Career advice

Interview tips

How to Ace Your Next Interview — Part 1: The Prep

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Shortlist helps candidates find and apply to great jobs, and the best-fit candidates advance to interviews with employers. We’ve written a practical guide for job seekers like you, to make sure you put your best foot forward and feel prepared and confident for the big day! In this post, we share tips for the first step of acing your interview — the preparation.

Congrats on landing an interview! Now, what do you do?

Have you showed up to an interview unprepared and actually thought you could ace it freestyle? I have, and the second I sat in front of the panel of interviewers, I realized it was probably the worst idea I’ve had in my entire career.

Here are seven tips for you to feel fully prepared and confident for your next interview:

1. Read, research…stalk!

Whatever you’d like to call it, do what you need to do to make sure you have a thorough understanding of what the organization is all about. Here are some questions to consider as you research:

  • What is the company’s mission and vision?
  • What are the company’s products or services? Who are their clients or customers?
  • What’s their latest project/product launch/offer?
  • What is the company’s work culture? Will you be successful in that work style?
  • Have they won awards or been honoured for some of their work?

Hosting interviews takes a ton of time and effort on the company’s part, and nothing turns off an employer more than a candidate who shows that they never took the time to learn the basics. It won’t matter how good you are on paper and how well you have presented yourself, you will lose points if you don’t have a solid understanding of their organisation. So do your research! Remember:

“Opportunity does not waste time with those who are unprepared.”

― Idowu Koyenikan

2. Understand the necessary skills and key responsibilities of the role

During the interview, you must be able to show the employer that you have the necessary skill set required for the role. One way you can approach this is thinking through instances where you have utilized them in your previous work experience. If you’ve never done them before, think through how you would approach these new responsibilities.

Also, note the responsibilities that the role would involve and provide examples of instances where you have engaged in similar tasks.

If you’re applying for the role from outside the industry or are pulling off a career switch, make sure to identify transferrable skills and emphasize them during the interview. For example, if you’d like to move from administrative work to an operational role, you could explain how needing to be extremely organised in your past jobs would serve you well in an operations position.

We design our job descriptions to thoroughly explain the role to applicants. Make sure you know the JD from front and back and have thoughtfully considered how you match the must-haves.

3. Prepare some questions in advance

Most interviewers will allow you to ask questions at the end of your session. To avoid becoming flustered and having to make up questions on the spot, prepare them in advance, and write them down. Some example questions might be:

  • I was excited to read that [element of their work culture] is a major part of your company culture. How have you experienced that during your time here?
  • How could I grow and evolve in this role in a way that would support the Organization?
  • What is the biggest priority for your department/company right now? Any challenges?

Just remember — don’t ask questions that can be found on the company’s website. If you followed step one, you’ll already know everything there is to know 🙂

4. Plan what to carry

Ensure you have at least four copies of your CV with you, as you might not know what type of interview you will be having (it could be one-on-one, a panel interview, or something else entirely). It may seem unprofessional to the employer if you come empty-handed, assuming they will have made copies on their end.

You should be sure to carry a pen and notepad to note down information or questions that come up during the session.

5. Before the interview, get your mind in the right place

Before the interview, take some time to self-reflect and consider how you want to frame your past experience, strengths, and weaknesses to the employer. Know your personal and career journey inside out. Prepare your examples and references. And be authentic!

Even though you might be nervous, be sure to get a good night’s sleep! You do not want to find yourself distracted, tired, or yawning!

6. Look your best to feel your best

The right candidate should be hired based on their skills and potential, not their appearance. However, taking the time to look professional and polished can boost your confidence and help you feel at ease on the big day.

Pick an outfit that is comfortable and fits well. Try to learn a bit about the company’s office culture when choosing your interview outfit. In specific industries like finance and consulting, most offices follow a business dress code, and you should as well. But for smaller companies or startups, they may have a much looser dress code in their office. If you show up in a suit and tie for a job at a startup in a coworking space, it could indicate that you don’t have a clear idea of their company culture and expectations.

7. Be on time

Always purpose to begin your journey to the interview location early (even earlier than you think you need to!). Look up the area in advance or if need be, call the organization to confirm to avoid the mishap of missing the location.

If for some reason you are running late, call the interviewer or contact person at the organization and inform them, letting them know when they can expect you. You are better off calling in advance rather than showing up late without having communicated.

