executive search

Shortlister Spotlight: Meet Mercy, People & Admin Lead

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At Shortlist, we love building and growing our team as much as we love building yours. In this instalment of our Shortlister Spotlight series, (a Q&A series to get to know more of our team members), meet Mercy Igoke, People and Administrative Lead in our Nairobi Office.

Mercy is a movie fanatic, globetrotter and social impact enthusiast! Read on to learn more about her journey at Shortlist and what makes her tick!

Hi Mercy! Tell us about what you do at Shortlist 😊

I am the People and Administrative Lead in our Nairobi office. A highly dynamic environment where the demands are high, and I’m challenged every day is where I thrive best. I support the team in administrative needs, planning, organisation and HR-related requests on a day-to-day basis.

Two years ago I joined Shortlist as the Administrative Officer, a role I  learned a great deal from. I began learning how to assist the team to accomplish their respective goals by giving the best support in each and every request. With the growth of the business, I also grew professionally and got promoted to my current role of People & Admin Lead.

What is your professional background, and what were you looking for in your next career step when you found Shortlist?

I have a diploma in Business Administration from Maseno University, Kenya and a Diploma in Food Science and Postharvest Technology from Jomo Kenyatta University. In my search for what I wanted to be in my career, I realised Food Science was not my calling. I then enrolled for a diploma course in Business Administration so that I can do what I love most, office management and support.

Previously, I worked with the USDA and USDA donor-funded program in Kenya for over six years. I decided to join Shortlist because I had reached a level in my career where I felt I could do and contribute more to a rapidly-growing company. Having worked in the corporate world for a while, I felt I was well equipped to make the move.

I must say that this was the best decision I ever made and I am loving the journey so far!

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was little, I used to be the household announcer (aka MC), and I would present every single evening before the dinner table was set. I would present a summary of diverse topics to my mum, dad and sisters on a set like on TV.

Although I wanted to be a TV presenter when I grew up, I’m happy to be where I am at this exact moment – though I would have been famous if I was a TV presenter! 😜

What’s your professional superpower?

I would say it’s multi-tasking. I once won an internal office award in my previous workplace for the best multi-tasker of the year. Trust me, I have the certificate to prove it. 😉

Shortlist has some amazing values, which of these is your favourite and why? (Learn more about our values)

Enjoying the waters in Zanzibar

I love all our values; they are all great and amazing! My favourite one, however, is Find the Adventure!!

Indeed, changing the world as well as yourself should be a fun and adventurous experience. I love to bring this to life each and every time I show up to work. It also feels really satisfying to inject an adventurous spirit into each day.

#BeBold #DreamAloud #Swashbuckle.

What are three words or phrases you would use to describe Team Shortlist?

Diverse, Supportive and Good Leadership

We love making memories in our day to day work! What has been your favourite Shortlist memory so far?

I have so many great memories at Shortlist, but I would say that one of my favourite memories is when we had to move from a tiny co-working space to a bigger space because the team was growing fast. This made me realise that as much as I was happy with the initial team, I was excited to have new people joining and making the team even better and more diverse.

Why is the Shortlist mission important to you?

I care a lot about the bigger picture, which is helping candidates unlock their potential and helping employers find and bring on board the best talent. I believe that our mission is not only stated but truly lived from thousands of success stories as told by applicants placed and employers who have used our process.

Every now and then the hats come on

As you know, we like to give “high-fives” to recognize when our team members do something awesome. Now is your chance to make a public high-five to a fellow Shortlister:

Ceverene – Always my go-to person for any questions, task, advice and even fun!

Brenda – We joined Shortlist together and I have truly seen you grow in your role. Congratulations!

Yasmin – Your commitment to bringing the best out of your team, making the necessary changes to make sure we are positioned to succeed as an organization and not forgetting the support you give to each and every department both locally and globally.

Maggy Mushira – For taking time out of your ever busy schedule to let me bounce ideas off your super amazing brain, and again for the appreciation you show to the team.

Last but not least – TEAM Kenyay! Y’all are a bunch of amazing superhumans!

What do you like to do outside of work?

On a normal day off, like Saturday, I like binge-watching any interesting series or movies.

My favourite genres are paranormal, Sci-Fi, horror, mysteries and documentaries especially speculative ones! History Channel is also a great place to get so much information on everything and anything.

