Semonay Wesley is in the business of changing lives. As the talent and acquisition partner for Sasfin, she is the person who puts out all the job advertisements, conducts interviews and hires new employees. With each new hire, a life is changed, making it a job that comes with responsibility.
Semonay has been in talent and acquisition for 13 years, but how she landed there was a twist of fate. After moving to Johannesburg from Kimberley, she found a temp job as a PA. The only problem was that the job was in Woodmead and she was in the West Rand, which meant her daily commute was over three hours in heavy traffic on her first day. After the first day she called the agency who placed her. “I said, ‘I am so grateful for this job, but I will not be continuing. The drive was too hectic.’” Needing administrative assistance, they asked if she would come in the next day and help them out on a temporary basis. She went in the next day and has been in recruitment ever since.
What made her stay was her first gig as a recruiter. It was a career-defining moment and confirmed that this was the industry she was meant to be in. “I had to recruit 50 people for a call centre for Clientele Life in one week. To get 50 people with no criminal records, good credit standing and qualifications verified, you have to interview 200. The week after the job started, people emailed me, saying, ‘You have no idea how you changed my life. I can bring an income into the home, I can pay for my studies.’ For the first time, I actually understood the value of employment. I knew that this is where I wanted to be. This is the type of work that I wanted to do.”
The work she does is personal, and this means that she values both relationships and boundaries. “It’s my job to build good, sound relationships, but also to create healthy boundaries. Not everyone is your friend. But everyone is to be respected. You don't know how much a good word from yourself might mean to the next person.”
“Not everyone is your friend. But everyone is to be respected.”
Semonay worked with both big and small agencies before joining Sasfin at the beginning of this year. “It was a dream come true, but I didn't know how much of a dream come true it was until I actually started. I find myself learning every single day.” It’s given her the challenge she has needed. “When I started at Sasfin, it was a whole new ball game. It is not just appointing people and moving on to the next. It is actually seeing the development, from bringing the person into the business, seeing them grow within the business and having people say we enjoy working with that person. Seeing that whole journey has been amazing.”
This job is her proudest career accomplishment. “I'm good at my job, but I didn't think that I would be. I had imposter syndrome. A few months in, a manager said to me, you're doing a good job, and then they did a little report and said you've placed this amount of people in this period. I didn't even notice. I had a lot of doubts. Those doubts were silenced by people appreciating my work.”
Appreciation, she says, is crucial for employee satisfaction. “No amount of money will ever make you feel as good as a ‘well done, you did an amazing job. You are appreciated and without you, I don't think this would have gone so well.’ You can pump money into people, but if they don't feel valued and appreciated, it means nothing.”
“You can pump money into people, but if they don't feel valued and appreciated, it means nothing.”
As a self-confessed workaholic, she loves the hard-working culture of Sasfin. “I'm a hard worker. In other organisations, you work extremely hard and sometimes you feel that some people are at 70%, others are at 50%, some are at 20%. I feel like everyone in my team works at 100% plus. If I look at other divisions, I see the same sort of work ethic. I feel that drive and I'm motivated by that. I feel like I can't let the ball drop because no one else is letting the ball drop.”
Her work ethic comes from her mother, who worked as a nurse and then in the South African National Blood Service for 42 years. “She's never been unemployed a day in her life. From school, she went to study in Cape Town and she became a nurse.” As a young girl, Semonay remembers how it was her father who would come to her hockey games and prize giving ceremonies while her mother worked. “As I grew older, I understood that my mom was not there because she couldn't be there – because she was working the long hours and putting in the extra time. I learned, as I grew older, all the sacrifices that she had to make to make sure that my sister and I were independent. My mom had such a strong work ethic. I never saw her stay out of work for no reason. I hardly ever saw her take leave. She was never late for work.” It is her mom who drives her to be the best version of herself she can be.
While working hard comes easy to Semonay, taking time off is an area she admits she needs to work on. “It’s a developmental area for me. Covid changed so much in how we work and working at home, you do work more. And if you are someone who is output driven, you overwork.” She’s working on her tendency to overwork by selecting a day over the weekend where she doesn’t touch her laptop, and ensuring that certain times during the day, like dinner, are no-laptop zones. “You can't sit with your food next to your laptop at supper time. It's not right. It's not fair to the people who are sitting in the room with you.”
She also makes sure to give herself time for two activities that fill her cup – prayer and cooking. Before she starts her day, she takes time to pray and plan out her day. “Taking time to devote to not only praying to God, but also meditating on what your day is going to be like and planning it.” In addition, she spends a lot of time cooking and entertaining. “I'm the best cook, I really am. My passion is feeding people. I enjoy making big meals.” During Covid, when the company she was at enforced salary cuts, she opened a catering business over the weekends, a side hustle that energised her. Her retirement dream, she shares, is opening a little kitchen where people can come and enjoy a home-cooked meal.
Throughout her career, Semonay has only had female bosses. “I've had very strong women who I've worked with, and I've been very blessed that I've never had a bad boss.” Many of them have acted as mentors to her, like her current boss, Naseema Fakir, who has taught her the importance of empathy in the workplace. The best lesson she’s learnt from one of her mentors is not to be so hard on herself. “Be kind to yourself. When you do make a mistake, ask yourself, can I fix it? And if you can, fix it, and if you can't, let it go and remember the lesson you learnt so you don’t make the same mistake.”
It’s the same attitude she has when it comes to facing challenges, or as Semonay likes to call them, learning and character-building opportunities. “Nothing happens to you by chance. Everything happens so that you can either grow from it or learn from it.”
“Nothing happens to you by chance. Everything happens so that you can either grow from it or learn from it.”
As someone who interviews people for a living, Semonay says the best thing prospective job seekers can do is be honest. “Never try to be someone you're not, because then you have to live with it. If you're appointed, always be yourself. If people don't like you for who you are, then it's not the right place for you.” To women applying for jobs, she stresses the importance of acknowledging your accomplishments, and one of the questions she always asks is what their greatest achievement is. “I don't ask the question to hear what your achievement is. I ask so that I can make you aware that you should be proud of yourself and it's okay to be proud of yourself.”
“I don't ask the question to hear what your achievement is. I ask so that I can make you aware that you should be proud of yourself and it's okay to be proud of yourself.”
One of the things she’s proud of herself for is her conscious choice every day to choose happiness. “No matter how busy my day gets, no matter what challenges I face. No matter how hard things are, I choose happiness and I choose to be grateful for each day and for every single opportunity.” This choice, she says, manifests in where you sit in the boardroom, how you sit in front of your laptop and how you present yourself. “That's a big thing for me, manifesting. Manifesting where you are, where you want to be and how you want to be treated. Your energy spills over to others whether they like it or not, so if it's negative energy, people will feel it. And if it's positive energy, they will too.”
When it comes to success, Semonay says it’s the things that money can’t buy. “Success is not material. It is happiness and it is peace. It’s having those who you love around you. It's everything that you can't equate to money.”
Semonay is driven to succeed every day by the fact that she woke up. “Someone else did not wake up and I woke up. I was given another opportunity, what am I going to do with it? I have another chance to make today great or to make a difference. There is a reason why I'm here and until I fulfil my purpose, I'm going to keep on waking up and asking myself what am I going to do with that opportunity.”
“Someone else did not wake up and I woke up. I was given another opportunity, what am I going to do with it?”
Right now that involves studying towards a degree in human resource management, something she finds challenging and exciting. Her dream is to go into industrial psychology, an area she is passionate about. And with hard work, resilience and a little bit of manifestation, dreams do come true.