The subject of this week’s What She Said is a 26-year-old Nigerian woman who has not really been gainfully employed since she finished university and was called to the bar years ago. She talks about how frustrating and depressing her experience with job hunting in Nigeria has been and how she’s still hopeful about the future.
Did you always want to be a lawyer?
Yes. I studied law because I knew from a very young age it was what I wanted to do. That conviction came from seeing up close the injustice that the poorest in the society face.
Were your parents supportive of your decision to study law?
Ah, of course. My parents are typical Nigerian parents. Before I even entered university, they were already announcing to the world that their daughter was studying law.
What was studying law like?
Very bad. I don’t wish it on anyone. By the time I finished from school I was like, who send me?
I was scared of the future because by then, the veil of the profession had been lifted. I had to adjust my plans and think of how to make money without entirely dropping my dream.
Wait, so what did you think of law while in university and what exactly did you discover after you graduated?
In uni, there was this buzz about how law was a “noble profession”. Omo by the time I graduated, it was on a kasha ma dupe vibe o.
Tell me about job hunting.
Well, that one is like pouring salt on injury. Nothing prepared me for the gruesome experience. For some reason that I can’t understand, law firms want you to have solid experience only to pay you ₦20k or “appearance fee”. I just couldn’t deal. After a while, I decided to apply to legal roles in companies and there was no luck still. I even opened up and learned skills not related to law. With the help of a friend, I landed my first job.
What was that like?
Oh I felt like fish out of water, but thank my stars, I learn fast. Before the first month ran out, I had gotten a grasp of what was expected of me. It was an advertising firm so I learned a lot about how to curate content and judge what’s best or appropriate for the audience.
How did you feel about abandoning your legal skills?
I didn’t totally abandon it. I acted as the in-house lawyer alongside my official job role
And what was the salary like?
It wasn’t anything to be proud of. It was practically the same as the law firms I ran from. I only took the job because logistics worked out better.
I lived somewhat close to the office, in a typical face-me-I-face-you building because my parents live on the boundary of Lagos and Ogun state. You know that “in a place far far away…” you hear in movies. I had to move to be closer to opportunities. And the funny thing is, I could only afford to live there because it was free.
Transportation took up almost half of the salary. Feeding took what was left. If I had to pay rent, I would have been thrown out. I was basically in survival mode.
What did your parents think about you not practicing law?
We are still on the issue. My father doesn’t accept it — he still wants me to practice law. My mum is whatever makes you a happy person. School broke me and she knows.
Wait, what happened while you were in school?
I was sick throughout university. My grades fluctuated between average and below average because of this.
In my third year, my doctors advised us that it would be better if i left school till I got better. I refused. The straw that broke my camel’s back was the day a junior lecturer who I thought would understand the situation mocked me and said “don’t I think it’s better to just switch courses or forget school.” I never had one on one conversations with lecturers after that. I vowed that I was going to graduate even if it killed me. And I did.
That’s horrible. I’m glad you graduated. Did you stay at the job for long?
Only about five months. The company closed down. They were owing us about three months’ salary o. E be tinz.
What did you do next?
I started applying again. At the same time, I was learning social media management with free trainings I could find. A colleague from school was also into this and was helpful with showing me the ropes and throwing gigs at me. I landed some interviews but they didn’t go past that stage. The interviews usually started out hopeful. Scaling each stage gave me hope. Then at the final round, the communication would die. I even sent follow-up emails. For some, I got automated responses, for others, nothing. It was frustrating.
My most frustrating job hunting experience happened this year. I did a set of interviews with a company for a period of two months. Each stage was more difficult and more tasking. At the penultimate stage, I had to do a mini project that involved sharing ideas and executing these ideas. It was very detailed and in-depth. After the last call with the company, I didn’t hear anything again. It was radio silence. This one really hurt me because I thought I would get the job or at least know why I didn’t get it. Nothing till date.
Wow. I’m so sorry. How many jobs would you say you’ve applied for?
Definitely over 60. I just started deleting emails to gain some sanity.
As soon as it was beginning to look like the world was bent on dealing with me, I started looking for alternatives to 9-5. I currently use my skill set to keep life going. Now I practice law on my own and run a small business advisory for SME’s. I am a born organiser, so I put that to use as well when the opportunity comes.
Has that been lucrative for you?
Yes. Far more lucrative than my previous employment. And very challenging too because sometimes I run into tasks that require me to study or consult with people way ahead of me in that area to figure it out.
What’s the emotional impact of all of this on you?
I was one of those people that used to say I can never be depressed. But over the years, I have had to face and fight emotions and thoughts I didn’t know I could have.
It’s very overwhelming to hear news or go to gatherings where friends are celebrating a raise, new jobs and promotions. I’ll just start wondering, is there something wrong with me? What could I possibly be doing that isn’t making anyone want to hire me?
I usually just cry at night so no one notices. Then Corona came to prove to me that life can be harder. As if that was not enough, boom, recession.
You know what’s worse? I could never have pictured that adult life would be like this for me. I was that child that my parents and family friends were sure would get a job first and become rich. I did my first business in junior school and made money that made my mum come to school to see my class teacher. It’s almost as though the person I am now and the person that had things under control then are two different people.
Sigh. How do you deal with the emotions?
My mum helps me process some of these emotions. I worry if I relay this too often to my friends, they might be careful about sharing their wins with me, and I don’t want that to happen. Prayers and being involved in other people’s progress since my own circumstances refused to change also helps.
And vibes. I play a lot and it keeps me in high spirits.
Do you have any regrets?
I regret dropping my business while in school because I was sick. That I didn’t get an extra year is a miracle. I believe if I had started doing my business immediately I got better, I might not have gone through as many financial troubles or even derailed so far from my dreams because I would have money to pay my bills, which would have helped fuel my dreams.
What are you looking forward to now?
I’m still looking for 9-5 jobs because you can’t execute any plans for the future without money. But till that happens, I will continue freelancing and learning skills that may help increase my earnings.
Business is good, but the current economic situation makes it slow. As I’m applying for 9-5 jobs, I’m doubling down on selling my service and market more to expand my clientele.
What does the future look like for you?
Long term, I intend to get a masters in human rights, advocacy and return to the real reason I studied law. I also intend to start an NGO to help people get justice and assist ex-convicts and victims of the judicial system resettle in the community and lead normal lives — people who don’t have the luxury of having others to worry about their well being will most likely become a liability to themselves, their family and the entire community. .
Speaking of luxury, I’m curious about what luxury is like for you.
Luxury is having money left to buy a dress or a shoe or something that isn’t on my rigid list. Or being able to buy something for my parents when I go visiting. I wish I could support friends and family. It’s very painful to have to keep saying I don’t have, to keep sounding like a broken record. With time, things will take shape. I hold on firmly to that belief.