghoozterity Solution, MCEE, Sigma Pensions, Voice of Nigeria, Red Star Express, and Africa Courier Express. There was also a strong presence from prestigious graduate schools, including the AUN School of Graduate Studies and the universities of Sussex, Leeds, and Northampton.

High praise
Tagged ‘We are Shutting Down Lagos’, the 2017 fair was a festival of networking for those who attended. Interestingly, the representatives of the companies in attendance were full of praise for the potential of the candidates they had to talk to.

Eromosele Aziba, an Investment Analyst at Afrinvest, a leading independent investment banking firm, said he was overwhelmed with the quality of the students he interviewed. “The students I met with were quite good,” he said. “They have a certain sort of exposure, based on their environment and I think it’s a thumbs up to the school. There is also this entrepreneurial drive in them to develop things for themselves. While they want to have some experience in the work place, most of them are thinking of how to be business owners.”

Adewunmi Alawode, a University of Warwick representative, was ecstatic at the idea of recruiting AUN students. “We’ve met with quality students who have the requisite credentials to attend our Graduate Programmes, which is one of the best in the UK; and we are really excited about this,” she said.

Joke Jegede, a Human Resource Business Partner at KPMG, who has been a constant fixture at the fair for years, said the company keeps coming back because AUN students have the right kind of quality. “It’s been a wonderful experience here at the AUN Career Fair,” she said. “It’s clear that the kind of candidates we are looking for are their students; they are the KPMG people we want. We have staffs that are graduates of AUN, and they are doing very well, hence the reason why we keep coming here annually to be part of the Career Fair.”

Some success stories
In 2010, Adonye Adafe-Jaja, then an Information Systems junior at AUN, attended the university’s career fair. He was not looking for a job, but the experience was a defining moment for him. “I got in contact with lots of companies,” he said, “and when I left the fair, I kept researching on them.”

So, by the time Adonye was attending the 2012 career fair edition, now in his final year at the university, he was already familiar with the recruitment processes of top companies in Nigeria. He soon landed a job at PwC, one of the largest professional services firms in the world.
“A lot of people go to school but they are not taught how to apply what they’ve learnt to the work environment,” Adonye said, “but this fair helped many of us bridge that gap.”

Lewis Okugini, a Computer Science graduate of AUN, has a similar story. At the 2012 fair, he had an interesting conversation with the Director of Human Capital Management and Project Support for the Dangote Group, Mr. Mohan Kumar. “He was a very nice guy,” Okugini recalled.
After the conversation, Okugini was told he would be hearing from them and, true to their word, they contacted him three months later. He wrote a series of exams and interviews and was eventually engaged as an IT Officer at Dangote Refinery.

“These kinds of fairs are very important,” Okugini said. “It is one thing to walk into a company and talk to the HR about your capabilities, but when you have all of them under one roof, you have the opportunity of speaking to all of them and even handing them your CV. The fair gives you the platform to do that.”

Another success story of the Career Fair is Richard Enoka who also works at PwC. The Software Engineering graduate was at the 2014 fair and he notes that it taught him everything he knows about impressing potential employers.
“At the first fair I went to in 2014, there were workshops on CV preparation, how to present yourself at interviews and so many other things,” he said. “And those stuffs I learnt then helped me when I finally applied to work with PwC. The fair is a very valuable experience, especially for those who are looking to get internships.”

A focus on career development
According to the university’s Senior Vice President for Campus Life and Dean of Students, developing students for a rewarding and fruitful career is one of the core principles upon which AUN is built on. Mr. Bullock, who was at the 10th fair said the university takes a long-term approach in helping students get the best out of their potentials.

“A lot of students come to the university and they think they want to be a Petroleum Chemistry major, they think they want to be an IT major, and they change their minds,” he said. “So the Career Development Programme that we have has an office where those students can go and explore careers. We have all kinds of workshops on campus that focus on careers; we have companies who come directly to our university and will try to recruit, or at least talk about the kinds of opportunities they have in their different companies throughout the year. So career development, for us, is a long term process; it’s from the time that they enter the university.

“Most of these students are young and are making these kinds of crucial decisions for the first time, so the Career Development Office is intended to connect them and give them an opportunity to explore various different careers.”

It is this sort of dedication to helping students develop their careers that prompted the university to move this year’s fair to Lagos. “It was originally scheduled for Abuja,” Bullock said, “but because of the airport shutdown, we decided to move it to Lagos, because we did not want to lose the momentum of the career fair activity; we’ve grown the fair out over the past six years and we’ve made good contacts with companies, with Graduate School representatives, and we didn’t want to lose that.”