Is it black or grey?


With Ndey Kumba Demba

Her resumé was finally on, an employment-related search engine for job listings. With a deep breathe; as if expecting, hoping for miracles to happen, she pressed the “post” button. This was her chance at finding a job which she was badly in need of. She has finally completed her bachelors’ degree in the US against all odds.

She applied for Optional Practical Training (OPT) a post-completion immigration option for recently graduated international students. It is a temporary employment authorisation, valid for twelve months. It allows international students to seek employment in their related fields.


She was warned that the job hunt takes a while; employers are reluctant to deal with immigration and visa issues. It doesn’t help that there is a timeline to her getting one, three months it was. Her resumé read: “Team player with strong interpersonal and group communication skills. Proven ability to meet deadlines and work under pressure as editor-in-chief of The Times Daily newspaper. Exceptional planning and organisation skills as a member of the International Students Club. Self-motivated and dependable.”

Earlier that morning, she went to the student’s office of the school for her appointment with Shelly. Shelly came highly recommended.
“She’s really good at resumés,” she was told by Christina, who she has come to appreciate as her personal guiding angel.

“She’ll work with you to tailor your resumé to your needs.”
She had called to book an appointment with Shelly two days ago. She had a few openings on Thursday. Thursday, 11am sounded good to her. By 10:50am she was waiting at the student office with her buzzer. A buzzer was a device the office used to identify which student was going to which counsellor. It’s easier that way because the student does not know the counsellor and the counsellor doesn’t know the student either. When the counsellor comes out from his cubicle from behind, he/she will press the buzzer to alert the student. The counsellor will offer the usual pleasantries and they would head for his/her cubicle.

She’s familiar with the buzzer routine, used it multiple times. She had a regular ‘academic advisor’ as they are called and a regular ‘international student affairs advisor.’ She visited Bob at the end of every semester before registering for classes.

Bob was super tall and lean. He was very hairy too. He wore glasses that made him look older than he actually was, and a little more handsome. Her guess, he was in his mid-thirties. His hair was a full on red, not too long, not too short. He had a very lazy walk. If you saw him walking, you’d think he doesn’t have a care in this world.

First time she met Academic Advisor Bob Pinkersting was on her first day at college. She had already gone through the entry placement test acing it; well, expect for math, she was average. It didn’t bother her; she was just glad she had the pass grade and didn’t need to take the pre-course courses.

They (the international student badge for the spring semester) were introduced to Bob for course orientation. He gave them a rundown of the number and the type of courses they needed to take for their majors, electives, requirement courses and so forth. They were also advised to see academic advisors to ensure that they were on track, and make use of the international student’s office. The advisors were available via appointment or one could do a ‘walk-in’ and would be referred to the next available advisor. The good news was; advisors were always available.

When she needed an advisor, she requested Bob. There was something about the way he handled the orientation that led her to believe that he was the guy to help her plan to reach her goals.
She met Bob for the first time at his office, he was pleasant. She saw his wedding picture on his desk. She used it as an opportunity to reciprocate.

“You have a very beautiful wife,” she said sincerely.
“Thank you. I am lucky,” he said trying to brush off a blush.
“When was this?” she asked.
“I was nineteen years old. We went to the same high school and decided to get married our second year in Kansas State University,” he said.
“That’s nice,” she added.

“So, I was thinking about taking sixteen credits this semester.”
She discussed class options with Bob, the number of credits she was taking for that semester and how it affected her major and overall completion plan.

She liked Bob. He was smart and had experience. She needed someone like that on her team. He knew her vision, understood it and was ready to see her get there. Bob was simply the guy.
While waiting for Shelly, she was thinking about possibilities. The OPT process takes about two to three months. She knew it best to find a job and get one within that period. Once you have the permit, after three months without a job it is automatically revoked.

She needed a job to keep her occupied while she waited for graduation which was five months away, she needed the money to pay her bills, she needed the money to be able to send something home. Luckily for her, there was no pressure on the latter. Her family had been very understanding. In fact, when times were hard, they contributed money and sent it to her.

