Aug 312013
Are Foreign-Educated African Graduates More Productive Than Their Locally-Educated Counterparts

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For the last couple of years, lots of Africans have travelled out of their home countries to study. I’ll call them the “foreign-educated” For many, it is an opportunity to explore multicultural environments, gain international exposure and obtain globally recognised degrees that will not only set them apart from their peers, but help increase employment opportunities in their home countries.

Some of the most popular places Africans go to study are the USA, Europe (the UK, France, Portugal, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium and Germany), Australia, Canada, Brasil, Malaysia, Scandinavia (Finland, Sweden, and Norway), India and China.  Many of these countries host a significant number of the “best” universities in the world and arguably have some of the “best” educational systems. But education in these countries, especially for foreigners, doesn’t come cheap.  Africans studying outside their home countries tend to come from wealthy homes, be on scholarships or have very supportive families who will spare nothing to see their relatives get the best education possible.

But when all is said and done, are foreign-educated African graduates better equipped to flourish in the African market than their locally-trained counterparts?

During a coffee break at an African career event I attended, I joined two African networkers discussing this issue. I took the back sit and listen to what they had to say. One of the networkers – Jane was of the opinion that foreign-educated Africans are generally more productive. The other – Helen, believe they are not. With their permission, I have rephrased some of the statements they made, to make the content more appropriate for public consumption without losing their meaning. Let’s explore their thoughts.

Jane: I believe many African students are limited by their environments. How can we expect the best from them, when they have access to obsolete and in many cases, no equipment to study with”? We focus too much on theoretical knowledge and too little on on-the-job training. If I am a graduate employer, I will take on more foreign-educated African graduates than local graduates, not because they are smarter, but because they would likely have work experience in international settings, some understanding of working with diverse people and be better able to adapt.

Helen: You are generalising. Many locally-educated graduates are as good, despite the educational challenges Africa face. It shouldn’t be a question of whether foreign-educated graduates are better or not, but the individual grasp of their qualifications, openness to new challenges and ability to think outside the box.

Jane: But it is difficult to be open to challenges and new ideas if your environment restricts you. In some African universities, open learning and communication as well as knowledge-sharing are not encouraged for cultural reasons, especially reasons related to the respect of elders.

Helen: Respect for elders does not affect the ability of an individual to express his/her opinion, as long as it is not expressed in a rude way. Many older people are open to discussing.

Jane: What of communication? Many local graduates tend to struggle. Have you attended graduate interviews in Africa and in the UK? I have. Many local graduates can’t effectively communicate and they generally lack self-confidence. On the other hand, foreign-educated graduates are better communicators and exude confidence. You can almost always tell a foreign-educated graduate from local-educated graduate.

Helen: I believe it comes down to the individual. I have heard stories of foreign-educated graduates not good at hitting the ground running in their roles and local graduates, better able to manage work situations.  Education is just a factor in determining success.

Jane: Yes it is, but it is also the main factor.

Helen: I agree it plays an important role, but overall life experience plays a much stronger role. A one year master’s degree which is what many go for after their first degree in Africa, cannot dramatically transform a person from an average to a world class graduate. A four-year degree would probably do a lot more. Simply attending a foreign university is not enough to make a person succeed. In a profession like Engineering, where the theory learnt in not very different from real life experience, anyone who really paid attention in school will succeed”.

Jane: I agree, but only if they attend good schools in Africa, which are very few. Engineering studies from top foreign schools provide an opportunity for students to receive intense exposure to real technical issues and study with state-of-the-art technology. Learning is a nice balance between classroom learning and practical experience, with knowledge gained applicable to real life situations. Many African universities use obsolete equipment and theoretical knowledge gained is usually not applicable to real life situations.

Helen: So are you saying that the successful Africans with first degrees in Africa and further degrees in foreign countries, owe their success to their further degrees?

Jane: Yes, to a very large extent.

The break ended, so did the conversation. As we went in for the next presentation, I reflected hard on the conversation I just heard. Both agreements were strong, but I agreed with some points more than others. What are your thoughts?

You may want to read my follow-up article:

Are Foreign-Educated African Graduates More Productive 2? – An International Recruiter’s Perspective

Aug 092013
7 Questions Every Candidate Should Ask a Recruiter When Discussing a New Opportunity

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It is sometimes difficult for a Candidate to find out everything there is to know about a new role, especially at the beginning of a recruitment process. As recruitment processes involve a lot of commitment from Recruiters and Candidates alike, it is in a candidate’s best interest to ascertain if the role is right for him/her early in the process, as it could save a lot of time and effort if it isn’t.

