Feb 282014

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We all know the phrase that first impression matters. We have heard of how appearances form a significant part of people’s first impressions. In conservative business environments, it is still very important that people dress in certain ways. However, with business world as we know it consistently changing, how important is dress code for interviews today?  

Many Recruiters argue that even today, the first impression a candidate makes on a potential employer is the most important one. The first assessment by an interviewer is usually based on how they look, which includes what he/she is wearing. They insist that now, more than ever, it is important to dress appropriately for a job interview regardless of the work environment. So what is an “appropriate” dress code?

A lot of Recruiters agree that the most appropriate way a candidate should dress is like a banker – Suit, tie, long sleeve shirt, formal dress, limited jewelry, limited perfume/aftershave, dark shoes and socks. Some even go as far as specifying that candidates should wear leather shoes.

What of liberal environments

Throughout my recruitment agency recruitment career, I visited lots of client’s offices. My reason for visiting differed from client to client and even with the same client, from time to time. However, one thing I noticed was that each company had its dress code. For many like the banks, it was conservative, for others such as ICT companies, it was more liberal. So if on a typical Monday, a company’s culture allows for jeans and T shirts, does it make sense to expect a candidate to wear full suit for an interview or worse still score him low for failing to dress in a way that almost no one dresses in that company?

Let’s talk about the clime.

I grew up in a warm environment, where people typically wear suit and ties to interviews. It is bad enough that the weather can get to disturbing degrees sometimes, but the discomfort of adding suits to that can only be imagined. Imagine making a two hour journey to an office for an interview in scotching sun. By the time a candidate gets there, they will normally not be in their best frame of mind. Seriously.

And interviewers?

I have seen interviewers attend their interviews with jeans and T shirts, yet complain that a candidate did not “dress well” (aka wear a full suit) for his interview. In Africa, we refer to this as “a kettle calling a pot black”. These types of interviewers, sometimes through no fault of theirs, see interviews as a one way process. HR teams have the duty to educate their hiring managers that interviews are in fact a two-way process. Candidates are as important as their interviewers, if not more important. They are in an interview room because the business – whatever kind – has identified gaps that need to be filled, without which there will be some negative consequences.

What of common sense?

There is an argument which is entirely common sense based. Some Recruiters argue that if a candidate is not sure of what to wear, they should go for the safest bet, which is suit. While I agree with this, I will add that if candidates feel for any reason that will not be comfortable in suits or know that the company they are interviewing with has a relaxed dress culture. There is no harm done in asking. However, like many other Recruiters believe, if you are uncomfortable asking, play safe. Go the suit route.

In a world where physical mobility is fast dwindling as we embrace new technology. In a world were face to face meetings are fast losing their importance, with emails and calls taking over, how important is a suit and tie dress code for interviews? Are we stuck in the past and clinging onto something that does not have as much relevance? Are people in warm climes losing great candidates because they are stressed, not because of the interviews they have, but because of their uncomfortable dressing?

These are food for thoughts for us all of us.

Nov 282013

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Yesterday, I received a very interesting message from a contact on LinkedIn. Responding to my last article the “where do you see yourself in five years” dilemma, Jane (not her real name) sent a long list of interview questions she dislikes and why. She ended her message by nicely asking what my answer would be if the table was turned around and the “where do you see yourself in five years” question posed to me. I sent Jane a reply, which I am more than happy to share and elaborate on.

The summary of my reply was – I really do not have a five-year plan, not even a two or one year plan… When I tell people this, they struggle to accept it. After all, I am a Recruiter and should know better.

A little about me…

While in primary/secondary school, I wanted to be a Medical Doctor, so I was encouraged to and took science classes. Even though I passed my exams, by the time I was done with secondary school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be, but knew medicine wasn’t for me. Growing up with a loving mum – a Nurse, meant that I had access to and read lots of medical books. It also meant that I had my fair share of hospital visits (even when I wasn’t ill). I was lucky to realise early that my interest in medicine was because of over-exposure to a medical environment from a very young age and innocently thinking that taking care of the sick was the only way to “help” people.

In reality, although I liked maths, physics, biology and chemistry, I did not really connect with them. I found them (except for biology) slightly abstract and social sciences a lot more engaging. As a result, upon graduation, I decided to pursue a university degree in Sociology and Anthropology. The only reason I was able to do a career switch was because in addition to the science classes I took, I also took a couple of social science classes – mostly out of interest. I was really lucky because the switch wasn’t planned.

Any graduate of Sociology, Anthropology or other social sciences will tell you how broad they are. I went through all my years of university education not knowing what path I would follow when I graduated. I however knew the courses I was interested in and went with them. I enjoyed my  socio-psychology, psychology, industrial sociology, social institutions, social stratification and mobility as well as sociology of personality and motivation classes. But I was not done with studying after four years. I went on to pursue a masters degree in International Development a few years after my first degree.

While studying for my masters degree, I pretty much fell in love with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Upon graduation, I got a job as a CSR Resourcer at Justmeans. Anyone who knew me at that time would have thought that I was destined for a CSR career. One of my core responsibilities was liaising with university career services and ensuring their students/alumni had access to information on CSR and sustainability-related jobs. This was the turning point for me, the beginning of my recruitment career, but I didn’t see it coming.

So what is the connection to the five-year career plan question?

If anyone had asked me questions relating to a five year plan at any point from primary/secondary school to when I completed my masters degree, I would have given answers that may not have reflected where I was five years from the time of the questions. Similarly, if anyone had asked the same questions after I joined Justmeans, I would have given inaccurate answers. Fast forward to 2013. More recently, I would have given wrong answers if anyone had asked me similar questions just a couple of months ago. I am in a different place from where I was only two months ago.

Precise plans work for some, but not everyone. It is important we keep in mind that not having a plan at certain points in a person’s career does not always equate to not having interests, aspirations, passions or motivations. It certainly does not mean a person will not be successful in a role. I have come to realise that the main thing that kept me going throughout my studies was my genuine interest in what I did. Today, the passion for what I do keeps me going as well. I am following my interests and passions first and building a career around them as I go. This may not work for everyone, but somehow it does for me.