First time she received the $300 sent by her mother via Western Union, she cried. She hated the fact that she was in a situation she could do little about. Money was tight. She didn’t have any. She went to school on an empty stomach and came home to an empty house. Her phone was disconnected; she couldn’t afford the monthly $48 bill. She calculated how much it must have cost them to send her $300. Her guilt, the money could have been used elsewhere.

Her mother rid her of the guilt so effortlessly and told her to use the money for food.
“It’s what you do for family,” she had said.
“You would have done it for any one of us,” she added through the other end of the line on one of their many Viber calls.

Those words were everything. It made her cry more, feeling underserving of such a mother, and a family.
Shelly will help her make a convincing resumé that is sure to get her a job.
“What sort of jobs are you looking for?” Shelly had asked her on their first meeting.
“Marketing is my main interest. But I’m open to jobs in advertising and sales,” she sounded sure.
“Okay, that’s good. What activities were you involved in at Knockcoaf College?” she asked.
“I was the editor-in-chief of The Times Daily for one year. I was also a member of the International Student Club,” with a tad bit of pride in her voice.

“Employers don’t want you to tell, they want you to show them. What did you do as editor-in-chief? What skills did you acquire? How does that translate to your eligibility for the position?” Shelly cautioned.
“As a team, we met every Wednesday evening to brainstorm on story ideas for our next publication. I chaired those meetings. I also assigned stories to staff based on their competencies. I have a column. I write news stories.”

While she was talking, Shelly was making bullet points.
“You worked in a team?” She asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“That’s a good strength. What was your relationship with the staff? She asked.
“We have a good relationship. We respect each other. Some time ago, a staff wrote an opinion piece on how animals were maltreated and inhumanely killed locally. The article backfired. It triggered anger from different factions, most especially the livestock department. They claimed the article had a lot of misrepresentations and the writer’s sources weren’t credible. People attacked her on twitter and Yik-Yak. Ray was devastated by the response. She came to the meeting crying, saying a lot of people were saying mean stuff about her,” She explained.

Shelly was listening, occasionally nodding.
“I told Ray her article was an opinion piece and it was stated as such,” she went on.
“She was entitled to her opinion. I told her to ignore what people were saying online; people will always have something to say. She should block out the noise and focus on what’s important. However, she should apologise for her use of sources that were less than credible, which she did,” she added.
Shelly while taking notes, asked her what she did during her time at the International Student Club.

“I suggested to the coordinator, who came up with all the meeting agendas to create positions such as a president, vice, secretary general and PRO to get people more involved. I told him people take ownership of something they feel they are a part of. I suggested and helped organise events for the club,” she said, realising perhaps for the first time what a valuable member of the club she was.
“What are some of the courses you took?” Shelly asked.

“Advertising, Marketing, Mass Media, English 105-106, Creative Writing, Literature, Introduction to News Production,” she responded.
“With that, Shelly added, “You can emphasise the most relevant courses pertinent to a particular job you’re applying for. Say if you’re applying for an advertising position, you wanna highlight your advertising courses on your resumé”, she continued.
“Any awards?”

“I’ve been on the Dean’s List for spring 2014 and the President’s List for fall 2015,” she smiled.
“That’s awesome,” she said smiling back.
“Now, let’s get to work,” she said turning to her computer.
Shelly was typing away. She used the time to look at her phone. No messages, no phone calls. She went on her default app, Instagram.

About two or three minutes later, Shelly was done.
“See if this sounds right,” she said handing her a printed version of what she had on her computer.
She read quickly. It looked good. Shelly was indeed very good. She smiled an approving smile.
“Sounds good. I’ll email it to you. It is advisable to save it as a PDF file. That way, it cannot be tweaked.”
She thanked Shelly, feeling very grateful. She took the fifteen minutes’ walk home. When she got home, Shelly had already emailed it. She reviewed it, made minor adjustments, took a final look. It was ready.
With a deep breath, she clicked POST.
To be continued….