Here are some role-specific questions every candidate should ask a Recruiter:

1.       What company and role are you recruiting for? What are the job requirements? Find out everything the Recruiter knows about the company and role they are recruiting for. If the Recruiter is not in a position to disclose the name of the company, it is important to understand why, so you can decide if and how you want to work with them. Sometimes, employers request confidentiality at the beginning of a process because of the high-profile nature of a role. However, a good Recruiter should clearly explain the reason if this is the case. In addition, they should give information about the responsibilities, reporting structure, industry and location as well as remuneration package. Great Recruiters have excellent relationships with their clients and are able to give enough information to help a candidate make an informed decision.

2.      What is the background to the position? A lot of Candidates do not realise that the history of a position is as important as the position itself, in determining if it is right. A “new role” could mean 1) Working in a green-field environment with little or no structure, 2) An opportunity to gain new experience and put a stamp on a project or in a company, 3) An opportunity for exciting and rewarding challenges or 4) Working in a very chaotic or disorganised environment. It could also mean 5) The company is expanding its operation and doing very well, financially or 6) It is in trouble and looking for specific expertise.

A “replacement role” on the other hand could mean 7) The last person resigned because his job was “unbearable” or 8) Because there was no prospect for career growth. It could also mean 9) The last job-holder was promoted internally or 10) Reassigned to different project where his expertise could be effectively utilised. Knowing why a role has come about will hep you determine if it is right for you.

3.      How many Candidates have been shortlisted for the role? This is a tricky one and I find a lot of Candidates lack the confidence to ask it. Some Candidates assume that because a Recruiter has an excellent relationship with them, they will only work “for them”. This is a misconception. It is important to remember that Recruiters’ primary responsibility is to find the best talent for their clients. If you are in their good books, they will promote your profile for the right roles. However, they will also promote other Candidates’ profiles as companies generally prefer to interview more than one person per role.

The average shortlist for a role is 3 – 5 profiles. Any significantly higher number should raise a red flag. No experienced Recruiter will send 10 or more Candidates for one role. If they do, it is highly likely that they do not fully understand the profile their client is looking for and are “shooting at multiple directions” with the hope that one profile is right and “hits a target”. If the number is fewer than 3, it may be because the Recruiter is very confident in the profiles they are presenting or are struggling to find more suitable Candidates. As a rule, the lower the number in the shortlist, the more likely a Recruiter will work hard on your behalf.

4.      Are there other agencies working on this role? A lot of Candidates do not realise that many Recruitment companies work on either an exclusive or non-exclusive basis. When a company works on an exclusive basis, they are the only company contracted to fill the role(s) and their clients only consider Candidates who come through them. When they don’t, their clients consider Candidates from other Recruitment companies as well. Naturally, the probability of a person getting a role decreases, the higher the number of companies and Recruiters working on it. While this shouldn’t discourage you, especially if you have a good profile for the role, it is important you know, so you can manage your expectations. Where possible, it is almost always better to work with Recruiters who have exclusive employer-mandates.

5.      Who is the hiring manager? What is the reporting structure? What is his/her management style? What is the company culture? Understanding the environment you will potentially work in and the dynamics of the relationships you will have, is a part of the recruitment puzzle that should not be ignored. Who you report to, who reports to you and how their work will affect your ability to perform your responsibilities are important information to know.

Each company is different, some are more relaxed and have technologically savvy employees, others promote flexible location policies, encourage a bureaucratic reporting or have a “one man” decision making structure. Understanding your potential employer’s culture will help you determine if the company is right for you and vice versa.

6.      What is the interview process and hiring timeline? Knowing who you are interviewing with and the type of interviews you will have, will give you a platform to prepare adequately. If a presentation is part of the interview process, you may wish to research your interviewer or brush up on your presentation skills. There is a big difference between a company looking to recruit a Finance Director to replace an employee retiring in a month and a company looking to recruit an Engineering Manager for its operation starting in a year. While both roles are important, the recruitment speed will be different. Knowing the timeline will help you figure out if the opportunity fits your current and future plans.

7.      What is the next step and how will you keep me informed? Do not end a call or meeting with a Recruiter without clarifying what the next steps are, how they intend to update you and when you should expect it. Keep in mind that feedback differs from company to company and role to role. In many cases, a Recruiter will have little or no control over when they receive feedback. Never assume that they are not following up with their clients, as it is in their interest to, but true professionals update their Candidates regularly, even when they do not have feedback.