A lot of us can clearly remember our lives without mobile phones and the internet, simply because major technological changes in Africa only recently took (and is still taking) place. Who would have accurately predicted that Africa will top the mobile money map or be an emerging force to reckon with in e-commerce today? Things change and these days, very quickly.

To me, having a plan set in stone means not giving myself room to adapt to unpredictable changes or even new challenges. It does not mean I am not aiming for specific things, it just means I am creating a flexible environment to ensure I achieve my goals. It means I am preparing myself for and willing to walk through multiple interesting and challenging career paths, not a straight, narrow and somewhat boring path.

Even professionals who enjoy career planning, do not always have clear cut visions of what they want to be or do at all times, but as long as they have something that drives them – a passion or an aspiration that links directly to their dream or current jobs and employers, then they are on the right track.

So if I was interviewing for a role today and asked where I see myself in five years, my answer would probably be:

  • I see myself continuing in the path I have always taken – striving to be the best in what I do
  • I see myself in a challenging and engaging role that has some links to one or more of my passions and interests, especially Africa, recruitment, international development and corporate social responsibility
  • I see myself effectively using the skills I have gained, but also exploring opportunities where I can gain a lot more at the shortest possible time

To me, for as long as all the dots connect in my head (and heart) today, I will not worry about where I will be in five, four, three, two or even one year. The future is very unpredictable, but I know that every creative step I take towards a passion today, is a positive step towards where I will be in five years.

All I need to do is keep an eye on what the market is saying. Keeping abreast of future market predictions mean I can continue focusing on gaining the most relevant sets of skills…

Nov 122013

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Why we ask:

Recruiters ask the “where do you see yourself in five years” question for a couple of reasons. We ask because we want to know what motivates you. We love candidates with the core technical expertise our clients and hiring managers seek, but in addition, look for candidates with passion, drive and aspirations.

We know the hiring landscape has changed a lot in recent times and an employee staying with a company for more than 3 years is now the exception as opposed to the rule, but when we recruit, we hope that our clients and hiring managers will provide the right environment for you to grow. We hope they (and their colleagues) will do everything reasonably possible to retain you if you are good at your job.

During an interview, we look for an early indication of commitment from you. Asking the “where do you see yourself in five years” question is just one of the many ways try to find out if you will be keen to learn, grow and contribute to our client’s growth in some capacity for at least the medium term.

When we ask, we do not typically look for a right or wrong answer (although a few Recruiters may), we generally look for insights, we look for hidden information – information that reveals a lot more about you than our technical questions would. It is important to note that we also look to see if our clients and hiring managers can potentially match your aspirations as it is a two way process.

There is no point in us progressing with your application if your aspiration is to be a professional chef in one of the finest restaurants in the world in 12 months and you are applying for an IT Manager role we know would progress to an IT Director role in the same period of time. It will be a disservice to you, us and of course our clients and hiring managers.

The above example is extreme, but we see it every day. We know many of you have plans – great plans, so we want to know how adaptable they are and if they are suited to our employer or maybe better suited to a different employer. If we are in external consulting, we would sometimes direct you to a different employer who can provide you with the platform to achieve your personal and professional goals.

The five year question gives us a platform to probe further, to discuss with you, to determine if you are right for our client/hiring manager or not. More importantly, it gives you an opportunity to ask us questions too. There is nothing wrong in asking us to elaborate on any of our questions, after all an interview is a two way conversation, or at least a good one should be.

But candidates don’t always like it:

The challenge however is that more often than not, the “where do you see yourself in five years” question is asked in a very vague way by some of us – without any context. As an external Recruiter, I received this feedback from many candidates interviewing with other Recruiters. This is why it is reputed to be one of the most difficult questions to answer. The unanimous feeling is that it makes some of you uneasy when asked without a follow up explanation or an indication of what we are trying to find out.

To my fellow Recruiters:

Candidates may be acquainted with the responsibilities of the role they are interviewing for and clear on its reporting structures. They may have done their research on the potential employer’s current operation and read the latest news on their investment interests and how it relates to the role, but it is still unfair for this question to be posed without firsthand information on how the role is likely to evolve.

It is only logical for us to have prior discussions with candidates about the expectations of the role and give them all the relevant information they need to know before the question is asked, especially if we are looking for a right or wrong answer.

The question should be adapted to interview situations and put into specific contexts where possible. Giving candidates detailed information about the company’s growth strategy, clients, customers or technology would help put the question into perspective and provide a platform for the provision of more accurate answers.

It may be helpful to first discuss the goals of the company, describe the purpose of a role, how it sits within a department and the rest of the business, why the role has become available and the likely challenges it will face. At this point it okay to ask how the person would support the company’s goals if they take it on and what plans they may have/suggest to ensure an overall positive impact. Their response will give a clearer picture of how they analyse situations and what they may potentially bring to the role.

Should we decide to ask this question, we need to keep in mind that not everyone has a definite five year plan. In addition, not having a five year plan doesn’t necessarily mean not having relevant passion, drive or aspirations. The “where do you see yourself in five years” question, in specific contexts should provide a part of the overall picture. We should focus less on right or wrong answers and more on how the question is answered –  the structure, content and how it relates to the role and our client.

As a past/current interviewee or interviewer, what is your experience?

Nov 092013
What do African Employers Really Want A Recruiters Perspective

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The responses received from my last article what do African employers really want – local or international expertise?” were wide-ranged and eye-opening. I will however focus on only two of the most popular ones in this piece.

Lots of readers agreed with the latest trend of hiring African professionals with local and international experience. They believe it is the best way forward, as having a good blend of both could be advantageous to all stakeholders. However, a significantly higher number strongly opined that a lot more attention should be paid to Africans with local talent as it is (or at least should be) the core of all African talent resourcing strategies.

The argument for finding a good balance lies in the fact that no company looking to significantly grow and favourably compete can operate in isolation of the international environment. To succeed, companies must attempt to harmoniously incorporate the best of both worlds to their local operation. On the other hand, the argument for focusing on local expertise is particularly strong. Companies need to fully harness the local talent resources in the places they operate, to not only gain the benefits that come with acceptance as “local companies”, but also deliver on their social responsibility and ensure long term sustainability.