I actively participate in support groups, especially for the less fortunate, orphans and the needy. I am a sponsor and mentor for Berur Children’s Home (Eldoret) and a charity work for Zaidi Ya Dreams Children’s Home that takes in children from the age of 0 to 14 years old.

Travelling around the world is one of my favourite things to do, especially when I have more than three days off work. I have been to many places but ultimately my dream destination would be to go to Israel and visit the Holy Land. I would also like to see places like Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee!

What surprised you about working at Shortlist?

The laid back non-corporate culture. It didn’t shock me, but I was excited by the fact that I could come to work in trainers or jeans, with my blonde/platinum short hairstyle and still perfectly fit in. Amazing!!

What are you currently reading, watching, or listening to?

If you were to swap places with one person for a day, who would it be and why?

I would like to swap places with my loving Mum, Mrs Agnes Bahati Igoke. She has been a pillar in my life, and she helped shape me into the person I am today. Her strength, wisdom, values and the morals she instilled in us kids have been a great foundation for us. Her compassionate nature and selflessness to us as her children and the neighbours is a great value that I carry with me to this day.

I’d love to one day see through her eyes and experience a day through her thoughts.

I’m a backup singer sometimes 😉

Anything else you want the world to know about you?

At the moment, my cell phone has over 15 audiobooks saved on it (yes, it has massive storage).  Hopefully, I will get through at least 10 of them by the end of 2020!

I love art! Animation, architecture, Christian or religious, conceptual, artistic design, drawing, illustrations, mosaic, painting, performance, photography, you name it!  I used to draw sketches when I was in the lower primary – I might pick this up again in a year or two? Who knows!

I listen to Beethoven, Earl Klugh, Jerome Najee, Louis Armstrong and any great jazz songs.

My favourite quote is on respect: “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” – Albert Einstein

My favourite place to eat at is Manor 540 – their fish and plantains are the best on this side of East Africa.

Final words?

Be you and do you; do not imitate anyone, because you are the best, an original!

If you would like help building your team, let us help you. Shortlist offers a wide range of recruitment solutions that help companies build great teams.

Top startups in India

Top startups in India: Three lessons on culture and team-building

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Ravi Venkatesan — in his analysis of some common threads between these top startups in India — said it best:

“Becoming a magnet for talent is a very strong predictor of eventual success for all companies and even more so for startups.”

Being the recruitment geeks we are, this got us wondering… what makes these top startups in India so good at attracting and retaining top talent? And what can other growing companies learn? Read on for the three lessons on culture and team-building that you can apply to your startup today:

  1. Craft an amazing employee experience

Even though access to the world’s most advanced technologies continues to become easier and cheaper, it feels like it’s harder than ever to find the right people to power your business. Add to that the fact that it’s often difficult for a scrappy startup to compete on salary with established industry players. How, then, have these upstarts been so successful at using their people as a competitive advantage?

An engaged workforce is a motivated and high-performing workforce. If there’s one thing that stood out to us across these top startups in India, it’s the care with which they craft their employees’ experiences. This means everything from obsessing over their onboarding (like Schbang’s potli of hope) to making sure employees are challenged and given room to grow every day, and to being deeply invested in employees’ physical health and wellbeing.

Every new joiner at Schbang is greeted with a ‘Knapsack of Hope’ (Photo Credit: @letsschbang)

2. Build a strong connection with the customer

Love your customers and they will love you back”, or so the conventional wisdom goes. Purposefully creating a direct connection between your team (regardless of seniority) and your end users not only helps keep your team’s ears to the ground but also creates empathy and ownership for the problems your customers face (which is ultimately why you are in business).

For example, all new employees at Dunzo — a Google-funded, online concierge services startup (and one of our clients!) — are required to complete a customer order to understand the nuances of the business firsthand. Similarly, Razorpay team members at every level are required to answer customer calls for 4 hours a month.

It may seem counterintuitive to have employees spend their precious time on such unscalable things when your primary goal is growing faster than your competition. But you need to look no further than companies like Amazon or AirBnB to realize that the world’s most customer-centric organizations are also the most innovative (and successful).

3. Create a business that solves real, everyday pain points

From working with over 200 companies across India and East Africa over the past few years, we’ve noticed ‘problem-solving ability’ to be a nearly universal requirement for any position employers look to hire for. It also happens to be the case that the brightest, most ambitious talent is attracted to companies that are committed to solving large problems in a unique way.