If you are unable to make it to the interview or are no longer interested in the position, ensure that you communicate this to the employer immediately upon receiving an interview invitation. Maintaining your professionalism in this kind of situation is always appreciated.

We hope that these tips will be helpful for you as you prepare for your next interview — you got this!

Check out our second and third series on interviewing: The interview and How to seal the deal

Moving jobs

Moving jobs: How do you know when it’s time?

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The first edition of our new event series Shortlist Career Chats featured Alice Mwalimo Mbori, Head of Sales at GlaxoSmithKline Kenya. Alice is a sales powerhouse, and we were fortunate to hear her career and development insights firsthand – including the value of moving jobs.

Her career journey has seen her make a series of strategic moves to different organizations and in different capacities, including taking up a lower position and a salary cut. To a lot of people, the idea of a downgrade sounds unthinkable, but in Alice’s words, “sometimes you have to go down in order to rise again”

During the Career Chats session at Metta, one of the most insightful advice Alice shared was about the key factors to consider before moving jobs from one company to another one. Read on to learn what questions you need to answer before making this big decision:

Question #1: How well can you do your job?

When you’re considering moving jobs, ask yourself: On a scale of 1-10, how good are you at your day-to-day tasks? Have you gotten to a place where you feel you can do your job with your eyes shut? Do you know the ins and outs of your role?

If your rating is between 8-10 and your answers are “yes” to the other questions, it may be time to consider a move. The move doesn’t have to be external though, you may also consider opportunities within your organization. Depending on your career goals, a lateral move may be a great idea to not only offer a new challenge but also a means to learn new skills that will be beneficial in the long run.

Question #2: How happy are you?

The reality is that no one is happy at their job all the time and we all have hard days to conquer every now and then. However, whenever we feel unsatisfied we must get to the root cause of the issues before making any drastic changes. Sometimes a mindset shift and looking for opportunities within our current environment is all we need. Perhaps it’s even factors outside of work that’s making you unhappy.

However, if you have determined that your dissatisfaction is rooted in your current job and you want to consider a move, it’s worth taking time to assess what factors in a role or company do make you happy. Is it the money, or the opportunity to stay close to home? Are you having to choose between your career and your family? Make a list of the things that are important for you and weigh your options to see whether moving jobs is the right thing to do for your long-term happiness.

Question #3: Can you go any further than your current role?

You may have been with your current organization for a while now and risen through the ranks to your current role. However good as you are, you know when you’ve hit the ceiling. Wherever you are in your career, if you hope to achieve a lot more and get further, it’s time to consider that move.

Depending on your industry, you will know whether you may need to take a lower position or a similar role in a different organization. Making any of these moves may temporarily mean that you will earn less than you do at the moment or giving up some benefits that you are currently used to so you have to be prepared.

Question #4: Before moving jobs, can you say you have learnt all you need to learn in your current role?

Every role we take on has a set of skills we get to learn. In most cases, working in rapidly changing environments means that you are exposed to many different challenges and opportunities throughout your position.

When you look at your current role, have you learnt enough to help you grow in the next one or take up more responsibilities in the new organization? It so happens that, most people would opt to move for an immediate raise before learning enough in their current roles to stay relevant in your field as well as increase their earning potential for the next ones.

For example, you may want to make a move for a 30% increase doing the same role and in the same capacity only in a different organization. Or, you may choose to stay in your current role, hone your current skills, and learn new skills that will make you more valuable in the future.

The latter will take some time and effort but will pay off greatly in the long run. This will be instrumental in helping you propel you to a higher level in your career.

As Alice reiterated, “the money will follow as long as you are making the right choices at the right time.”

Q&A session between the audience and our panellists.

Question #5: Have you sufficiently planned for a change?

Moving jobs, whether upwards or downwards, is always risky. Unfortunately, there’s always a chance things might not go as planned.  As Alice reminded us, proper financial planning is always necessary. This may mean holding off on the move for about 6-12 months longer than planned. In the meantime, you may figure out a side hustle or save more to ensure you have a financial buffer.

Seek as much guidance as you need before making a final decision. Consult with a friend or mentor if you have one. You may also consult someone who you know has been in a similar position before. Get to know how they handled it and the mistakes they made. Additionally, get to know some of the challenges they faced. You may encounter the same but you will already have a plan on how to mitigate them.

