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.

  2 Responses to “What do African Employers Really Want? A Recruiter’s Perspective”

  1. I agree, but having worked in an international organisation where the majority of the senior and executive management fell into the D&E categories, I can say that you need predominantly B&C categories in senior and executive management, they at least know the unwritten rules of doing business in Africa. The international company mentioned above managed to drop their African market share from above 30% to below 10% because they tried to do the same things they did globally in Africa. What works in Europe does not really work in Africa. In Europe and the rest of the developed world and in some cases the developing world the use of knowledge is often the key driver in deals while in Africa it is relationships. Africa is a community based culture and so relationships trump knowledge every time.

    • Hello Neil,

      Thanks for your comment which I completely agree with.

      Smart businesses in Africa know that to be successful they need to pay attention to really developing local relationships and who better to do this than locals. Any business that doesn’t have this as a core part of their strategy will not be in business for too long.

      As an external recruiter, one of the things I noticed recently is that many companies are genuinely looking to recruit more locals across all levels of experience than previously. The main challenge they face is finding the right levels of expertise for senior positions (in some countries, industries and functions). Governments are also doing their bit to push localisation policies (although some would argue that they are not doing enough).

      Successful businesses in Africa = great relationships (35%) + great referrals (35%) + the right expertise (30%). In today’s world, the right expertise in many situations requires some international exposure, which does not necessarily mean living, studying or working abroad. I have interviewed candidates based across the globe and some of the best have never travelled out of their countries.

      Thanks again.

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