Kenya: Here Is How We Live Comfortably On Our Entry Level Salaries

What amount would you quote or negotiate for if you had a say over how much you would be paid by your employer?

What figure would you consider enough and fulfilling as compensation for work done?

Well, some job seekers get to be asked that question at the interview stage, but that privilege is scarcely extended to young, job-hungry, early career employees.

Three junior staffers and a HR practitioner discuss this issue.

Sharon Ambani, 25

Radio reporter

When I finished my university studies in 2019, I was excited to join the job market and put my skills into practice. But that was until I realised that no offers were coming my way. I volunteered at the Masinde Muliro University radio station to gain experience before I moved to Imani Radio - a community based radio station in Kitale.

As a field reporter, my work entails gathering and packaging news stories. In mainstream broadcasting companies, those who do my work fetch some good money, but I am just a junior reporter in a community radio so the income is not as handsome as I expected. However, my passion and the satisfaction I get from having my pieces aired keeps me going. I love serving our audience with all the intriguing occurrences of every day.

When I was applying for this job, I did not have high expectations since I knew I was getting in at entry level. Also, the station is still growing, so the most I expected to be paid was about Sh10, 000.

I have devised a way to diversify my income. When I get home in the evening, I transform into an online writer. This means that I have to sleep quite late yet I'm expected to be up bright and early the next morning. This is the greatest sacrifice I've had to make so far.

Also, I do not have a fixed salary. Mine swings between Sh6,000 and Sh10,000. This is manageable but very low considering the volatile economy and the disruptions Covid-19 has brought. Some days, I get some free goods, which when put together with proceeds from online writing, helps me live a modest but comfortable life.

I walk to work every day. Also, I do not buy new clothes. I go for nice mitumbas. I have had to unlearn some aspects of my life such as impulse buying and now I only purchase what I need, and not what I want. I am lucky that sometimes when I am broke, my siblings come to my aid. When between a rock and hard place, I sometimes take mobile app loans.

Read: 'All about my first job and what it taught me'

Of my total earning, I spend 25 per cent on rent, 40 per cent on food, 20 per cent on transport, 10 per cent on internet bundles and three per cent on medical and other emergencies.

I keep thinking of getting another job, different from what I studied in campus, one that will pay me better and offer more opportunities for growth. I hope that my next career move will be fulfilling and that I will earn enough to give back to my parents who worked so hard to give me a good education. I also hope to secure a job with a fixed salary. Until then, I will give my best at my current workplace. Call it singing praises to God on the corridors as I wait for the door to be opened.

Joan Muthoki, 24

Freelance Journalist

My job entails writing features for a news platform, which means that the salary is pegged on my productivity. The more articles I write, the more I earn, so my pay fluctuates every month. That is the greatest challenge for freelancers.

This was my first job after I graduated with a degree in journalism from Moi University, and I have worked for 11 months now. At first, I was contented with the pay because I didn't have too many needs. But a few months in, new responsibilities suddenly began cropping up. I found myself needing more airtime to call my sources and more money to invest in equipment like a camera, yet I had only one source of income.

I have since learnt to save a little more on the good days to tide me over during the low seasons. That is how I have managed to avoid the trap of mobile money lenders and borrowing from friends. I save at least Sh3,000 depending on my pay. Bus fare to work takes the lion's share of my money. On the bad months, I have no choice but to withdraw my savings.

Also read: Five things to look out for in first job (other than money)

I live with my friends so we share the rent cost, so I have some money left for my upkeep and occasional shopping. I do set aside some money for indulgences, especially on the good months, although it takes months before I have enough saved for leisure.

As much as my job is fulfilling, I yearn for a stable income. For this, I keep applying for other permanent jobs so that I can ultimately quit freelancing.

When I left college, I didn't have any idea how freelancers got paid, so I didn't know what to expect as a salary. I only knew that I wanted to get a job after college.

I have had to forego a lot of things - nice designer clothes, expensive trips and eating out often with friends - just to make sure I have enough money to take me through the month. I don't like borrowing from my friends when I can plan effectively for my income.

