Tunde Omotoye has gained a large following on social media for helping young professionals navigate their careers and providing japa (migration) strategies. However, at the start of Tunde’s career, he was just as uncertain as the thousands of people who come to him for answers today. A series of events, including a layoff, helped him gain clarity. Here is Tunde Omotoye’s pivot journal.
How it started
Like many others, I grew up wanting to be a doctor. I even applied to study Medicine at the University of Ibadan, but my JAMB score didn’t meet the cut-off. So the school gave me Chemistry. I didn’t like the course until my third year — when I sat up and started doing well in grades. But it was a little too late to meet up with what I wanted to graduate with by then. I knew the chances of getting jobs in this field were not high in Nigeria because of low industrialisation. There aren’t that many places for scientists to practice in Nigeria. However, I did Chemistry to fulfil the obligation of going to the university.
After school, I went to NIIT to train in design and 3D animations because I had a flare for anything designing. However, their teachers were not so equipped to pass on the skills as they ought to. So in that regard, I didn’t really enjoy that experience. I finished and got a job as a graphic designer for a small company in Mushin, Lagos, earning about N30,000 monthly.
A year and a half later, the company owner told us he had gone bankrupt and laid off everybody. So I started job hunting again, but this time with no luck for several months. Then, in that vulnerable state, I reached out to a fellow university alumnus who I had connected over social media. Coincidentally, he was an HR personnel, and his company was hiring. “It’s an entry-level position,” he told me. “But it’s strictly by merit, so you’ll have to take a test where only the best will be selected.” I knew next to nothing about HR but went for the test anyway because I wasn’t doing anything else. To my surprise, I aced the aptitude test and got selected. During the interview, the manager told me it was an admin role, so I didn’t need any prior experience. And that was my first break into HR.
After a few months in that role, my perception of HR changed drastically. I used to think all they did was hire and fire people. But after realising there was so much more I could do in HR — from strategic HR, Business Management, training, and development to Payroll and compensation — I knew I wanted to build a career in this field. I went to university hoping to be a doctor, but after my first job, I wanted to become an HR VP.
I was excited to know there was a high ladder to climb in HR. However, I did not have the educational backing to get to that point. I still needed credentials and certificates, and I wanted those credentials to carry enough weight to afford my dreams. So I started by registering for an international certification called PHR for professionals in Human Resources. I did it because my supervisor also had that certification and told me it was a great leverage that would help me move up the ladder. Unfortunately, I didn’t pass the exam.
But life went on and learning did not stop. I went back to the drawing board, read books and got better at my job. The first book I read, “The Mafian Manager” — which had nothing to do with HR — is my favourite book ever. It teaches explicitly about going into the corporate world, not in a brutal way, but in such a diplomatic way that you never get yourself in trouble while growing on the company ladder. I learnt so much in my early days in HR just based on reading that book. “The Rules of Work” by Richard Templar was another great influence.
However, I still wanted to get certified. So I took it up a notch and decided to leave Nigeria for Canada to study Human Resource Management at Conestoga College. This time, I knew the stakes were different. I had to get a job in Canada after studying. So being exceptional at school was non-negotiable. What I did differently from every other student was that when I got here, I registered to be a member of the university’s Human Resources Professional Association. I started to research doing my certification even right while I was in school. I didn’t want to wait until after school when life pressures start becoming high. Eventually, I got retained by one of the largest insurance companies in Canada. But that wasn’t the end.
Because I worked in HR, I had access to employee data. And I began to see that that was this huge wage gap between people in HR and those in tech. I saw that I could be making a lot more in tech and wanted to switch. Luckily, there was an opening in the company’s network department. They were looking for someone with business management HR experience to come help them with their processes, so I quickly moved to fill the role. That was how I started a new career path straddling tech and Business Management.
How it’s going
Today I am co-founder and CEO of Human Squad, a startup that helps people study abroad and navigate complex immigration systems. I started my career in HR hoping to become the Head of HR of a big company. Eventually, I became a Manager and unit head, which is close, before resigning to focus on entrepreneurship.
It’s both exciting and scary to be in this position. On the one hand, I’m excited at the possibilities that come with running this business. But on the other hand, it’s scary to know that there’s no guaranteed paycheck at the end of every month or two weeks. Nonetheless, I won’t have it any other way.
Upskill relentlessly, prepare for opportunities and ask for help.
My ‘leverage’ came from making my supervisor my mentor and always finding out what it takes to climb to the next step of my career.