Mukesh Bansal led Cure.Fit is a stellar example of this, combining primary care clinics, yoga studios, no-equipment gyms, and food delivery into a one-stop healthcare platform (or, as Aviral Bhatnagar put it in his fantastic analysis of Cure.Fit’s business model, “a combination of Swiggy, Gold’s Gym, Baba Ramdev and Metropolis”).

It’s also no surprise to see Digit Insurance make the list of top startups in India given its bold mission to create simple and transparent products in an industry that is otherwise anything but simple or transparent.

At Shortlist, we’re always thinking about how we can help growing companies build happy, high-performing teams. Did you see any other big lessons we missed? Let us know in the comments!

Thanks to Sneha Iyer, Olivia Wold, Doris Muigei, and Yvonne Kilonzo for their contributions to this post.

One Team: A Fifth Shortlist Value Enters the World

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By Paul Breloff, Simon Desjardins & Matt Schnuck

Our Kenya team, happy about our fifth value (or so we choose to believe).

A year ago, we wrote a blog about how Shortlist defined our values. It’s been fun to see the engagement with that blog, which has interestingly been our most popular one ever. We interpret this to mean that people really like stories about team culture & values — or people just happened to be Googling the term “swashbuckle” and stumbled on us.

So we thought we’d share an exciting development: We’ve added to our values!

Values, and the culture they help define, are living breathing things. Just as our team continues to grow, expand, change, move around… well, we wanted to create some space to revisit some of our basic building blocks and see if they’re keeping up.

And when we considered that, we decided: mostly, yes… but they were missing something.

Specifically, we wanted to call out the importance of team and collaboration a little more directly. We loved our existing values — but with a critical eye, we realized they came across as more individualistic than we’d like.. Own it; Act with intention; Find the adventure; Be a whole person. These are all things you can do just as well on your own, with or without a team.

In the time since we defined our values, we’ve seen how crucial it is to us to emphasize a team-centric spirit. We strive for the “we” rather than “I” in most things. We want people to act and believe that when the team wins, each individual wins.

This was brought home for us when we acquired Spire last year. While we brought the legal entities and office space together, we went through a parallel process of merging our team cultures and work-styles (see below white board). We realized how the values of both teams were more similar than different, and as a team we connected each team’s distinct values to a set of shared underlying principles and behaviors we could all get behind. With one exception: one of Spire’s value was “Generosity,” which was reinforced through mantras like “feedback is a gift” and practices like gratuitous fist bumping, which represented a generous burst of personal connection amidst otherwise busy days and personal agendas. We really liked that, and we wanted a little bit of that in our global Shortlist culture.

Epic work session merging Shortlist and Spire values…

To make the change, we learned a little bit from our last process: we made sure we pulled ideas from everyone, but ultimately took it upon ourselves as co-founders to define the actual words. We held three brainstorms across our offices in Nairobi, Mumbai and Hyderabad, collecting examples of what great team moments look like, what behaviors embody the teammates we want to be, and what sort of practices we want to avoid. We also collected different phrases or words or ideas that were particularly resonant for the team, and got lots of great ideas.

One of the brainstorms about being a great (and less great) team…

Then, the three of us co-founders combined individual journaling and co-drafting (hey, it worked last time!) to come up with the “new value.” We went back and forth, discussing what different words and phrases meant to us, and what behaviors we most wanted to enshrine and discourage. Ultimately we settled on the following:

One team. Teammates come first. Mood is infectious. Listen loudly. Feedback is a gift. “We” instead of “I”. When the team wins, we all win.

This captures so many different meanings for us. The idea that we’re “one team,” united by a vision, mission, and passion for unlocking professional potential, despite a variety of backgrounds, offices spanning three locations on two continents, and the dozens of individual life trajectories that have converged on the shared Shortlist adventure. These ideas orient us towards the credit-sharing “we” and away from the credit-hoarding “I.” They remind us that in our company (which we try to keep as flat and nonpolitical as possible), the best way to win individually is to help the team win. And they encourage us to think about feedback not as a critique, but as a gift from your colleague, who is giving it in the hopes of mutual growth.

Will this be the last change we make? Who knows, but probably not! But that’s all part of the adventure.

P.S. Curious to see the whole set of values? Search no more!

Own it. Be your best, even when no one is looking. High standards are contagious. Generate discipline. Drive for results. See the needful and do it.

