Finding a job for most people is a tedious, if not a daunting, exercise. Trying to find a job under pressure, whether it be financial pressure or during the pandemic crisis, can take the pain threshold of the job hunting experience to another level.

Asking Precious Mugadza, an experienced project management professional and the feature of our resilient leadership article, she will tell you job hunting can be either a soul-destroying or character-building process.

About Precious Mugadza

There are certain individuals who walk quietly among us. They do not mind working hard and often have a no-nonsense approach to life. “Let’s get on with it”, they say.

These quiet individuals love to hide in the background.  They are the ones who provide us with the necessary support so we can succeed. I know, because I have several of these amazing individuals in my life. This also means I am a good spotter. If there is one of these quiet superpowered human beings hanging around me, I can spot them.

And spotted, I did.

I was curating an exhibition for a charity, Aussie Books for Zim, in 2019 when I spotted Precious Mugadza. She came in disguise under the cover of another pair of helping hands. Little did Precious know, her reputation preceded her – a mutual friend had already sung her praise as someone with a strategic mind and gets things done.

Precious was born in Zimbabwe and completed her tertiary education in both Zimbabwe and South Africa, majoring in agriculture economics. In 2014, Precious settled in Australia with her husband and took 4 years off from employment to start a family.

With a wealth of experience under her belt – having worked in 14 countries, 3 continents and over 5 sectors – Precious was confident in her ability to return to work when she was ready. Little did she anticipate the challenges that were coming her way.

This is Precious’ resilient leadership story.

You were quite confident when you were getting ready to re-enter the job market. Many of us don’t describe ourselves as being confident when looking for a position. Where did this confidence of yours come from?

I was very confident at the start, because I thought my extensive industry experience surely would put me in a good position. Not only am I qualified with an international project management certification, I have also worked in 14 countries and across 3 continents. The fact that one of my previous positions was with Tradin Organic Agriculture BV, one of the largest companies in the global organic agriculture industry, that really boosted my confidence.

You then learned very quickly that re-entering the job market in Australia after a 4-year break was not easy.

I was very hopeful at the start. But very quickly, I realised it was not going to be easy and from feeling hopeful to feeling rejected, I began to have self-doubts.

I remember applying for 60 positions in a month and not even getting an interview. I would look at the selection criteria, to which I was well qualified for, and wonder if I should lower my expectation and look for a position that requires less experience and skills.

Feeling rejected is a very common emotion that job hunters go through. How did you manage to keep your chin up high and overcome the feeling?

My family was great. My mother and my husband cheered me on and reminded me that don’t let someone else’s opinion of you be your reality. Don’t take that rejection as a reflection of who you are.

How did you eventually land a job in Australia?

Through networking actually. I was attending an event called Networking After Five, which was organised by the University of Wollongong. At the event, I was speaking to someone who knew me through the work I did for Aussie Books for Zim, a charity that my husband and I started. He referred me to a start-up contact of his. I went for an interview and got a job working as a Systems and Projects Manager for a marine biotechnology start-up company.

Since then, you have worked in other roles including a HR position with a Credit Union. That was quite a transition from working in food regulatory to supporting organisational performance. Do you think your global experience has helped you in this transition?

Most definitely. I have lived and worked in so many countries and I have learned that it doesn’t matter where you are, fundamentally people are the same.

You will find great people who you love to work with and you will also encounter some who will test you. While we may define success differently depending on the maturity of the community we live in – success in an underdeveloped African village may mean moving out of a mud, grass-thatched hut into a brick house while success in Australia may mean having a great career – ultimately human behaviour is more or less the same.

Having an understanding of where people are at and what their needs are has really helped me integrate wherever I go. Once you understand the people, you can then adapt to your environment while still maintaining a sense of self. 

You previously mentioned about Aussie Books for Zim, an Australia-based charity that you and your husband, Alfred, started in 2015. Aussie Books for Zim has done some great work and it is how I got to know you. Tell us a little about this charity and why you do what you do.

Aussie Book for Zim started because my husband, Alfred, who discovered so many books in an excellent condition get discarded every year in Australia. We thought what if we could collect these books and ship them to Zimbabwe to build libraries. Since 2015, Aussie Books for Zim has shipped over 100,000 books and set up 9 libraries in rural Zimbabwe.

Working for Aussie Books for Zim is important to us. Even though we are doing this for the children and communities that we don’t even know, it is about bringing hope into a child’s life.

One of the values that I live by, which also has a lot to do with my cultural background, is being kind and taking care of your neighbours. This is based on the concept of Ubuntu – that I am because you are. In other words, for me to be who I am today, it’s because of other people and their actions that have made me who I am today.

So it is important for me to help others as this does not end with me. This is where the element of charity comes into it. I ask myself, “What do I have in my hands?” I don’t have a million dollars but I can spare my energy to collect and ship books to rural Zimbabwe.

Running a charity is not an easy task. At one stage you had to take on more responsibilities than originally planned as Alfred needed time to nurse his health back. I know you single-handed packed a shipping container with 24-tonnes of donated books and library furniture for Zimbabwe. Honestly, many would have given up at this point, but you didn’t. Why didn’t you give up? And how did you manage to push it through?

Yes, it was a 40-foot shipping container and it took me one week to pack it all. Why didn’t I give up? Because I believe it is important to finish something that you started if it is within your control. At times it may seem inconsequential not finishing what you have started, but if this happens too often, it then becomes a trait in life.

How did I manage it? I simply believe there is always a way. The way I rise to challenges has always been simply putting one foot in front of another and don’t stop moving. If you stop moving, the chances are you may not move at all. But with small progress made here and there, it will take you to the end goal.

Life may throw curve balls at us and in this case, Alfred had to take time off to recover from a serious illness, but those curve balls should not distract us from the end goal. And with Aussie Books for Zim, we have a very clear end goal, which is to ship one million books to disadvantaged communities.

You talked about keeping your eyes on the end goal. What if the end goal is not clear? What 2020 had taught us is we can plan as much as we want, but life sometimes has a mind of its own. What would you do when the end goal is not very clear?

My advice would be to just take the first step. It may be a right step or it may be a wrong step, but at least you are moving. This may sound funny but my mother often says, “You are not a tree, you should keep moving.” So just take the first step even when the end goal is not clear. If you do not like the direction where you are going, you can adjust.

Another thing is to learn that you can’t always be in control of life. You can only be in control of yourself. So if things are unclear, don’t wallow in confusion but instead try and move forward.

Another thing that the year of 2020 had taught us is to be resilient. What does resilience mean to you?

To me, resilience is about being alive and having the energy to take a step forward regardless of the challenge. Because as long as you are still alive and are able to take a step forward, you are doing something.

As an experienced project manager, no doubt you are constantly looking ahead and strategising. What is your advice to people when it comes to managing their career during this uncertain time?

There is no better day to take a stance to change your life than today. If you need to change your current situation, be open minded and just get started. Today is as good as any day to start that change. And remember, in order to stay relevant, you do need to be willing to stay open minded and take a risk.