I see the strengths of and completely agree with both arguments. However, I also feel that corporate interest in local and international talent mix is a reality that should not be ignored by African early career and experienced professionals alike, whichever view they take. This is a trend that reflects the current talent need of companies in a world that has arguably become much smaller than a “global village”.

Below shows a simplified (for ease of explanation)  table of categories African professionals generally fall under. The current recruiting trend shows that corporations are increasingly looking to hire professionals who fall under B to D. This leaves  A and E professionals somewhat vulnerable. So what can they do to ensure they are as, if not more competitive?

Professionals Experience
A 100% Local
B 75% Local : 25% International
C 50% Local : 50% International
D 25% Local : 75% International
E 100% International


In one word Research.    

In this context, research means collecting information about roles, functions or industries that could potentially be beneficial to a person’s career. If we all accept that knowledge is power, then being knowledgeable about all that affects a person’s career empowers him/her to make informed decisions.

For any African professional to have career success, he/she must be very inquisitive. Questions such as “what are my peers doing locally and internationally?”, “what is the current local and market trend in my industry?”, “what are reputable analysts identifying as the future market trend in my industry?”, “what certification/experience do I need to attain a specific height?”, “what opportunities should I take advantage of in my current environment?” should be consistently asked. Inquisitiveness leads to answers and research is key in finding answers.

It is no news that advancements in technology is transforming the African continent. It is a lot easier to access information today than it was not very long ago and social media is playing an important role. 10 years ago, if a person wanted to seek information about career opportunities in a company or apply for specific positions, they reviewed the job section of newspapers and posted their CVs to the details specified. Today, they do a Google or Yahoo search, check LinkedIn’s job section or passively wait for the roles to “find them” by setting specific online preferences and receiving updates in their inboxes. With the click of a button, they can apply.

Professionals (either early career or experienced) with only local or international experience, looking to expand their horizon should take advantage of these advancements. Resources such as LinkedIn Groups are particularly useful as they can provide valuable platforms for broad or specific information. They can also act as useful platforms for engaging with similar-minded professionals.

For professionals who just want to keep up-to-date with industry information, in addition to getting information from familiar industry resources, passive resources such as Google Alerts can be helpful too. Google Alerts is a free Google service that automatically notifies users when new online content from news, blogs, websites, videos and/or discussion groups matches a set of search terms selected by the user. A user can set up alerts with generic words such as “Development in Africa” or very specific words such as “Telecommunication jobs in South Africa”. The results are delivered in an email which can be set as it happens, daily or weekly.

These are just two of the very many online options available.

Other small steps can be taken to ensure continuous relevant expertise.  For instance, locally based professionals can strive to participate in international projects with their current employers where possible, as this could help increase their knowledge of the international markets and give a more complete understanding of their industries. Similarly, internationally based Africans considering relocating to Africa can get involved in specific Africa-focused projects where possible. This would help improve their local knowledge and ensure they develop the right transferable skills when they finally decide to relocate.

Location of expertise should not limit a person’s ability to develop a successful career in Africa. Everyone can do something to change their professional situation and technology has made it a million times easier.

Markets change, trends change, and corporate strategic plans change, but in our ever-changing world, one thing is certain – each person is the main driver in their career journey.

Oct 232013

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“What do African employers really want – local or international expertise?” Although phrased in many ways, this was the most recurring question received, following my last article – and the best African employer to work for in 2014 is…. Thanks to everyone who contacted me via LinkedIn, Google +, Twitter and the Contact Page of this website.

An analysis of all the questions received, show that a good number of locally and internationally based professionals are not quite sure of what companies look for when they recruit roles across their businesses. Interestingly, while some locally based professionals feel overlooked in recruitment processes by African companies even when they believe they have relevant expertise, some internationally based professionals on the other hand, feel they are given less preference because of their distance from the “action-spot”.

Each group feels somewhat marginalised. But is this the real situation on-the-ground? What are employers actually thinking? Do they really have a favourite group? If so, which? Unfortunately, there is no straight forward answer to any of these questions. However, there is an interesting trend I would like us to explore…

Despite the abundance of human resources in Africa, we have in the past struggled and are still struggling with the issue of skills shortage in specific countries, industries and functions. Previously, companies were happy to resolve this problem by hiring expatriates. After a while, it became clear that in many cases, this did not work. In fact, in some situations, bigger problems came about. Many expatriates struggled to do business locally, causing significant corporate losses. Some also failed to integrate into the local environment and with local employees, resulting in corporate tension.

Of course there were many successful cases of expatriate hires, but it became increasingly evident that a more sustainable approach was needed to deal with this issue. Many companies refocused their plans, aligning them to ensuring the transfer of skills from expatriates to local employees. But skills transfer takes time and something else needed to be done in the interim.

The focus shifted particularly in the last decade to hiring very experienced internationally-based Africans looking to return to their countries and regions of origin. This was seen as a particularly good corporate move as it meant companies had less to worry about high expatriate remuneration packages, visa issues, long term location commitment as well as government local content and localisation policies. But this on its own did not resolve all of the problems, as a significant number of Africans living in foreign countries had lost touch with their roots and the realities of the African environment by the time they were hired.

Like some expatriates, some “returnees” struggled integrating with local employees and understanding how to effectively do business. Unlike many expatriates, some were able to knock at business doors, but unfortunately not walk through them.

On the flip side, there were many “returnees” that brought with them, wealth of experience. They were able to work with local employees in efficient and productive ways, succeeding in their roles and transforming their businesses. These professionals where the lucky ones, who either knew what it took to adapt their skills to a different environment or had local colleagues ready for the “right” type of change. With these successes not withstanding, executives of companies knew that more needed to be done.