Act with intention. Do the work to get clear. Buck convention. Big goals start with small steps; step with purpose.

Find the adventure. Changing the world should be fun. Inject romance into the everyday. Be bold. Dream loud. Swashbuckle.

Be a whole person. We’re more than our work. Seek balance and health. Learn from differences. Unlock your potential.

One team. Teammates come first. Mood is infectious. Listen loudly. Feedback is a gift. “We” instead of “I”. When the team wins, we all win.



The Power of Swashbuckle: How Shortlist Decided What’s Important

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By Paul Breloff, Simon Desjardins, Matt Schnuck (Shortlist Co-Founders)

At Shortlist, we pride ourselves on being a values-driven company and we love working with values-driven employers. To that end, we’re hosting (with our friends at Spire) what we expect to be a really cool breakfast gathering next Thursday June 8 in Nairobi — Defining and Living Your Company Culture. Check it out.

This event has caused us to reflect on our own values, where they came from and why they are important to us. The Shortlist values are:

Own it: Own yourself and your work. Don’t wait; see the needful and do it. Generate discipline. Drive for results.

Act with intention: Do the work to get clear. Buck convention. Big goals start with small steps; step with purpose.

Find the adventure: Changing the world should be fun. Inject spirit into the everyday. Be bold. Dream loud. Swashbuckle.

Be a whole person: We’re more than our work. Seek balance and health. Learn from differences. Unlock your potential.

(Side note: every time we write these, we kind of get the chills. We love our values.)

So where did these come from and what do they mean to us?

We followed a very deliberate process, and engaged in a series of open-ended brainstorms among our senior team, with the prompt, “What is important to us and what kind of company do we want to be?” Needless to say, a lot came up. We attempted, as a group, to give some form to the mush, organizing different ideas into thematic buckets and teasing out which ideas felt like personal preferences and which ideas felt core and embodied our aspirations for a durable cultural foundation.

At their best, company values are inspirational but must also be “real,” not simply aspirational. Company values should already exist within the team, and should be discovered more than invented. Values help us answer “Who are you at your best?,” not “Who do you want to be like when you grow up?” We believe our growing team would see right through any value we couldn’t embody (or at least try to) in real life on a day to day basis.

We co-founders believe that values must bubble up from the team, but ultimately be defined, lived, and breathed by our leadership, whose actions and decisions are often most visible and set the tone for the whole organization. As such, we did not try to settle on values statements through a polite process of lowest-common denominator appeasement among a broad leadership group. Instead, we took all the feedback away to come up with something opinionated on our own. Specifically, we headed off for a head-clearing weekend perched on a cliff above the ocean in Varkala, Kerala. (It was less fancy than it may seem, but not less awesome.)

Matt, Paul and Simon standing on the cliffs of Varkala, after our values brainstorm

While there, the three of us reflected on what’s important to us as individuals, what we heard from the team, and what we wanted to champion and enshrine for the future. We crafted ideas and words through a few rounds of solo journaling followed by group discussion, openly discussing what we liked and didn’t like about each other’s ideas.

We strove for boldness in articulation, and took blandness as the enemy. With each value, we framed it in a way that we could actually imagine a company with an opposing point of view. We’ve all been at companies with conventional values like “respect” and “integrity” — but really, who would ever not value those things?

For example, with “Own it,” we were responding to the fact that we did not want to foster a culture of obedience, hierarchy and blind rules-following. We wanted anyone on our team to feel empowered to see an opportunity and go for it. As leaders, we try hard to own our words, our actions, our personal and professional development. This also extends to apologizing and trying to improve when we screw up.

With “Act with intention,” we were responding in part to the Facebook ethos to “move fast and break things” — we would rather build a company that is thoughtful and intentional about the products we build, the employer/candidate relationships we cultivate, and the way we treat each other, even if there are occasional speed sacrifices.

With “Be a whole person,” we were responding to the intense, work-obsessed culture at SpaceX described by Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk biography (which all three of us happened to read that same weekend in Kerala), and other unhealthy work styles that can sometimes consume hardworking, disciplined individuals. Instead, we want to build a culture that acknowledges differences, encourages employees to find physical health and spiritual balance, and respects family and personal lives. We encourage team members to treat exercise classes as valid appointments on their calendars, to take a daily walk to clear their heads, or to work from home occasionally, believing these to be happier, healthier, and more productive ways to work.

