Founder Stories

Founder Stories: Recruiting in Kenya, the daunting task.

One of the tasks of a founder is to hire people who help them deliver on their vision. This task is probably the most strenuous and challenging in a startup. To a passerby, the job is not difficult, but when you get to it, its time consuming, stressful and at the very least scary.

One of the tasks of a founder is to hire people who help them deliver on their vision. This task is probably the most strenuous and challenging in a startup. To a passerby, the job is not difficult, but when you get to it, its time consuming, stressful and at the very least scary. Scary because you are about to entrust your vision to someone else and employee number 1 needs to be perfect.

I currently have the pleasure of hiring a new NodeJS developer to join our growing company. As a company that started during a pandemic, the supply vs demand for talent is insanely high. Moreover, the recent announcement by Andela to dump salaried employees in favor of gig workers means an oversupply of well-trained individuals.

So why are we having a problem hiring then? You ask.

I would never be the first to call myself righteous and throw the first stone. However, seated on the other side of the table for the first time, I can see mistakes that I could have made in the past. What makes it worse is that the errors look like a standard issued template, copied from one applicant to the next as if it were a pandemic (pun intended).

Idealizing that there was an oversupply of demand, I started the recruitment process by sending out a simple message to the IT WhatsApp groups that I belong to. The message was as simple as:

I am looking for a NodeJS developer, if you know one, please ask them to send me their CV, Github link or a wink. Anything that they feel is enough to represent them

In a single day, I received hundreds of WhatsApp messages and applications with some people going the extra mile and calling me. It was overwhelming, and I was naive to think that definitely among the pile, I will get the perfect individual.

However, after taking time to read and reviewing the CV’s, I was disappointed.

In the Pre-Covid era, when you wanted to travel to the UK, you needed to apply for a Visa. The application page is a 10 part page with a series of questions about yourself, your wealth, your family and your previous travel history. Beyond that, people go ahead and attach axillary documents that detail the purpose of their visit, documentation of the wealth currently held or a letter from the chief if they feel that will support their application.

A reviewer is then randomly assigned to your application who keenly reviews the material provided to ascertain that you qualify for the visa against a set of criteria. Should they feel that you do not tick all the boxes, they draft a letter indicating why and reject your application. While it is depressing to receive a rejection, it is equally satisfying to know why.

While a Visa reviewer will be kind enough to give reasons for the rejection, HR will not.

  1. Be aware of the recruiter's struggle.
    The LinkedIn post above should indicate to you the number of applications that are received per Job application. Believe it or not, the recruiter is struggling to find you. Each time they send out a request, they receive thousands of CV’s, and they have to filter through each one of them to find you. However, when they get to your CV’s they struggle some more and reject on the spot. If you are in the first 10, the recruiter will read your CV in totality, and all other CV’s are skimmed over, looking for keywords.
    As per my example, my Keyword was NodeJS. I reviewed CV’s like a search engine would, trying to identify how often it was mentioned. Each time, I would try to understand the context around it. If it didn’t make sense, I ignored it. An example of my keyword's bad mention was when the applicant used it as follows ‘I used NodeJS, Django, Python, Go, MySQL while building website Y’. A good developer would struggle to understand how NodeJS and Python ended up together in that statement.
  2. Discard unnecessary words
    There was a time when buzz words like Passionate, hardworking and intelligent were the norm. Today they fill up your CV for nothing. Each word on your CV should matter. Whether it's to create an emotion or represent an idea, make every word count.
  3. Replace ‘Career Summary’ with ‘Introduction’
    Some job applications might ask you to submit a cover letter instead. Even then, this introduction section needs to feel like a one-paragraph cover letter. In a few words, highlight how you fit into the requirements. In our NodeJs case, I would have loved to see a statement like
    “I am an intermediate NodeJS developer with three years experience. In the recent past, I have worked at company X/project Y/side hustle Z for a total of 20hours a week on NodeJS. In the same period, I have also gained experience in CI/CD using Azure/Github/Gitlab pipelines.
    Such a statement presents strong evidence that you fit my requirements.
  4. What is the deal with your ID number, birthday, weight, hair and eye color?… Mother’s Maiden name?
    Your CV is not your medical or government record. If you feel it's necessary to add such information, do so at the bottom. It would be best if you were careful about sharing such information as criminals might use it to impersonate or steal your identity.

All in all, I am still not yet done with my search for the perfect candidate—time to get back to work.

Wazi.

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Kennedy Nyagah
October 18, 2022

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