In the last couple of years, some forward-thinking companies have once again adjusted their recruitment approach. They have carefully analysed the different issues faced over time and found that:

  • They need local expertise more than they initially thought they did. Local employees are born in their environments, grow up in their environments and generally know what works and what doesn’t.  They understand the cultures and appropriate ways to do businesses, how to open doors, how to walk through them, how to negotiate the best deals, how to …. it is endless.  It is a well known fact that the more local a company is, the more it is embraced by the people. This explains why some multinationals keep local company names after a takeover or merger.
  • There is stiff competition in many African core industries, especially with the recent economic growth and investment in the continent.  Professionals in the commercial and other functional areas of businesses are increasingly aware that they need to connect more with their local customers or lose out to competitors. It is no surprise that many adverts and sponsorships are more “African” today than they were ten years ago. Customers feel more attached to what they know, so it makes sense for companies to employ people who have this understanding.
  • They need international expertise as well. While local employees may have lots of knowledge that their international counterparts do not have, some businesses need specific skills to take them to the next level of their corporate growth. Unfortunately in some African countries, especially when an industry is in its infancy, there may be challenges finding some of the relevant skills locally.
  • To address it, more than ever, companies are sponsoring promising employees to other countries for further education or transferring them to international operations with the aim of fast tracking their expertise. This is particularly so for highly technical industries such as the Oil and Gas sector.
  • Most importantly they need the perfect blend of “local and international”. Companies are now acknowledging the need for both local and international expertise and as a result,  adopting a careful blend of both in their hiring activities. This explains the recent interest by many companies in hiring only professionals with local and international understanding.

As a Recruiter in the last two years particularly, a lot of my clients have indicated clearly during anew role briefing that they would only consider candidates who can demonstrate both local and international experience. This is a topic I will elaborate on in another article.

The world has become a global village with interactions from every corner only imagined a couple of years ago. For any corporate entity to survive and effectively compete, regardless of how remote it is, it needs an equal measure of local appreciation and international exposure.

So what do African employers really want now?

In simple terms, employers are not only seeking early, mid and senior level professionals with relevant technical expertise. They are also increasingly keen to hire people who understand how their local environments and the dynamics of the international environment interact and affect their operations and vice versa. To them, this is the new basis for many strategic decisions.

My thoughts:

Employers should continue paying great attention to skills transfer, but not just the usual foreign to local transfer, but also local to foreign transfer. This way, both locally based employees and “returnees” or expatriates are better equipped to face their corporate challenges and that of their immediate and international environments.

Oct 092013
And the best company to work for in 2014 is

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It is that time of the year when Africans like professionals from other parts of the world, start seriously assessing their work activities for 2013 and making plans for 2014.

As part of the process, we reflect on the goals we set out to achieve in January, what we were successful at, what we failed at and what we are currently doing. We compare our thoughts and give ourselves the push to accomplish as much as possible in the remaining weeks of the year.

In all of my years of recruiting into the African market, this is the time I receive the highest number of job queries, from locally and internationally based Africans alike. One of the most popular questions I get asked is “what is the best company to work for in ABC industry or XYZ region”. My new candidates are always surprised when I respond by asking two questions – “what is your expertise and what are you looking for?”

Candidates generally expect that because of my recruitment reach across Africa, I will immediately give them a short or long list of potential employers to target, possibly across multiple industries. This is not how recruitment, at least good recruitment works. The process should be the other way round, in this order:

  • What is the candidate’s expertise?
  • What is the candidate’s interest and
  • What companies should the candidate target?

As a Recruiter, it is important for me to first understand what a candidate has done, where they are at professionally, what they are looking for and why, before suggesting companies they should focus on. This information provides me with the tool I need to give the most appropriate industry and regional information.

Interestingly, I have similar conversations with my clients. I try to understand what they have done as well as their current and future plans. In doing so, I am able to figure out where their immediate and future resourcing needs are and the sort of professionals needed to take them to the next level.

No two companies are at the same stage of corporate growth. Structures and operations are often different, even with direct competitors. As a Recruiter, part of my responsibility is to understand these differences and map out strategies for identifying the best talent  my clients need at all times and for all opportunities. Some times, I have a shortlist before the end of a client discussion, partly because I have built relationships with many professionals over the last six years, understand their strengths (and weaknesses) as well as know the sort of opportunities they seek.

One of my colleagues describes a Recruiter’s brain as a real-time processor. When I respond to a candidate’s question with my questions and get the responses I need, I immediately process the information, eliminating companies and opportunities that may not be relevant to the candidate and automatically creating the short or long list they so desire. In addition to specific company information, Recruiters have general market knowledge and sometimes are able to point candidates in the right direction when they can’t help.

So what is the best African company to work for in 2014?

Ventures Africa, Top Employers Institute and other organisations have their list for 2013 and will probably have for 2014. Selected companies are assessed based on specific criteria and a list drawn based on how well they meet these criteria. These lists can serve as useful guides to job seekers. However, ultimately, the best determinant is a combination of:

  • A candidate’s situation – expertise & professional interest and
  • A company’s situation – current plans & future strategic goals.

The closer the match, the better…

I strongly believe this because I have seen candidates who are leaders in their disciplines and can almost pick any job they want, choose to work for companies that some describe as “bad places to work”. To some of these candidates, what makes a company a “bad place to work” is the same thing that drives them to seek a career opportunity there. They are driven by the fact that they have the expertise needed to make the right changes and turn things around. They are hungry to make significant positive changes. That is what motivates them.

Candidates should take it upon themselves to self-assess. Understand their strength, weaknesses and interests, then use available resources (online, professional networks and Recruiters) to research information about companies that are walking in the same direction as they are and want the same things they do. Only professionals who can combine all of these harmoniously, will know the best African company to work for in 2014.

Sep 222013

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I love inspirational quotes. They are just words, but somehow brighten up my day and give me the kick I need most mornings.  They help clear my thoughts, keep me focused, give me renewed hope, inspire me to make necessary positive changes and encourage me to continuously move towards my personal and professional goals…

Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nelson Mandela, Napoleon Hill,  Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Henry Ford, Martin Luther King Jr, Vince Lombardi, Isaac Newton, Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Edison and Mother Theresa – known for very different things, but similar  in how their words have impacted on different generations… I love all good quotes…

I recently read Steve Jobs’ commencement address at Stanford University in 2005, almost a decade late. In many ways, his address moved me. I had previously seen some quotes from it, but reading the full address, gave me a clearer understanding of why he was who he was – a very successful entrepreneur. But what has Steve Jobs got to do with job searches?