We were particularly excited to use the word “swashbuckle” somewhere in these values, which we believe is one of the great yet under-used words in the English language, and rarely seen in its imperative verb form. The word prompted Matt to leave mid-brainstorm at one point and return sporting a new Indiana Jones-style fedora, purchased from a beach vendor, to make that particular “adventure” value real.

Matt (in his adventure fedora) and Simon in the middle of values-drafting

Once we returned to the office, we shared these values with the leadership team and then shortly after that with the full team in one of our monthly Town Halls. Our values are displayed as inspirational posters in our Bombay office (yes, the cliché “poster on the wall”) but we believe culture has to exist beyond motivational decorations, and instead define the way we run meetings, tackle new projects, support employers, and interact with each other every day. We also try to make the Shortlist values real and encourage their embodiment by calling people out in Town Hall “high fives” with value references, linking company decisions and priorities back to our values, and generally modeling them and keeping them top of mind across the team.

By no means do we have all the answers, and we continue to make this up as we go along. To that end, we’re eager to learn how other companies have thought about and approached this, and can’t wait to engage with you around this topic on June 8 in Nairobi!

We love to help companies build teams with great talent. Shortlist offers a wide range of recruitment solutions.

Build great team with Shortlist

Shortlister Spotlight: Meet Tilak, Software Engineer

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Meet Tilak!

At Shortlist, we love building our team almost as much as we love building yours! We have some pretty amazing people across our three offices who have a real passion for what they do and for the Shortlist mission.

The second installment of Shortlister Spotlights (a Q&A series to get to know some of our team members) stars Tilak, a Software Engineer in our Hyderabad office!

Tell us about what you do at Shortlist:

I’m a Software Engineer on our tech team. We are building an awesome platform for job-seekers to find their dream jobs and employers to help build their dream teams. In my job I do everything from fixing bugs on the website to developing a cool new feature or product.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I always wanted to be an F1 racer 🏁🚗 or dancer💃🏾.

So what led you to a career in technology, and what were you looking for in your next career step when you found Shortlist?

To be honest, I was taught from childhood be an engineer or a doctor. I knew that medicine is not my cup of coffee, so I went with engineering and did a Bachelors in Technology. I had heard a lot about startups — how you can learn a lot, be a part of great ideas and do a variety of projects instead of the same mundane tasks every day. I was looking for a startup which does its own product for a meaningful purpose and found Shortlist. I joined this family in August 2016.

What’s your favorite Shortlist memory?

I actually have a few favorite memories: One is when we launched the webportal for the first time back in October 2016, it was crazy time, and another is when we all pulled together in early 2017 for our biggest contract yet — hiring for a big four accounting firm.

A few months ago, four members of our team went on an adventure trip, where we did a motorcycle ride, rafting, hilltops, waterfalls and had an awesome time together.

Teams that play together stay together

What would you say is your professional superpower?

I am good with communications, be it professional or personal. I’m a good listener as well, ping me if you want to share something!

What are three words or phrases you would use to describe Team Shortlist?

“Cool,” “Rocks,” and “Explore Yourself.”

Tech team selfie 📷

Why is the Shortlist mission important to you?

When I was a job seeker before joining Shortlist, something that constantly bugged me and my friends is that employers might reject us based on a verbal interview or less, even before testing what abilities we have. We used to think, “Give us a problem and a chance and show if we can solve it or not… “Luckily our mission is to do this, taking employers from traditional resume search to competency based hiring.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I watch a lot of movies and series, play PC games, and hang out with friends and close ones.

What’s your favorite Shortlist value? (Learn more about our values here!)

OWN IT!!! I strongly believe in it personally.

We like to give high fives to recognize when our team members do something awesome. Now is your chance to make a public high five to a fellow Shortlister:

I have high-fives for two people: One is our CTO Sudheer, a true leader, always backing us and standing as wall in front of us. Second one is for Niranjan, “ROCKSTAR” for guiding me through every step I take (you could call him my guru).

What are you currently reading, watching, or listening to?

As a Game Of Thrones fan, I’m currently waiting for Season 8, and I’m also listening a lot to Linkin Park’s album “One More LIght.”

How is Shortlist different than other companies?

The tech team is a big surprise compared to other companies, the team here is so innovative and constantly staying ahead of new technologies and using them in our products.

Any final words?


If you would like help building your team, let us help you. Shortlist offers a wide range of recruitment solutions that help companies build great teams.