In conclusion…

When planning around your career development, you need to make strategic moves that have the potential of propelling you to a higher level.  You also need to understand the risks involved if things don’t work out. Your decision to move jobs may be the difference between you getting everything you’ve ever wanted and a mistake you may end up regretting.

In case you made a move and it ended up being a mistake, don’t despair. You are allowed to make a few mistakes here and there. However, when you do, “accept it sooner rather than later,” Alice advised. Learn from that experience and strive to do better next time.

Have you had experience moving jobs for your career advancement? What valuable pieces of advice can you share from your experience? Let us know on Twitter

We created Shortlist Career Chats with the aim of inspiring and empowering professionals striving to grow in their chosen careers. We feature local leaders who share useful insights and give practical advice from their own experiences. Looking to attend the next one? Sign up for our bi-weekly newsletter here to make sure you receive an invite. See you there!

Related: Moving laterally to move upwards

Hiring a CFO

Recruitment Success Stories: How we partnered with WWF to find their next CFO

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Amidst never-ending pressure to cut costs, increase revenue and sustainably plan for the future, a CFO’s tasks are more complex than ever. It is critical that companies hire financial leaders with the strategic – not just technical – acumen to drive organisational success.

With this in mind, in 2019 we partnered with WWF Kenya to recruit a visionary CFO with the ability to align people and processes to the bigger picture. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF)’s mission is to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth in over 100 countries. In Kenya, WWF has worked with the government, society and private sector organisations for over 55 years to improve the lives of the communities and wildlife that call Kenya home.

As Victor Komu, HR and Administration Manager at WWF Kenya noted, there was a fine line distinguishing the successful hire from the shortlisted candidates. There were three key factors that contributed to their selection:

Culture Fit

It is critical that hires for WWF Kenya not only reflect the overall vision and mission of the company but that they also embody and contribute to company values. Hiring for culture fit is essential as this ensures that new hires effectively integrate into the workspace. Speaking on the values which they look for in individuals, Victor said: “We pride ourselves in our core values which are credible, responsive, inspiring, collaborative and innovative.”

In order to attract a great culture fit, it is important that employers invest in their employer brand, meaning the public image of their culture as an employer by former, current and prospective employees. With this in mind, in order for WWF Kenya to attract a credible, responsive and innovative CFO, these values had to be reflected in their employer brand. To achieve this, they ensured that their company values were visible on their company website, articulated in the job advertisement and discussed during the initial interview.

Besides the organisation’s personality (values and beliefs), it is also worth including aspects of the job pace (timing, dress code etc) and organisational structure. Indeed, the increasing value of companies’ employer brand was solidified in our recent survey of 1,200 employees in Kenya, which highlights key insights and recommendations tailored specifically for Kenyan companies.

It is undoubtedly important to hire for skills and experience fit. However, when you hire for culture fit as well, you’re ensuring a better chance of retention and satisfaction.

Technical competency and experience

A CFO should be able to create strong and solid policies, be both hands-on and strategic and be of added value to the senior management team. As Victor explained, the ideal candidate for WWF Kenya was “someone who has a strong grasp of global accounting standards, experience that traverses audits, financial transactions, treasury management and of course is a team leader.”

The emphasis on past experience, and in particular, international experience in this case, was important in ensuring that the ideal candidate had a detailed understanding of a range of functions, stakeholder priorities, market influences and the challenges of global business. Further, it was essential that the ideal candidate demonstrated the ability to be able to lead the accounting and financial decisions of WWF Kenya in a forward-thinking, strategic mindset. This was determined through multiple structured interviews with different stakeholders and functional-area assessments.

For an organisation as large as WWF Kenya, open roles can attract up to 900 applications. The Shortlist platform was particularly beneficial during the assessment stage, which ensured a data-driven vetting and review process. Work sample assessments helped WWF Kenya to determine candidates’ capabilities with a high degree of certainty.