A job search can be stressful even in the best of circumstances. It is challenging for most people and may be particularly difficult for professionals who suddenly lose their jobs. Losing a job throws  people off balance and into a state of confusion. The “why me” and “what next” questions are often asked. It is however important to remember that searching for a new job is not a one-way street to the top, but a process with ups and downs and should be treated as such.  With limited career opportunities, even the best of talents receive “regret” emails. Steve Jobs understood that life has its challenges, he said: “sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick”. When this happens, he also says “don’t lose faith”.

Although easier said than done, it is more beneficial than not for a job-hunter to have a positive attitude throughout a job search process. Positive thinking makes you better able to cope with the stress that sometimes comes with a job search and more resilient to whatever the process throws at you. Do not lose hope, even when things don’t go your way. A positive attitude motivates towards success.

As you keep searching, focus on positions that will give you personal and professional satisfaction and in addition, remember that when you finally find that great job, you will need a lot of commitment to be successful. It is therefore important to enjoy your work because you will be unable to fully commit to it otherwise.   According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2012, the average annual hours for workers in its member countries was between 15 and 25 percent of the total number of hours in a year. This, in my opinion is not so bad especially when compared to the “real” number of hours people work in many developing countries, with not-so-tight labour laws.

Whatever the number of hours a year a person works, the fact still remains that every second working is a second away from doing something that could be valuable. 25 percent of a year is a lot of time and should not be “wasted” doing something a person dislikes. Steve Jobs puts this into perspective, during the address, he said: “your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

If you can’t find a job that will give genuine pleasure, Steve Jobs says: “keep looking until you find it”.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t accept a “temporary” role while you are looking.  Times are tough, so it is impossible for many not to, but ensure you stay focused. Don’t settle”. Where possible, your temporary job should be a stepping stone. It should propel you in the direction you want, ultimately add value to and not hinder the process of achieving your goal – your ideal job. Sometimes we settle because it is a lot easier, but eventually, we regret.  

My favourite quote from his address is:your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life”Every job-hunter should reflect on what they truly want and aim for a job that is truly theirs.  A job that they feel at home with and will  push them out of their comfort zones. A job where they can gain new and exciting skills that are in line with their career paths , not one that people expect of them.

People will always have opinions about what you should or shouldn’t do, but they will not walk in your shoes, you will. So while it is okay to listen to what others have to say as it could sometimes be valuable, the career you decide on, should be yours and yours alone. Some of the most successful people in the world use their heads, but always go with what they are genuinely interested in. They follow their hearts. When job-hunters do the same, they almost always find career satisfaction.

You can tell a person living another person’s career life by their overall attitude to work. They dread Monday mornings, feel no motivation to excel and lack passion for what they do. On the other hand, when a person finds fulfilment in their job, they need little to motivate them. There is something intriguing, interesting and inspiring about how they describe their work. They always come alive when they talk about projects they work on.

There is no doubt that Steve Jobs address, although eight years old, still applies to job searches today.

If you are exploring new career opportunities and come across a lot of bumps along the way, remember: “however long the night, the dawn will break…” – this is one of my favourite African quotes.

Sep 112013
Are Foreign-Educated African Graduates More Productive Than Their Locally-Educated Counterparts 2 – An International Recruiter’s Perspective

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Since my last post, a few people have sent private messages requesting my opinion on the productivity of foreign-educated African graduates vs. locally-educated African graduates at work places. While I may not be the best person to compare both sets of graduates, I do have my views.

I believe the success or productivity of a person ultimately depends on the individual, although the environment (including the educational environment) a person finds his/herself in, can play a significant role. I say this because I have seen many Africans with first class degrees from their home universities, struggle in foreign universities when they try to gain a further degree. On the flip side, I have also seen professionals who barely passed their degrees in their home countries, excel in foreign universities.

Some may argue that it is because the standards are higher in some countries than others, making studying somewhat overwhelming. To an extent, I agree. However, I also believe that a determined person will excel in “many” environments.

Foreign-educated professionals are not inherently smarter than African-educated professionals. What we see is what happens when intelligence is or is not nurtured. Many foreign universities provide excellent levels of “free” support to their students – including Africans. Although branded as “free”, I would always argue that they are really not, as the cost is incorporated into tuition.

Nurturing intelligence can be expensive.  According to Education UK, the annual undergraduate tuition ranges from £7,000 to £25,000 and postgraduate tuition, £7,000 to more than £34,000. In simple terms, four years of university study can set a student back by anything between £28,000 and £100,000, for tuition alone. This is way beyond the reach of the average African.

The cost of education in many foreign institutions, almost always reflects the level of support provided to students as “expensive” universities need to justify why students should pay as much as they charge for tuition. If they do not, student applications will move elsewhere. Support is given to students to ensure they effectively maximise their time while studying and have a platform to stretch their intellect or challenge their thinking. It also provides a platform for students to strive for knowledge, understand their strengths and weaknesses, improve their hard & soft skills and become well-rounded individuals.

The right university support exposes students to the thinking of global leaders in their fields and creates opportunities. This is the least students; especially international students deserve to receive to compensate for the high cost of their education. Vincenzo Raimo the director at the University of Nottingham’s International Office agrees. To him, “international students need and deserve a level of personalised support and service commensurate with the level of investment they are making by coming to our universities”.

So how does university support reflect on a graduate’s productivity in a work place? Good university student support services are geared towards improving not just their technical capabilities, but also their functional abilities. Graduates with the right attributes are better able to succeed than those without them. When people are given the right support, they tend to flourish.

It must however be pointed out that universities are not the only platforms for students to gain work-related skills. Successful students regardless of where they are based, go beyond their school environments to access resources that can help them become employable and succeed in their chosen professions. It may be more difficult for some to access them than for others, but it is still possible, especially as the global digital divide decreases by the day.