The decision to pursue an opportunity a Recruiter proposes is entirely up to you, but it is important you are sure of the opportunity before committing to the process. Not having all the information you need to make an informed decision could be costly – in terms of time, effort and sometimes finance. It could also cost you a career move that you may regret for a very time…

Aug 012013
Identifying a good recruiter

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The role of agency Recruiters in Africa has greatly evolved. As recently as 10 years ago, there were very few African agency Recruiters because the industry was in its infancy in many parts of the continent. Previously, candidates had little or no contact with agency recruiters, except when they received feedback on their applications which was typically made via offline media channels, but there has been a lot of changes.

Today, the increased demand for Africans to take on African roles, war for great talent and technological  advancement has ensured that agency Recruiters are now proactively identifying and approaching locally and internationally based professionals to discuss career opportunities with their client-companies, sometimes before job adverts are put together. This is good news for candidates as they are now more engaged throughout the hiring process. However, not every agency Recruiter can work effectively with every professional. So how can a professional identify the best agency Recruiter to work with?

In two previous articles (7 Tips for Working with African Recruiters – Part 1 and 7 Tips for Working with African Recruiters – Part 2), I described some key things candidates need to do, to increase their chances of a getting a job through an agency Recruiter. One of which is – Identify the best and most relevant one for you. Candidates can do so by asking Recruiters who approach them some simple questions…

1.       What industries do you cover? Do you specialise in my niche? What regions do you specialise in? An understanding of a Recruiter’s niche will help determine if he/she is able to assist you. Although recruitment principles are the same, it is not possible for an agency Recruiter to know everything about every industry or region. Some of the best agency Recruiters are specialists in specific industries or regions. The more they know about their niche, the more successful they are – working with relevant employers and engaging with relevant candidates.

2.      Can you describe some of the recent roles you have worked on? Some industries have unique specialisations and agency Recruiters working across these industries may require mid to advanced knowledge of the industries to be successful. Engineering and IT industries are good examples. The more a Recruiter can show that they have previously recruited for roles or industries relevant to you, the higher the chances of success with them.

3.      How are you planning to work with me? Are you going to actively promote my profile to specific companies? Are you going to let me know when you have an opportunity that matches my expertise? How do you present profiles to your clients? Understanding how an agency Recruiter intends to work with you will help you manage your expectations, but also determine if you want to work with them. Confirm how they will treat your application as it is important to be comfortable with how they work, especially how your confidential information is managed. Good Recruiters respect candidates data and will confirm how they intend to present your profile to their clients.

Confirm if you are happy (or not) for them to send your profile to clients without your consent. You will be amazed how many Recruiters send profiles of candidates without their consent. I have shortlisted candidates who have never applied to a company or role, only to find out when discussing with the potential employer that they have them “in their books”. Applying directly or indirectly for a particular role more than once,  looks unprofessional and can ruin your chances of success. In addition, you could be perceived as desperate and/or dishonest.

4.      Who are your main clients? Knowledge of a Recruiter’s active clients will help you determine how well they are doing within your industry of interest and if their potential roles would be relevant to you. Having this knowledge will help you analyse your prospects and manage your expectations.

5.      What levels of experience or salary range do you work across? A lot of successful Recruiters specialise across a level of experience – early career, mid-level or executive-level or salary range. The answer to this question will help you determine if a Recruiter could potentially assist at your level.

6.      What support do you offer candidates? Recruiters are not CV writers or career counsellors; their core responsibility is identifying the best candidates for specific roles for their clients-companies. This said, good Recruiters will assist candidates they work closely with to sell their skills in the most effective, but honest way. Many will assist in salary negotiation as it is in their best interest to do so. It is important to note that resource and time constraints may hinder Recruiters from assisting every candidate they come across, but good ones will whenever they can.

7.      What information do you provide to candidates with regards to your client-companies? Ideally, you want to work with a Recruiter who is honest about the companies they recruit for, roles they work on as well as the relevant remuneration packages. This said, in some situations, a Recruiter may be unable to disclose some information for confidential reasons. If this is the case, find out why and follow your instincts on whether to proceed with the opportunity or not.

8.      What is the best way for me to find a job through your company? This is one question a lot of candidates do not ask. Recruiters work differently. It is important to determine if the way a Recruiter works suits you and the best way to maximise your relationship with them. Any good Recruiter will give you this information and if you are happy with their response, work with them.

The recruitment consulting industry is largely unregulated and as a result there are different standards for different recruitment firms. I have had the opportunity to discuss with candidates who have had great and not-so-great experience with other consultants.

There is a push for proper regulation of the recruitment industry, but until this happens, it is a good idea for candidates to take charge of the relationships they have with Recruiters. It is in your best interest…