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Career Advice from Karoli Kolokonyi: Be Open to Learning, Flexible and Patient

By Kazungu Muhabwazina

It is amazing how being open to learning can lead to career opportunities, even if one wasn’t previously an expert in that particular field. Such was the case Karoli Kolokonyi, Director of Career and Alumni Affairs at Kepler, a non-governmental organization working in Rwanda since 2013 in partnership with Southern New Hampshire University.

“I had no prior training on how to support students in the context of career development, but being open to learning and with the flexibility to try out many things, I was able to adapt and gain knowledge and experience to support students,” Karoli said.

This job didn’t happen overnight. It took significant time as he assumed several other roles. After graduating from Southern New Hampshire University in 2016 with a degree in communications and a business focus, he assumed several different roles, including Junior Course Facilitator; Course Facilitator; Internship & Alumni Coordinator; Careers & Alumni Affairs Manager; and Associate Director of Careers and Alumni Affairs. These were much more than jobs. They were different opportunities to participate in activities that set him on a path to discover his true calling.

“Working at Kepler through different roles, I learned that supporting and interacting with students gave me a sense of satisfaction, especially how the support has impacted their transformation,” he said.

Karoli enjoyed supporting students in his previous roles at Kepler, like when he worked as a Junior and Course Facilitator, teaching/facilitating and evaluating student’s learning. He deeply fell in love with supporting students’ career preparation when he transitioned to work in the careers department in 2017. Unlike other roles, he built a strong bond with students, and it was easy to observe the impact of the support quickly, which brought a great sense of satisfaction and motivation.

We all face challenges. For students, a particular challenge is finding work after university. Students need career support to aid their career preparation and a smooth transition to the labor market. Karoli relishes the opportunity to provide support. He has delivered over the years, helping numerous Kepler students, guiding them to identify what they want to do with their life, and helping with their career preparation and transition to the labor market. This involves securing jobs and helping them to adapt to the workplace.

“I remember in 2018, I helped one student secure a job,” he recalled. “This student was bright, but she struggled to express herself. I had recommended her for different opportunities and she had done more than five different job interviews without being offered an opportunity. She became discouraged, lost hope and almost gave up. We kept working together on how to answer questions, and interview skills, especially body language, and dealing with self-confidence. When she finally got a job, she sent me an emotional thank you text message that I failed to respond to. I had to seek support from my supervisor because it made me speechless.”

Sometimes, jobs that are less than ideal are also learning opportunities. Karoli discovered this when he was working as a sales and reporting intern at Kigali Farms. Growing up, Karoli loved technology. At Kigali Farms, he was tasked to develop a customer relations management system to help the company easily track and manage customers’ data using the Salesforce CRM. He was very excited about the task, but little did he know that he did not enjoy sitting in the office alone talking to the computer.

At the same time, he worked as a teaching assistant at the College of Agriculture, Animal Science, and Vet (University of Rwanda) in the Masters of Agribusiness through their partnership with Kepler and Michigan State University. Even though he only worked on the weekend, he learned that he enjoyed interacting and supporting people. The experience acted as a turning point to help him discover what he liked and the kind of work he wanted.

Key Takeaways

I was impressed by what Karoli shared with me about how students can develop from a career perspective.

Be open-minded.

“I grew up loving technology,” he shared. “But I realized that I ultimately needed to pursue a different path because I had early exposure and engagement in different things. This happened, I think, because of how I was open-minded to try out different things.”

According to Karoli’s experience and what he went through, it is always good to try out different things. “When I was young, I didn’t think that I would be doing something related to career development,” he said. “It is a gradual process with many ups and downs.”

Take part in extracurricular activities that help you discover your passion.

Through doing many things, we discover what we love and get an opportunity to learn new skills.

Be patient and don’t compare yourself to others.

“Comparing yourself to others immediately pushes you in danger, and this will result in finding yourself being discouraged in your daily responsibilities,” he said.

If you aren’t sure about your career path, be flexible and open to learning.

According to Karoli, being flexible and open to learning helps you gain the experience and knowledge to make critical decisions and work. This also allows you to quickly adapt to any change that might happen with your work. By way of illustration, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost everything; people are working virtually while some have lost their jobs.

“This should be a lesson for everyone that we always need to be ready to adapt to new situations,” said Karoli.

I always feel satisfied helping my community to grow and reach their life goals. I take great joy in seeing people step up and have an impact. This is my career goal, and it is pretty similar to Karoli’s work. We both share a common goal to help others.

I often think about how I can perform as many things as well as possible. However, most of the time, I fail to achieve my goals. The message from Karoli is helpful as I consider how I achieve my future goals. I need to know more about why I am taking part in an activity and pursuing a goal. I would recommend all of us to consider this question of “why.” It will push us to perform better. It will help us to discover what we love doing, which will ultimately contribute to success.

Karoli’s career journey can serve as an inspiration, especially for young students who might not be 100% clear on their career goals at the moment. Taking things seriously and maximizing every opportunity you have is one of the key contributing factors that pushed Karoli.

Connect with Karoli Kolokonyi on his LinkedIn profile for more information.

Kazungu Muhabwazina is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Arts in Management with a concentration in Logistics and Operations at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with Kazungu Muhabwazina via LinkedIn.

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