It is a documented fact that on the average, a typical student from the USA, UK, Australia or Canada has access to a lot more educational resources than a typical African student. However, not every student from these countries, even with all the student and alumni support available, is successful. Not even students from top schools such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford and Yale University.

It is important for us to note that despite its challenges and although probably not proportional to its population, Africa still manages to produce graduates and industry leaders that can compete in the global economy.

An all-round education that focuses on developing students hard and soft skills, connecting them to the best employers or helping them identify entrepreneurial skills is a recipe for success. However, it comes down to the individual to strive for it, to really want it. According to a Forbes article, “recent graduates or more experienced workers – need to step in and take skills development… into their own hands”. If your environment is not providing what you need, look for alternatives where possible.

This is my humble opinion.

You may want to read my last article:

(Are Foreign-Educated African Graduates More Productive 1?)

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…


Jul 152013
7 Tips for working with a Recruiter 2

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My last article 7 Tips for Working with African Recruiters – Part 1 focused on three important things to consider when working with a Recruiter – 1) identifying the best and most relevant one for you, 2) building a mutually beneficial relationship where possible and 3) honesty at all times. This part focuses on the remaining four.

To get the best experience working with a Recruiter, it is important you:

4        Are ready to discuss remuneration

Remuneration package discussion is almost always sensitive. One of the first questions hiring managers ask is “how much does the candidate earn or what is his/her expectation?” This is particularly so for positions that are not hard-to-fill. So when a candidate hesitates or even refuses to disclose their remuneration package, their chances of not being shortlisted by a Recruiter is increased.

Recruiters put a lot of effort in sourcing candidates, preselecting, interviewing, shortlisting, presenting them to clients and arranging interviews. One of the things we least enjoy is having candidates make it to an advanced stage of the recruitment process and then pull out because their salary expectation for a role is not aligned to what the employer is offering. It is a lot of wasted time and effort by all parties involved, including the candidate. To avoid this, Recruiters tend to work more closely with candidates who are open to discussing their packages early in the process.

5         Are ware of communication etiquettes

Effective communication is the basis of all recruitment activities.  A Recruiter should communicate to shortlisted candidates as often and necessary as possible. A good one will let you know if you are not successful in a recruitment process and ideally, why.  Poor communication between Recruiters and their candidates is partly because some Recruiters feel they have no incentive to call back if there is no commission to be made. This is unprofessional and misplaced because they forget that an unsuitable candidate for a role may be an ideal candidate for another, plus candidates today may be clients tomorrow. Good Recruiters appreciate that candidates are as important as employers because it takes the two to make their job successful.

On the other hand, although using the services of an experienced Recruiter may improve your chances of getting a suitable position, even the best Recruiters need time to process candidates’ applications. A typical Recruiter’s responsibility includes business development, sourcing candidates through multiple channels, interviewing and shortlisting candidates’, following up with clients, attending local & international networking and other business events as well as managing every stakeholder’s expectation.

Recruiters also have high-levels of administrative, analytical and reporting activities. So be patient when dealing with them as good ones will let you know as soon as they receive feedback (positive or negative) and are able to communicate it. Calling every 5 minutes and following up with 10 emails after every call will make little difference if they are unable to communicate. In fact in some cases, it may put them off working with you in the future.

6        Are aware of the core responsibility of Recruiters

One of the common misconceptions about Recruiters responsibilities is that we are CV writers and career counsellors.  While it may sound harsh, it is important to know that Recruiters are neither. The primary responsibility of every Recruiter is to find the best talent an employer needs for a role.

There are many good (and free) CV templates online and when needed, competent CV writing companies that charge reasonable fees. In the same light, there are many free platforms for career counselling and when needed, career coaches that charge reasonable fees. If you want the best from a Recruiter, it is important to know what we do so you can determine how best we can help.

Expecting a Recruiter to counsel everyone they come in contact with or help with their CVs is not realistic. Apart from the fact that it is not their responsibility, it takes time.  Some Recruiters work with thousands of candidates every year, it is impossible to manage and effectively deliver on their “real” responsibilities if they assist every applicant.

This said, good Recruiters are always happy to help review the CVs of some candidates and give advice on ways to improve them, whenever they can. They are also keen to advice candidates on the best ways to advance their careers.

7         Do not apply to every role

I have not come across an Accountant with expertise in Facade Engineering, Civil Law, Investment Banking, Astronomy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. I have however come across candidates who have applied to roles as different as these. Seriously…

We understand that many candidates have multiple skills, but we also understand that some extremes are not compatible and “Jacks of all trades are usually masters of none”. When you apply for multiple roles that are not remotely connected, it raises concerns. Before you have the opportunity to discuss your expertise, questions will be raised with regards to your honesty (do you really have expertise in all of these areas or are you just desperate to get a job – any job?) and motivation (even if you do, what path are you really interested in?). Chances are that a Recruiter will contact other candidates before you.

In summary, while Recruiters may help review candidate CVs from time to time and give career advice where possible, our main responsibility is to source and recruit candidates for our clients. To get the best out of us, it is imperative that you identify, work with and build relationships with only true professionals. Good results usually come from honest relationships, open communication and mutual respect.

A good way to turn us off is to apply to many unrelated roles. The best way to get our attention is to have a great profile. We appreciate your referrals,  it will not only help us fill our roles, but also easily remember you if we come across a relevant role that matches your expertise. However, keep in mind that ultimately, your profile is what will get you through the door, not the number of referrals you send to us.

While there are some “bad eggs” in the recruitment industry, there are many great professionals who are keen to ensure candidates come out of every recruitment process with positive impressions, regardless of the outcome. You just need to find us…

One last thing… Recruiters can be a great resource; but some candidates will not find their next job through us.  Candidates should ensure they utilise other resources, especially professional networking to maximise their job-hunting opportunities.

I wish you the very best in your job search…

Jul 152013
7 Tips for working with a Recruiter

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One of the direct effects of the economic growth in Africa is increased career opportunities for Africans and non-Africans alike. This, in addition to the adoption of “localisation” policies by many governments has contributed to the war for talent and growth of African-focused Recruiters and recruitment consultancies.

