Interview with Humanities Graduate, Masters Candidate & Portfolio Manager Senzo Hlophe

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how to be successful with a humanities degree in South Africa

Tell us a little about yourself

I am a Masters of Philosophy in Public Policy and Administration candidate at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and a former Portfolio Manager at the DG Murray Trust now an Innovation Manager for the said company.  I grew up in a small town in KwaZulu-Natal called Port Shepstone, only moved to Cape Town in 2010 to further my post-school studies.

What does a Portfolio Manager do?

In a more familiar cases, a Portfolio Manager (PM) is a finance designation for a person responsible for making investment decisions using other people’s money placed under the control of the PM within a financial institution. In my case I work for a grant making organization, instead of dealing with people’s investment I have to make decision of whether or not to support organizations. This involves grant process management: overseeing grant applications, from reviewing applications to conducting site visits. A lot of meetings and travelling around the country. Sending and receiving tons of emails. Also involves strategic project management of more than 25 projects currently. It is a night-fun-mare

What did you study at university and why?

I only applied to UCT for Bachelor of Laws, I ended up enrolling for Bachelor of Social Science in Political Science and Public Policy & Administration (PPA). The flipping decision was made after counselling with an amazing curriculum advisor I had at UCT, Jessica Tiffany.  I have always been passionate about people, I love working with people simultaneously I love politics, engaging on issues governance and so forth. PPA is about human development and empowerment through effective policy planning and rigorous interaction between different interest groups. I love that! I chose UCT because during a career expo back home, the UCT stall had no one while UKZN, UNISA, UJ, WITS and other had long queues and the representatives were nice.

What were your main challenges during your studies?

Low grades were the biggest challenge, I almost got excluded in first year, can you believe it? Finding balance between extracurricular activities and academics was another, for me lectures and tutorials were not the beginning and the end of my varsity experience and I did so much, sometimes to the detriment of the reason I came to varsity.  Language was another one, dude in high school I did Maths, English, business studies and IsiZulu amongst many others in Zulu. So English was a big jump for me and couldn’t relate to most people since most of my peers came from affluent schools and backgrounds and they spoke Her Majesty’s English.  Language for me is also coupled with culture shock. But any who I survived to MA level.

After graduation what happens? How did you manage to find a job that suites your interests (highlight the challenges if any and how you overcame them)

The plan was to do undergrad and leave for work, but in my final one of my lecturers saw a potential in me and convinced me to pursue postgrad studies of which I did and I enrolled for an Honours in PPA and my research focused on the then emerging National Health Insurance policy. Honours was so thought provoking coupled with anxiety of what happened after varsity and a lack of response from potential employers, I enrolled for a 2 year Masters progamme in 2014. I did Masters, after first semester I hated it and endued the torture of second semester and I took a leave of absence and still pondering about going back and finishing but I wanna change my programme.  Early 2015 through a friend I was introduced to some people at the City if Cape Town and I ended up doing an internship there and 3 months into it I hate it, I lasted for 5 months and I got a job at the DG Murray Trust as a Portfolio Manager. At the City I was paid extremely low stipend and could not afford accommodation and basic necessities. That motivated to continue looking.

What advice do you have for anyone currently studying towards a degree in the humanities and recent graduates still searching for a job?

Your degree and transcript won't cut it fam. You can't say you are a multitasker having completed 20 courses to qualify for a degree ONLY! Do something that you love and passionate about and be willing to differ from friends, don't just be part of a herd, have a purpose.

Lecturers are there for a purpose beyond teaching, use them. Get closer ask silly questions, go to consultations ask them about how they ended up in academia, find out what else is out there for you. This will come in handy when you need a reference letter. The moment your relationship reaches first name basis, go and drink on it, you've earned yourself a letter, don’t forget to remain a pretending diligent student to your lecturer. FYI: Your degree is not the definition of your career or job designation. I did Humanities, but my job requires me to analyze Annual Financial Statements, assess if organizations are financially sound and determine budget allocations and stuff, nowhere in my curricular was any of this covered and I love it!

To new graduates who have this thing that annoys the hell out of professionals and take it from me who has been at both side of the table, STOP IT! Acting like you know it all and have answers for everything during the interviews and always wanting to dominate in conversations and teamwork. Be humble and be open to learn and be open to be challenged both your thinking and everything under the sun. It will be difficult after graduation to get a job if you have not secured one by October/November.  Hang in there, you will lose some good friends who know you at worst, it all part of the process, family will come down on you, things will fall apart to an extent but it will come together at the end. I haven't figured anything much either.

Here are some helpful resources for those of you still on the job hunt:

Activate leadership Program

You may also be interested in reading our previous interview with occupational therapist Mapitso Thaisi

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