15 December 2017

Career Confusion: One small step for an undergrad, one giant leap towards bewilderment

This is part 1 of a three-part series highlighting the career of a business and strategy professional working in Sudan.

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(Image Credit: NASA)

This is the story of how I ended up as a marketing professional; one I felt is worthy of sharing given the many lessons I have learned (and still learning) throughout a modest career of just over 6 years. A period of time I feel is long enough to elucidate a number of challenges most of us encounter, and I hope readers will be able to relate and hopefully pick up a few tips and lessons along the way.

The first of the challenges I encountered was when I finally completed my undergraduate degree. The moment right after that long-awaited proper sleep we’ve looked forward to so much throughout those torturous sleepless university years. The moment of deep career thought when we can’t help but feel lost and confused.

The most confused, I assumed, are the undergraduates of the broader type of degrees, such as social sciences. One would think that holders of the more specialised undergraduate degrees should have a more clear route: knowing what options are available to them, what postgraduate degrees they could pursue, what specializations are on offer etc. This is usually the case for graduates of specialised degrees such as medicine, law and engineering. In my case, Biomedical Engineering, final year specialization in Medical Imaging; doesn’t get more specific than that. I shouldn’t be too confused then, should I?

Unfortunately, specialised as it was, I was still confused, still not convinced and still contemplating options and keeping an open mind without restricting myself to my specialized degree. Graduating as a biomedical engineer, I was more interested in the strategic solutions in the healthcare sector than in the technical aspects. I therefore decided to pursue a career around “strategy”, a decision I initially took focusing on the Health Sector. I later embraced my interest in strategy, which evolved around the whole and detailed definition of “Strategic Thinking,” as a career dedicated to the diverse corners of today’s daily business operations in different fields.

So, where, and how, can I start?

Initially, I needed to figure out a way of getting into an entry-level non-engineering position to diversify my CV with something other than the engineering major that was headlining my then 3-page-hobbies-filled-experience-lacking-CV. I figured a short course in Management should do the trick, and so it was: a Certificate in Management in the London School of Business & Management.

It was the ideal step to take on the back of a 5 year-long hectic bachelors degree. The class hours were flexible: there was a total of six classes – one night class a week – and the submission of a final assignment. Happy with completing the course and attaining a fancy looking certificate I was finally able to update my CV, and this time it wasn’t another extracurricular activity or an achievement in high school. Of course, one of the obvious options would have been to look for jobs in England while I was there on 6 months long vacation, and I did. It was too hopeful an attempt, and the closest I got to a job interview was a phone call from an employer looking for a Gym Trainer, a phone conversation that lasted less than a minute as the recruiter realized I was neither a British citizen nor an EU national, and therefore had no work permit.

A month later my break was officially over, it was time to fly back home to Sudan and start a career. Lost and bemused about my next step I kept asking myself: What do I want?

I thought I should go back to basics, to my dreams. Let me reminisce about those times during my formative years when people asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” It didn’t help much. In fact, as I snapped back to reality, I was even more confused as I was one of those every-day-a-different-dream type. “I want to be a Submarines Telecoms Engineer.” Any one hearing that would think that I knew exactly what I wanted. Little did they know I would change my mind a few TV series later to another precise dream: “I want to be a genetics engineer… an architect.. a nuclear engineer… a commercial lawyer… I want to be a heart surgeon… a cruise ship engineer.” And on and on it went.

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Ahmed Darwish is a marketing professional. He is currently Corporate Brand Manager at DAL Food Industries. Previously, he held the position of Marketing and Research Manager at Haggar Group. Before joining Haggar Group, he was Segment Pricing Analyst at MTN Sudan, where he started his career in marketing.

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