You might say it’s in her blood. Amber E. Okoye’s brother is a civil engineer, and her late father owned and operated a civil engineering firm for about 18 years. Okoye, 31, knew that would be her profession while still in high school when she spent her summers interning at her dad’s company and others such as Exxon. She currently works for Motorola as a mechanical engineering resource manager for their two-way radio division, overseeing the company’s mechanical engineers and support staff on manufacturing efficiency and product quality.
Okoye’s been with Motorola for seven and a half years. She began working for the company after graduating from the University of Texas with a mechanical engineering degree and moved up the ranks quickly, having had four promotions so far. Her last was in September, and garnered her an 18% salary increase.
It’s the type of career growth Wayne P. Harris is still hoping to achieve if he could only acquire his dream job — director of marketing and communications in a media company or cultural institution targeted to African Americans. After years of paying dues and figuring out how to land a job in media, Harris, an account supervisor at a direct marketing agency in Jersey City, New Jersey, is still trying to move his career to the next level. If working long hours to meet deadlines, networking at industry and social gatherings, and attending evening classes haven’t worked, he wonders what will. Three degrees (16 years since his first) and a few lateral moves later, Harris, 38, like so many other mid-level professionals, feels stuck in his present job and unfulfilled in his career goals.
“It has been difficult because, for what I want to do, there aren’t a million jobs out there,” he says. “My interest is marketing to African Americans. That narrows the field significantly.” Having endured rigorous multi-interview processes for what seemed like promising positions, Harris continues to be disappointed. “I always seem to make the short list. I always seem to be the best man and not the groom.”
Does the best man eventually get a bride? “He’s doing everything right. He could be at the threshold of success,” replies Michael Wilkinson, managing director of Leadership Strategies Inc. in Atlanta. “But like everything else, opportunity is also a matter of timing.” Harris might be in for a long engagement. At press time, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, unemployment hit 5.7% — 10.1% for African Americans — with job losses occurring in every major industry. There will be no quick economic recovery. Couple that with post-September 11 introspection, and what you get are employees feeling anxious about their futures. “Someone like [Harris] should take this time to maximize his network by solidifying relationships in his prospective industry and continue the interviewing process,” advises Wilkinson. “He should also take the time to seriously examine his approach.” Even if it means following up on an unsuccessful interview to find out where he lost points.
“Of late, mid-level professionals are looking for answers,”