I can say confidently that there is nothing good about freelancing except the pay. Most freelancers don't get additionally perks except flexibility of schedules, which again requires one to be very good at time management.

This has been an eye-opening experience. Now, if I were to interview for a permanent job, I would look out for perks such as medical cover and opportunities for growth either academically and career wise, even though I would have to give up the flexibility that I so much enjoy. I believe I have become more creative because I've had to learn new and diverse writing styles and storytelling techniques. This is the main reason I still take freelancing jobs.

Collins Kajuma, 24

Software engineer

At Ronfold Digital Limited where I work, we mostly deal with software backend development. Ours is a startup company and I earn between sh30, 000 and sh50, 000 every month. This is my primary source of income.

Before I got this job, I was into online writing and I was fetching approximately the same amount every month. I had to abandon writing because I wanted to spend more time doing what I love -software development.

The pay is hardly ever enough, partly because I have lots of responsibilities and as much as I have tamed my appetite for fine things, I still struggle to meet all my needs. If I didn't have any additional responsibilities, I suppose that amount would be enough.

But I have to send my sister and mum some money regularly. That said, I am contented because that is the salary range for my job grade. It motivates me to keep working hard so that I can rise to management level.

Read: How to land a job after college

I also appreciate the fact that ours is a startup company so the managers have to think about the company's sustainability because we are still in the process of growing our clientele.

I constantly fight the urge to engage in side hustles because that would mean being disloyal to my employer. Lucky for me, I have classmates who often need help with their projects, and I occasionally get free goods from local and international tech platforms.

For my salary to last until the end of the month, I have to plan meticulously. I usually make a list of priorities and stick to it because if I don't do that the consequences will be dire. Every month, I put my wants against my needs, then I focus only on the needs. This was hard at first, but with time I became more disciplined and now I do it almost effortlessly.

After making the list, I think about my spending habits. Before anything else, I make sure I've paid my rent, chama, and tithe. I have to give back to God otherwise my mum will kill me. About a third of the salary goes to rent, a sixth to the chama and I use the rest for shopping and upkeep. Joining a savings group with strict rules has helped me stay disciplined and increase my savings.

Additionally, I hardly meet with friends like I used to when I was in campus because that would add onto my expenses. It is a sacrifice I have to make.

Just being close with my boss has helped me learn a lot. He engages me and my colleagues while we work on projects, and in the process I get to learn a few money management lessons. He did not study computer science or any related course in campus yet he has grown so much in that field, and he motivates me to keep working harder. I also like that he sometimes recommends me for some projects and I get to earn a little more from that.

Verolyne Witambila Isutsa

HR professional

In most cases, a salary is determined by one's professional skills, knowledge, and work experience. In most organisations, junior employees are given entry level salaries, the assumption being that they are just starting out in their fields and professions.

Additionally, junior employees are usually considered young and with little or no work experience because in most cases, they are fresh graduates who are taking their very first jobs.

While it may appear as though employers are taking advantage of the young employees and giving them only enough to sustain their day to day needs, there are guidelines that stipulate the acceptable salary ranges for different employees, including specifics such as remuneration structure, pay disparities, performance and productivity, public-private sector remuneration balance just to mention but a few.

Also read: How should I prepare for my first job?

Sometimes pay is pegged on the position being offered and the industry the candidate is joining. When you present yourself before an employer and demonstrate good work experience as well as a verifiable track record of achievements, it becomes easier to negotiate a good pay package."

Once you graduate, don't just sit pretty at home waiting for a good job to come your way simply because you have the required qualifications. Offer to volunteer for jobs that are in line with your profession. This way, you will accumulate the experience you need for the job market.

Salary reviews are mostly done after three to five years, and this is to ensure the salary structure is aligned with the company's needs and the labour market policies. Therefore, be patient and seek to grow in your career before asking for a review on your perks.

Lastly, understand that everybody has a salary bracket that they live on, so different employees will have different lifestyles. Don't be a five-digit stipendiary trying to live the life of a seven-figure earner.

dogetta@ke.nationmedia.com and hshikanda@ke.nationmedia.com

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