Working with a Recruiter can be of great benefit to job seekers. Some of the most obvious benefits are access to a wide choice of job opportunities, exclusive insights to companies and their operations as well as salary negotiation support. The recruitment industry in Africa is relatively new and poorly understood. The misconceptions about how Recruiters work mean many candidates are not effectively utilising us in their job search.

To get the best experience working with a Recruiter, it is important you:

1.       Identify the best and most relevant one for you

An ideal Recruiter for Mr Olu may not be for Miss Aminah or Mrs Mandisa. Recruitment consultancies tend to have niches, with Recruiters specialising in specific regions, industries, functions or levels of experience. In some cases, great Recruiters may be generalists, but some of the best are not. So depending on your experience and what you are looking for, there is almost always a Recruiter for you. Unfortunately, not all Recruiters can help you. Specialist Recruiters look for and focus on candidates relevant to their niches. When you are approached by a Recruiter, you should aim to confirm their expertise.

All Recruiters are not “great” for all professional, so a little time researching or asking people in your network for recommendations will definitely be worthwhile.

2.      Build a mutually beneficial relationship where possible

Recruiters are in a lead-generation and relationship-building business. Successful ones know that their long term success is based on their ability to identify leads, follow up on them and build a sustainable network of relationships. So what can you offer a Recruiter? You can offer anything that makes them good at their jobs such as opportunities to connect with other professionals and build meaningful relationships.

When recruiting for a specific role, a Recruiter’s primary goal is to find the very best active or passive candidate. Recruiters work with hundreds or even thousands of candidates every year – many with similar experience. It is a challenge to make a shortlist from a very long list of qualified candidates. Whenever this is the case, a Recruiter naturally looks for the most efficient way to make an excellent shortlist and it is usually the relevant candidates they have a relationship with or remember that make the list.  One of the best ways to make a Recruiter remember you is to refer people in your network for roles that may be suitable for their recruitment campaigns, when the roles are not suitable for you.

A little over a year ago, I was looking to recruit a management position in Kenya. I had a chat with a Kenyan candidate who had the right expertise, but was working on an exciting project at the time and not ready to leave his employer. For privacy reasons, I will call him James. James referred someone in his network who was subsequently placed.  After a couple of months, another client wanted to hire someone with similar expertise, guess the first person I thought of – James. This time, I thought of him for two reasons. A) To see if he was open to new opportunities and keen to consider the role. B) To ask for referrals if he wasn’t.  Again, he wasn’t open to new opportunities, but there were few people in his network he was very keen to introduce me to. I am closely following James career and would be delighted to work with him whenever he is ready to find a new role.

Do not wait until you are desperate to change jobs before you develop a relationship with a great Recruiter. Although there are exceptions, desperate times are not usually the best times for a candidate to engage a Recruiter in the first instance because your situation may alter your ability to articulately discuss your expertise. “Dig a well before you are thirsty”.

3.      Are honest at all times

Honesty works best when it is two-sided. I appreciate it when a candidate says “Nneka, I am great at managing a project team, but not so good at financial analysis”. It saves everyone a lot of time. A good Recruiter can determine if a candidate’s “claim” is true or false during an interview.  We are trained to probe. The clearer a candidate is about their expertise, the better the chances of finding him/her a suitable role.  The more honest a candidate is, the more Recruiters enjoy working with them.

When a Recruiter matches a candidate with a role, it is not just about the expertise. A good Recruiter also considers such things as a candidate’s ideal job, their motivation and cultural fit.  When discussing with a Recruiter, be open and honest about the sort of role you are looking for, your ideal work environment and what motivates you. Do you prefer working for a large or small firm? Are you open to extensive travel? Are you open to working late or over weekends? These are some questions that would need clarification, to ensure you are matched with the most suitable role.

Information you give may prompt a Recruiter to suggest other possible roles or career paths you may not have thought about or previously considered.

You should also disclose any aspect of your work or career history that may be of concern to a prospective employer. A good Recruiter will be honest with their client, but able to present you in the most suitable way. I have worked with candidates who are “red flags” on paper, but because I had discussed extensively with them and aware of what my client was looking for, I was able to arrange interviews to give them the opportunity to discuss their expertise and the client’s concern.

Outside of the actual expertise, three of the most common concerns of employers are: reasons for leaving the last job (or wanting to leave), job-hopping and genuine motivation.

Click here for the concluding part of this article. 

7 Tips for Working with African Recruiters – Part 2

Jul 082013

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Huge competition for limited early career roles means graduating with a good degree does not guarantee gainful employment. This is especially so as globally, millions of students graduate from good universities and with first-class or second-class upper degrees every year.  Masters degrees  are seen as stand-out tools and have gained desirability because undergraduate degrees have become the norm. But is it right for you to undertake one – now?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. It is completely dependent on each individual circumstance. Putting it into perspective, a masters degree involves a massive financial commitment. In addition, even if a person comes from a wealthy background or is granted a scholarship, there is still the issue of time commitment to consider. So is it worth it? It could be, depending on the benefits a person seeks.

Understanding the benefits (and limitations) of masters programmes could help you make an informed decision. Let’s explore a few:

  • A masters degree provides an excellent platform to gain more knowledge of a subject area you are interested and want to build a career in. It has the potential to help develop your skills and boost your employability profile. However, keep in mind that it can be very expensive and may not always be the most cost-effective, efficient or rewarding way to gain the experience you seek.
  • Some careers require professional certifications, so you have little or no choice than to undertake a masters degree or another relevant qualification. For careers requiring only transferable skills, you may not necessarily need it to succeed, but you would likely encounter a lot of competition as there are bound to be others like you. So research to see if getting the right degree will significantly (or not) set you apart from other people.
  • Some degrees provide first-hand experience. This is more so for research-oriented or management degrees. Students may gain insights to industry information and valuable contacts as some high profile institutions (and employers) are consistently making effort to merge academics and industry.  Through university contacts, some students gain relevant industry experience and are encouraged to take on further research studies by their professors who assist them in getting relevant grants/scholarship where possible.
  • Further degrees are a good way to broaden or change careers. Career interests may change over time and masters programmes may be helpful in the transition. To effectively compete with other professionals with relevant backgrounds, you will need to show exceptional motivation and transferable skills, particularly if your previous studies are markedly different from your new career interest.
  • A further degree has the potential to increase your critical thinking/analytical skills as well as earning potential. The key word here is “potential” as your ability to improve them are a function of more than just your course of study.