Leadership and influencing capabilities 

Mary Kaigera, Chief Financial Officer, WWF Kenya (placed by Shortlist)

Leading the financial direction of a global institution demands a candidate with the ability to influence decisions. When you’re hiring a CFO, you’re hiring a leader. A 21st century CFO should be proficient in leveraging the connection between data and people, driving strategies with a strong financial underpinning and can be a trusted authority on data-driven action planning. The suitable candidate for WWF was therefore someone with the ability to positively influence others, push initiatives and ultimately have an impact on executive decision making. Within the team, a great CFO was one who could engage effectively, be responsive to changes within the workplace and encourage the growth of other team members.

The role of the CFO is multifaceted; a financial gatekeeper, a coach for the entire finance team, an outstanding communicator and a judicious visionary. After partnering with WWF Kenya to understand each of these unique requirements, we successfully identified the ideal candidate for their organisation. So far, Mary Kaigera – WWF Kenya’s new CFO and Shortlist placement – has done an excellent job in personifying all these responsibilities!

Never thought of a career in Human Resources? Neither did we!

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Have you never considered a career in Human Resources? It is definitely not as sought-after as a career in engineering or medicine. We can’t blame you, given the stereotype of HR as simply a support function – it has got a bad rap for years!

Some even joke that HR stands for Hardly Relevant. That may have been true for the beige, corporate cultures of the past that promoted conformity, suit and jackets and a hard adherence to the 9-to-5 clock with files, folders, punch-in-punch-out, appraisal forms, payslips leave and attendance as the main job responsibilities of HR.

Or so we thought. 

And then the world changed. With the rise of entrepreneurship, startups and a shift in existing norms, suddenly everything was turned upside down. People realised they had choices, and that they could choose not to work at places they didn’t enjoy, and where they weren’t valued. Suddenly, companies had to prove they were worthy of employees, not the other way around!

In this new age, the role of the Human Resources team – or anyone who worked on People and Culture initiatives – became very important. Previously, employee tenure normally went into double digits, but then, companies started seeing employees staying for shorter periods of time, resulting in an increased focus on hiring and retaining staff in order to meet business goals. There grew a need to find a way to make jobs attractive to top talent through a nuanced combination of engagement, learning, growth, compensation and recognition that would allow employees to see the value in staying with an organisation. This led to what many call a rebirth of Human Resources as a career, and the start of a focus on People and Culture, not just Humans as Resources.

Human Resources as career

The unofficial definition of human resources

Today, HR departments are much more dynamic, playing an essential role in a business’ long-term talent development strategy. As you’ll start to see around you, those who are able to effectively harness the power of people have the ability to transform the future of companies!

Not yet convinced? Here are five reasons why you should consider a career in Human Resources:

1. More than just hiring and firing

The field of HR has something for everyone. Passionate about data and making sense of numbers? Data scientists and analysts are in high demand to help companies take data-driven decisions when it comes to their people. Do you have a flair for communication and crafting impactful messages? Employer Branding and Internal Communications is a growing field within HR where marketing mavericks can impact company, branding and facilitate transparency within internal teams for better productivity. Help the business to identify future leaders who will ensure the company’s long term sustainability by working in Learning & Development. Work hand-in-hand with functional heads to anticipate needs and plan for effective people development strategies by being an HR Business Partner.

2. HR in times of AI and ML

With more and more industries talking about adopting Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, there is a chance some roles may be automated and eventually eliminated. However, machines still need human intervention, interpretation and analysis. As much as we can automate and outsource certain services, the Human Resources function will still play a key role in ensuring that there is meaningful interaction between the business and the technology. Adoption of technology requires extensive change management – something that HR teams will have to facilitate by demonstrating skills such as negotiation, strategic planning, resource allocation as well as conflict management to address the adoption of these technologies. This serves as a great career path in Human Resources.

3. Driven by data

Human Resources teams employ a keen mix of data, behavioural science, organizational systems design, competency frameworks and performance data to both attract, develop and retain the best and brightest talent. Today, leadership development, succession planning, training and improving performance are all driven by data points, metrics, evidence and structured programs that help track returns on investment.

4. From Business to Career in Human Resources

If you’re wondering how to make a start in HR after never having worked here before, that’s not a problem! HR needs people who know the business. One of the biggest complaints business leaders used to have about HR teams was the fact that almost everyone in HR had never had any experience in any other departments. By bringing your experience from Sales, Marketing, Product Design, Finance or even IT, you bring valuable perspective for the business on what is actually needed for employees and you’ll be more successful in designing programs, policies, initiatives and addressing employee concerns if you’ve been-there-done-that!

