Today on #CareerConversations with LLA, we excitingly chat with Tejumade Fola- Alade, HR Professional, Trainer & Resource consultant with more than 10 years experience across start-ups and larger corporations, with diverse experience training and crafting resumes for job-seekers, LinkedIn profile optimization for mid to senior level hires, and other in-depth, human interest articles for all cadres of careerists. She gives key advice to career women and shares among other things her thoughts on having a side hustle.
Can you briefly describe yourself and what you do?
I consider myself a lot of things, creative and idealistic being two of them. I am also a multipotentialite and a lot of people that know me or have worked with me would agree. I currently work with an HR firm which is a startup and I am more or less the Country Manager as the Managing Partner is based in UK. I am an HR Consultant, a trainer, recruiter and a writer. I have been in the business of writing from as far back as 2008. I just ventured into HR fully, recently. I have however, done a lot of HR activities within the last 3 years. I am one of the pioneer beneficiaries of Tony Elumelu Foundation’s seed grant. I have floated a lot of side hustles. Lool.
I am also a Certified Human Resource Management Professional, a member of the Chartered Management Institute, UK and I have a certificate in Digital Marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, UK alongside several local and international certificates. I am big on learning and developing oneself professionally. The world is so dynamic right now that what I knew yesterday could be outdated as of tomorrow evening. I have almost 10 years work experience. At the moment, under my current organisation, I work with large companies to train communities of their choice, recruit for SMEs and large businesses as well. We also conduct trainings for employees on soft skills. I have huge passion for innovation in HR. Oh, I am also a ghost writer.
Great! How did you start out in your career, and how long have you been in the ‘corporate world?’
I started my career with Airtel Nigeria as a Call Centre Agent. I had 3 job offers before I rounded off NYSC. One was with a 5-star hotel in Abuja, the other was with a bank (now defunct) and the third was Airtel. Airtel was considered one of the coolest places to work back then, especially in Abuja so I didn’t even think twice before accepting the Airtel offer. The pay was quite okay back then with some other perks that are quite common with the telecommunications industry. I left Airtel in 2012 and joined Konga the following month. I have been in the corporate world for over 9 years.
What are some of the things you love the most about being a career woman?
The truth? The financial independence that comes with it and the prestige of being able to hold your own at any corporate gathering. Aside from having your own “vex money”, you stay up to date with current corporate trends and are able to build a large network you may need sometime when you launch your own personal business or want to go a step further in your career.
And the downsides – what are some of the challenges you’ve faced, and how did you overcome them?
Well, most of the downsides came after I became a mum. I used to be a very high performer before the kids came and I was what you’d call a “give it all it takes” employee. After the kids came though, I think my performance may have dropped a bit. Having two kids within 2 and a half years takes some concentration off your career. I had to be taking time off work more than I used to, called in sick often due to stress and some other tiny distractions. I was working for a fantastic company that had equal employment opportunities so this was not a problem. It however nibbled at me somewhat that I should be giving way more than I currently did but hey, what do I know! I was still considered a performer sha. Aside from the distractions of being a relatively new mum, I wouldn’t really say I’ve had much career challenges.
Of course, we’re going to talk about mentorship – what’s your view on it? Important or nah?
I honestly don’t think mentorship is for everyone and this is me being blunt. What we consider mentorship in this part of the world is more of networking opportunities. I see a lot of people seeking out mentorship so as to gain access to the mentor’s connections either for a better business or a better job opportunity. Do I have a mentor? Yes, I do and that was when I was considering career transitioning. I had heard her speak at an event and I was wowed. I wanted her to guide me during the transition and to let me know what I was doing wrong. I believe people who really should seek mentorship should be people who basically have their life or career to a certain successful level and need the guidance of someone much more successful than them to take their life/career to the next level.
Mentorship shouldn’t be a case of spoon-feeding one party so it really shouldn’t be for everyone. A mentor I believe should have the right to assess a mentee’s overall worth before accepting the relationship. That way, you don’t begin to spoon feed anyone. For people that are not yet at a level to access mentorship, Google is a big place to start, lol
Two things – what have been your best and worst career decision – and what did you learn from each respectively?