There are benefits of delaying postgraduate studies. I have met a lot of professionals with two (or more) masters degrees – one taken immediately after graduation and another after some years of experience.

When I ask why, one of the common response I get is “my second Masters degree is more relevant to my present or future career growth”. A lot of professionals would not have gone for their first masters degree if they could turn back the hands of time. The main reason some professionals gave was that it took them a longer time to figure out what they wanted to do. Others said they had become interested in a different profession.  Sometimes it takes real work and life experience to figure out what a person wants to do.

There is no doubt that there are appealing reasons to undertake a masters degree. Successfully completed masters degrees are a good indicator of people’s abilities to perform certain roles. However, it is important to note that:

  • It comes at a price and needs a lot of commitment
  • Every day in a masters programme is a day lost in work experience
  • In many situations, employers are increasingly looking more favourably at work experience than they are at certificates

It is definitely a great idea to be 100% sure that a further degree is a more efficient route to progress in your career, before you embark on it.

Weigh your options carefully!!!


Jul 032013

Picture: Examiner

Africa’s economy is booming. Now more than ever, people are spoilt for career choices. Many are looking to cash in on the positive socio-economic changes the continent is experiencing by considering new career paths. However, for some, the decision for a career change poses a dilemma as a the thought of a new career could sometimes be daunting. But, why choose a different one in the first place?

Sometimes, we start our careers not exactly sure of the direction we want to take. At other times, we think we want to build our career in a company or industry, but find out along the way, that it is not for us. In some situations, whilst we may have an interest in a career path, as we gain more experience, we may find that we are more interested in other paths.

In some African societies, parents (or other members of a family) pay for their children’s education if they can afford it. This is great, but naturally, means they may have some level of influence over the sort of education their children have, where their children study and even what they study. It is not uncommon to hear stories of parents forcefully encouraging their children to study particular courses, even when they are not interested in the career paths and may struggle completing their education, let alone succeeding in the profession. There are classic examples of parents wanting to live their dreams through their children.

I have come across professionals from disadvantaged backgrounds with no mentor to guide them, and as a result have studied courses they now regret. I have also come across professionals who have studied courses they regret because of the limited higher education places in their countries. Out of desperation, and to a large extent as a result of society expectation, they accept to study courses that they were not interested in. With time, a few adapted and enjoyed the courses, many didn’t.

The fact that there are now many more career options in Africa than a decade ago does not mean there is enough for the continent’s growing population. This to a large extent has encouraged a lot of graduates and experienced professionals alike to take on “almost any opportunity” that presents itself. It is not strange to see a Chemical Engineering graduate applying for a Customer Service position or experienced Managers targeting Recruiters on LinkedIn and asking to be considered for “any role in your organisation”. According to a United Nations article, Africa’s worrisome youth unemployment is often told alongside the story of the continent’s fast and steady economic growth.

So, what are some of the  important things to consider when deciding on a career change?

  1. Qualification vs Work Experience. The type of career a person seeks, determines if it makes sense to get more qualification or work experience. As a rule, the less fluid the skills needed in a profession is, the more likely a person would need to study to make a move.
  2. Reflection. It is important to reflect on interests, strengths, weaknesses and expertise. People who do well in their careers are usually those that have full knowledge of what they can or can’t do. This guides all of their decisions as they grow professionally.
  3. Research and Analysis. Before making up your mind to pursue a new career, it is  important to research the “real” employment prospects of the career path you have chosen and opportunities for career development. A look at how the profession has been affected by the recent global economic crisis and market projections by competent Analysts is a step in the right direction. It can help you decide if your choice is worth pursuing or not.
  4. Entrepreneurial Opportunities. It is no news that all companies put together can’t employ every job seeker on earth. It is therefore important to choose a career (and industry) that you can continue to develop in if you cease to have a traditional  9am – 6pm job. People are let-go everyday through no fault of theirs, what would you do if happens to you? The ability to diversify when needed is key.
  5. Have a Strategy. Whether you want to take on an employment or entrepreneurial route, you should definitely have a clear (and back-up) plan on what you want to achieve and how you want to do it.
  6. Get a Mentor. Part of your plan should include getting a mentor. When you have decided on what you want to do, look for a mentor with experience in the area. Career advice from people with first hand industry knowledge is usually the best. They are in a good position to let you know the best companies to target based on your overall skills, if it is a good idea to get an industry certificate, the best time to do it or where and how to get relevant work experience to better prepare  for the change.
  7. Join Professional and Groups. In addition to having a mentor, joining relevant professional groups would help you fast track your knowledge of the industry. You do not need a physical group as there are many great ones on LinkedInYahoo and other social media platforms.
  8. Put Together a Super-convincing Profile and be Interview-prepared. I used the word “super-convincing” as you have more to prove and will be competing directly against people with the relevant qualification and/or experience. Your focus should be on your strengths and transferable skills. Employers love profiles that tell a consistent and interesting story, especially when they have hundreds of applications to consider. If invited for an interview, be prepared to discuss why you want to change your career and what value you will bring that others may not.
  9. Start from Scratch. Unfortunately, changing a career sometimes mean you may have to start from the bottom in terms of responsibilities and remuneration, and work your way up. You should be prepared to do this as sometimes, it is the only way to break into a new industry.
  10. Evaluate and Re-evaluate your Strategy. So you now have a plan and have put it to work. Are you achieving the results you want at the shortest possible time? Evaluation on your career change activities should be done regularly so mistakes are corrected swiftly.

Enjoying our jobs is something we have a significant level of control over and should do everything we can to make it happen. It sometimes mean we have to change it. As Confucius nicely puts it “choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life”.