Bicycles and Roads to Opportunity

At the GSMA Mobile 360 Conference this year in Dar es Salaam, TZ

Imagine. A simple question:

Can You Draw a Bicycle?

Led to an incredible, epic conversation about how people can approach life in order to open their hands to more opportunity.


I was at the GSMA Mobile 360 Conference in Dar es Salaam this month and had the pleasure of speaking with an excellent gentleman by the name of Nyangu Meghji, the Chief Technical Officer at Raha. For those who haven’t been to TZ, those are the guys with the free Raha Wifi Hotspots in practically every coffee shop and meeting place around the country!

Nyangu aka. “the Pathfinder” …And you thought your business cards were epic?

Nyangu and I were speaking with another colleague of his, Edson, from Infinity Africa, about the practical screening tests we give people at Duma Works to link job applicants to career opportunities. Suddenly, Nyangu turned to Edson and asked him if he could draw a bicycle. We quickly produced a napkin from the lunch table, and brought out a pen.

When the drawing was finished, Nyangu held up the napkin (and I, of course, snapped a photo, pictured below), and asked us what we thought was missing. It took a while, but eventually is dawned on us that there was a missing component…a chain!

We immediately kicked ourselves that we had forgotten this crucial component. Of course, a bicycle is useless if the pedals can’t connect to the wheels and move forward!

Then, Nyangu made a point that I will never forget.

People can build anything as beautiful they want, but at the end of the day, they need to include that practical element where form meets function in order to create opportunity.

When Nyangu tests engineers, he looks for people who can show they can actually do something that is relevant and useful, not just build something that looks nice.

Of course we all vowed never to forget the chain when drawing a bicycle again, but the point stands.

Edson with the (now, definitely) famous bicycle

People go for the showmanship, but when it comes to the actual practical application, all goes to hell.

Let’s take a look at Kenya. Kenya is the place to do a case study on the Culture of Certifications with a lack of regard for where the certificate came from. An inability to lift up the dirty rug, so to speak.

We work with a lot of companies that are trying to change this mentality and test out new, innovative ways of finding amazing talent and matching them to opportunities. And I am hoping more companies will follow suit over time!

In the meantime, I just wanted to break it down here for people looking for jobs. If you truly want to demonstrate you are an amazing fit for a job, you need to build the chain as well as the bicycle frame.

When writing your CV, think about how you can show the HR or Head of Talent that you are the man/woman for the job.

Do creative things like including pieces of your portfolio, attaching business models you have built for friends, including writing samples or links to your Twitter handle or Github repo.

And don’t be afraid to break out of the standard CV box that you think is “professional.”

An example that I like using: In the “Interests/Hobbies” section, don’t be afraid to write a paragraph, or full sentences about what you like doing. After all, the interest section is literally the only place on your CV to talk about who you are and not just what you do professionally.

How much more interesting does 1 sound than 2?

  1. “On weekends, I take my bike to Karura forest with friends and cycle. We are trying to cycle 1,000 km by the end of the year between all of us to raise money for breast cancer awareness.”
  2. Interests: Cycling

…That’s what I thought.

Catch the eye of the person skimming your CV in 6 seconds by showing what you can do, and showing who you are. This will help you get more opportunities.

It’s also why we use practical screening tests at Duma Works.

To fight this notion that a good CV or Resume is “enough.” Sure, you need good documents to get your foot in the door. But what next? How can you show someone you can put in the work to get the job done, instead of just telling them.

One of my favorite screening tests is the social media intern test that we issued out a few months ago. For the test, I asked people questions like:

1- Use the following words in a (longform) social media post to describe the MOST thrilling experience you just had at an event: (1) Holy umbrellas! (2) Boxed wine (3) Spiderman (4) Under the doormat (5) Wangari Maathai (6) And that’s when I stole the stop sign (200 words max)

2- If you were to give career advice in a blog format to a colony of ants (ants, NOT Aunts), what would the first paragraph look like?

Did I have the best time ever grading this screening test? YES!

Also an interesting insight: When I asked people to put in some work up front, I didn’t get too many responses.

Usually for an internship position, we will receive hundreds, if not a thousand applications for any role. Social Media Intern role? We will definitely see some accountants and IT people…even civil engineers in that applicant pool. Which is fine if the person is awesome, but usually it’s just someone applying for 1,000 jobs a month.

Second insight: Recruiting doesn’t have to be lame! Recruiting is like dating. Going on bad dates is the worst. But good dates? We look forward to those. We really have hope of finding our soulmate in that new experience. Recruiting done well can be like going on a sequence of good dates. I don’t know about other founders, but I usually cannot wait to find our startup’s next soulmate.

When I read the responses for this test, I wound up getting insights into the candidates that I absolutely long for when I go over CVs. I got to know people — their humour, creativity, favourite colours, unique life experiences. It was incredible. And when I followed up with a phone call, my impressions from the written test were mostly spot-on! Coincidence? I think not.

In the end, we got an excellent intern, who not only put in the work, and could execute like hell, he was also an amazing culture fit for our company and gelled with the rest of the team from day 1.

Put in the time to show you have what it takes.

So, if you are a self-proclaimed social media expert with vast knowledge on your CV, back it up with a killer social media account. Prove that you are up to date with the latest trends and sharing tools. Demonstrate not only a natural talent for extroversion and sharing life, but also the ability to grow your following and skills.

If you are a sales person without work, get a side-hustle. Prove to that future interviewee that you can sell anything through quantifiable achievements from your past experiences.

If you studied International Relations at school and its your true passion, then put in the leg work. Attend the conferences hosted at the UN, KICC, Parliament, Pawa254, KEPSA, or even international gatherings at AIESEC, Goethe Institute, or Alliance Francaise. Learn a new language on DuoLingo to show your openness to other cultures and the time you are willing to put in to accomplish your goals.

If you are a mobile app developer, develop some apps! Prove you have the grit, creativity, and tenacity to put your head down and code code code for a few hours. Build something relevant. Or join Moringa School or Andela and learn how to be a better developer. Attend meetups, like the one with just had in our office with the Python Meetup in Nairobi. Nairobi, especially, is such a hotbed of opportunities to hone your developer skills. Grab onto those!

Legal student? Get involved in companies like Uwakili, or join the Law Society of Kenya to get a mentor that can jumpstart your career and broaden your understanding of your field. Attend the startup meetups with Nest or Nailab or iHub where speakers from top legal firms come to discuss the evolving field of law. Corner someone after and get their card. Follow up and make sure your email has no spelling & grammar mistakes…that is the first interview, after all. ;)

Wrapping this up with an excellent anecdote from a conversation I had this week.

I had an incredibly interesting conversation with Evan at Andela about the evaluation of job candidates, not based on their initial test results, but on their proven effort to put in the work and achieve a higher result on the next assessment.

This is just one of the interesting ways people are beginning to approach hiring in the world. Be it practical screening tests, finding ways to startle candidates out of their shell during interviews, and looking at the learning evolution of job candidates, all of us are just looking for the ways to get a peak into someone showing they can do the work, rather than just telling us about it.

The future of hiring is certainly not dependent on a CV or certificates, or years experience. It’s about job candidates crafting a compelling portfolio of experiences online and offline that show they have what it takes.

Food for thought next time we apply to jobs.

In short: Show you have what it takes, draw that bicycle chain.


This article has been republished from the Duma Works Career Blog

Arielle is the cofounder and CEO at Duma Works in Nairobi, Kenya. Arielle can be reached on arielle@dumaworks.com. If you are hiring in East Africa and want to get plugged into our world of talent on dumaworks.com, let us know!