I would start with my worst. When I decided to transition fully into HR, I reached out to some people I actually regretted doing so right now. Lol. I believe there were some people I should have left out of my career journey, some job opportunities discussion with some companies/individuals that I shouldn’t even have entertained etc. They set me back tremendously. At a point, I asked myself if the career transition was a wise choice because I was getting job offers with good pay but I kept insisting on HR. At some point, people around me thought I was crazy and some even stopped reaching out while some kept sending ridiculous offers my way. People tend to take advantage of you when you are down.
The best career decision I ever took was accepting to work with Konga.com. As at the time I joined Konga, I hadn’t resigned from Airtel. I was however tired of working in Nigeria and was already contemplating relocating to the UK. I had begun the process but someone who I confided in about seeking other opportunities then sent me a message that Konga (a new company then) was recruiting and that I should apply. At that time too, I was having discussions with Insight Communications but it didn’t click so I reluctantly applied for Konga. When the invite for a test and interview came, I didn’t want to go. My boyfriend then (now husband), encouraged me to, and told me I had nothing to lose. I attended and wowed them so much I was made an offer that same day. It was the best career decision I ever made.
I learnt a lot, grew at an accelerated rate and achieved so much within 6 years. That still remains my best decision, to resign from Airtel at that point, not relocate to UK and remain here in Nigeria to work with Konga.
Do you have a “side-hustle” and what’s your view on having other interests outside of work?
I’ve always had a side hustle but my side hustle kicked off fully when I was on my 2nd maternity leave. I made so much money I told my hubby I didn’t want to go back to paid labour. He laughed at me that I was simply caught up in the financial honeymoon moment. I still have my side hustle and my current role. I envisage that in a few years’ time, some roles would actually require that you have a side hustle to occupy them.
I encourage everyone to have multiple streams of income, especially women. I’ve always earned a good pay but my side hustle has also helped in maintaining my taste to a reasonable standard. What I advise is not to have a side hustle that would be in competition with where you currently work because interest would always clash.
In what specific ways would you advise women to “lean in” more at work?
First things first, own your success. At the workplace, you find that women are scared to own their glory. When you successfully carry out a project, don’t say “thanks to my boss who gave me that opportunity”, NO! Own that success. Make noise about your projects. If your boss tries to take the glory, call him/her out. Don’t be scared to make noise about your contributions. The decision makers must know you are working. That is how you would get far.
Second is to select the right partner- whether spouse or boyfriend. Your partner would contribute largely to your success and your drive to succeed. If you get that wrong, you get everything wrong. Third is to find a company that creates equal employment opportunities. How do you do that? Look at the management team. Do you have women leaders in your company or are they all men? Are women promoted within the same period as men or as a woman, would you need to work 4 times harder to get promoted? That way, you are sure you aren’t sweating with a company that has no intention of promoting a female beyond senior manager ever.
Finally, do not play the role of an assistant at any company except that is your job title. This means at meetings or in a room filled with other colleagues, when they say “we need coffee around here or can someone take the minutes of the meeting”, do NOT be quick to volunteer except that is in your job title or you were out rightly called out to assist. Even when you are called out by anyone in the room, suggest that the person closer to the door gets the coffee. This means, NEVER sit at the entrance at meetings nor go into a meeting room with a pen and paper except the outcome of the meeting is a project meant for you.
Take up the habit of sitting at the centre of the room at meetings or sit in the biggest seat in the room. Don’t reserve any beautiful chair for anyone that didn’t get into the room before you. Be bold and confident. Do NOT cower. Leaders do not cower and the minute you place yourself in that position where you offer to do the “dirty” tasks, that is all you would ever be seen as. Nice girls don’t get the corner office.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I’d be a name to reckon with within the corporate and SME sector.
What in your opinion are key success principles for upcoming career women, or those just starting out their careers?
Strong Work Values– Your work ethics can make or mar you
Your Network is your Net-worth – Build the right connections with your colleagues and bosses. You’d need them as you climb the success ladder.
Develop yourself professionally – Keep learning, take courses online and offline. If you can afford international education, by all means do so. Harvard, INSEAD and Kelloggs graduates do not look for opportunities. Opportunities find them. Big corporations favour international degrees and courses. Stay learning!
The Leading Ladies Africa #CareerConversations Series is a weekly interview series which focuses on Leading women of African descent in the corporate world. It showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.
It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes women empowerment and gender inclusion for women of African descent.
Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we just might feature her.