18 January 2018

Career Confusion, part 2: I came, I saw, I conquered


(Source: Mark Selby Blog)

In part 2 of this three-part series, Ahmed recounts his experience during his first job at MTN.

Flying back to Sudan I had a long transit at Qatar’s Doha International Airport. Trying to be positive amidst the sadness of leaving England, the scary feeling of “life just got real” and the million confusing career questions, I tried to cheer myself up. I thought why not be a bit good-natured and strike up a conversation with any of the many transiting travelers who look as bored as I am.

Sitting next to me in the airport lounge (Ok wait, I’m lying. It wasn’t a lounge, it was most definitely a McDonald’s) was a perfect candidate for my time-wasting endeavour. A European looking man in his late 50’s, suited up, briefcase by his side; my quick analysis was that he was a British expatriate, a good candidate for me to talk “career” with and maybe get some encouragement, good advice and, if I’m lucky, some professional link ups.

So I started the conversation, and I got the career conversation I had anticipated, but maybe not the conversation I was hoping for. He asked: “Oh you just graduated?” Then went on: “My daughter just graduated as well, you are a very unlucky generation, graduating at the worst time.”

Gloominess, dullness, darkness (name any more depressing words you can think of). That’s how I felt about my future, but he couldn’t be more right. It was 2008, the miserable year of the financial crisis, employees getting laid off left, right and centre, and the prevailing images in the papers and on TV was of employees made redundant carrying out their boxes.

The thinking process began as soon as I got back to Sudan. I started by visiting companies and inquiring about available vacancies, researching on the different types of specializations, exploring opportunities abroad via online job sites. I wasn’t able to get a single interview for the following 6 months, and my career confusion was getting worse by the day.

And then it came, my first interview. It was that Short Course in Management certificate that got me my first interview for what became my first ever job (and I am sure the word London in the name of the school also gave me some edge): Ahmed Darwish, Human Resources Administrator at MTN Sudan. This was not what I expected as a first job, but what better than the dynamic telecommunications industry.

Unfortunately, Human Resources wasn’t my cup of tea, I could tell from my first week at the office. But knowing that it was only a stepping stone kept me going. HR was too mechanical for me, and entry-level positions didn’t require much thinking. I needed to think, I needed to be innovative. So even as an HR administrator, I was trying my best to be creative, coming up with futile organisational techniques like departmental colour coding for employee files, an internal portal for employees to submit suggestions, and a few other ideas. However, I would still hit a dead end , and Human Resources wasn’t the best environment for nurturing creativity. Away from working hours I almost immediately found myself attributed with MTN; obviously as my employer, but also as a brand. In social media discussions or during a social gathering, people would talk about the telecom industry and would make general comments about MTN’s market situation or services and direct it at me, because I was an MTN-er.

As a HR employee, let alone a fresh entry-level one, I had minimal knowledge about the Telecom Industry’s Marketing and Sales, but nonetheless I found myself very affected by it all, and I automatically started thinking about solutions, ideas and improvements. As an MTN-er I felt I owed it to my employer to be perceived better by the general public.

One of the most significant factors for attracting customers in the Sudanese Telecom Industry was the actual 10-digit mobile phone number. Each operator had a different numbering range, for example one operator’s numbers started with 091, MTN numbers were 092 and Mobile Number Portability didn’t exist (actually, it still doesn’t). Simply put, it means that mobile phone number holders cannot purchase a number from one operator then migrate the same number to a different operator (this is a very backwards policy which has helped the first operator that was already monopolizing the market for years).

Premium numbering for each operator led to what I call the “number discrimination” factor, which had a great effect on the brand and consequently on whether mobile phone users would want to be affiliated with a premium brand or a low-end one (refer to an earlier post).

As an MTN employee my mobile number was obviously an MTN staff number. Whilst before joining MTN my number was of a different operator, I experienced the perception factor very up close and personal, then indeed it got personal!

(Continued and concluded in Part III)


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.
Featured image: HR Solution BLog
One Comment

Leave a Reply to zain-er Cancel reply

  • zain-er
    5 November 2015 at 3:21 pm - Reply

    *you hit a …..

    We went to the same school I believe. I enjoyed reading this..it was truthful. I wondered if you meant you did not get an interview for lack of skills/certificates or because the job sites in Sudan are useless (for me at least) and you almost NEVER get interviews through them. Did you manage to improve anything at MTN?

    And * how personal it got. No hate just thought to point this out..for better readability.

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