5. Human Resources is a training ground for C-suite

A great example of this is Mary Barra, CEO of GM Motors who previously served as Global VP of Human Resources. Closer to home, Mohandas Pai stepped down after 12 years as CFO at Infosys to head the HR function. Whereas earlier, the progression of a career in Human Resources was thought to be capped at the CHRO level, today HR experience is seen as invaluable for CEOs. In fact, an HBR article also mapped and found that leadership styles, emotional traits and competencies of CEOs most closely matched those of CHROs, compared to any other chief executive.

If you needed further proof of why a career in HR is the best thing you could take up right now, LinkedIn lists People Management as one of the Top 5 most in-demand Hard Skills this year. There’s no better place to pick up those skills and understand the nuances than working in HR!

Interested in applying for positions in HR after reading this? Head to this link to apply for openings with Shortlist.


Performance appraisal prep

Six steps to help you prepare for your performance appraisal

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The end of the year brings many seasonal workplace traditions, like holiday parties or Secret Santas. In addition to these fun events, there’s another annual occurrence that you can definitely expect in December – your end-of-year performance appraisal.

While the thought of sitting down with your manager to take stock of your individual contributions may sound stressful, with some preparation and the right attitude, your review could be a motivating and rewarding way to finish out the year strong.

Here are six steps you can take to prepare for and make the most out of your performance appraisal:

#1 – Review feedback from your previous performance appraisal

This will give you a great starting point to prepare for this year’s review. Take out your notes from your last appraisal, and try answering the following questions on paper:

  • What were the main topics discussed during your last review?
  • What goals did you set for this quarter or year? Did you meet them? Why, or why not?
  • What did your manager identify as your strength?
  • What areas of development were noted?

These notes will help you get a sense of how much you’ve grown and developed since your last performance appraisal.

#2 – Note down your key accomplishments

What projects are you most proud of from the last year or quarter? Where have you seen the most growth? During your performance appraisal, be sure to highlight, not just the “what” but also the “how” that led to attaining the goals.

A great way to showcase each accomplishment is by using the format below:

  • Goal
  • Action taken
  • Result

Aside from reaching your established goals, go a step further to describe accomplishments that you initiated such as tasks that you took upon yourself to improve your performance and that proves you’re a valuable contributor to the organization.

#3 – Be honest with yourself about tasks or behaviors that feel challenging

What are the things that hold you back from performing at your best? Have a discussion with your manager on how they can support you to improve in these areas, which could range from technical performance to time management to listening skills. Remember, the goal is to help your manager help you!

Tips on getting ahead on this:

  • Take note of what these “blind spots” are.
  • Have a list of what you could do to get better – It could be anything from wanting to take on more projects in an area you’d like to grow in, taking up a professional development course or simply seeking advice from someone who does it better.
  • Present your options during your performance appraisal and talk through how you’d like to be supported.

#4 – Identify your goals for the next year

Once you take stock of your past performance, take a moment to create goals for the next year and articulate how you plan to achieve them.

While drafting your goals, look for opportunities to:

  • Expand your duties
  • Broaden your knowledge
  • Take on more responsibility

Be as specific as possible with your goals (e.g., “Double engagement on the company Twitter posts” instead of “Improve on social media”) so that you can accurately track your performance over the year. You can refine these during your performance appraisal with your manager.

#5 – Prepare for the performance appraisal conversation

You may be looking forward to getting a promotion, a raise or an annual bonus. Your performance appraisal also serves as an opportunity to get feedback from your manager on areas they feel you have excelled in as well as any areas of improvement that you may need to focus on in the next year. In each of these cases, the conversation may feel difficult or emotional in other ways.

Remind yourself that these conversations exist for your own growth and development, and try to approach the meeting in a calm and collected state. Use your performance appraisal as an opportunity to also share constructive feedback.

#6 – Have an open mind

While the feedback you receive may be the opposite of what you expected, it’s important to look at it with an open mind. With the right mindset, you can view feedback as a gift! This article from The Muse also shares great insights on how we can stop taking criticism so personally (and make it easier to move on).

After a performance appraisal, we often overlook the positive feedback shared and exaggerate negative reviews. Celebrate your success and set yourself up to make progress in your growth areas!

What gets you through this time of the year? We’d love to hear from you.