29 Nov 2009

Innovation in recruitment. And a pleasant surprise

Last week was recruitment week, with five and half days given over entirely to the effort to fill eight positions. We met and interviewed 25 candidates in total, selected from around 600 applicants, with some going through a two day process of practical group exercises (see below) alongside more traditional interviews, computer tests and written exercises.

In all, I was very pleasantly surprised by the high standard of the shortlist. Past experience of recruitment in Tanzania, especially for more unusual or challenging positions of the type that we are recruiting, has been somewhat disappointing, but this experience was refreshingly different. The selection panel all ended the week with a lot of confidence and excitement in a young, strong, dynamic and committed team taking shape.

A particular highlight was the team practical exercise involving 15 candidates for programme positions. With the help of a local radio station - Uplands FM, thanks - we split the candidates into three teams and gave each team a few hours to produce a 30 minute radio programme on a Daraja-related topic chosen from a list. They chose kilimo kwanza, citizen participation in local government planning, and the availability of medicines in rural clinics as their topics.

None of the teams would be very proud of the final product - they were very rough - but that wasn't the point, and was to be expected anyway due to time pressure. We weren't trying to see who was the best journalist or radio editor, but rather to get an idea of the creativity, dynamism, teamwork and leadership skills of the candidates. Taken with this objective in mind, the exercise was very successful. A lot can be learned by watching someone work as part of a team, and some candidates shone in this while others revealed weaknesses. It also showed very clearly whose interests and values aligned most closely with Daraja.

But it is when comparing this exercise to the more traditional interviews that the real value of the exercise can be seen. Some people are just good at interviews and others are not. My experience elsewhere (before Daraja) is that it has been very hard to see past interview skills to really understand who is the best candidate for a job. Our traditional interviews were no different to this. But with several candidates either performing very well in the interview and not so well in the practical exercise or vice-versa, putting the two approaches together gave a much clearer view of someone's skills and capabilities than an interview alone.

Throw in the extra time we had to sit and talk to candidates over lunch, between activities, etc, and we've been able to take a decision with much more confidence than is normally the case.

A related point of note is that the extended and innovative nature of the recruitment process has got our induction process started already. Newly recruited staff members have already seen something of Daraja's culture and will have a much better idea of what to expect than is usually the case when starting a new job. They have seen in practice how we value innovation, creativity, informality and dynamism, which hopefully will help instill the kind of attitudes and atmosphere that we would like to create within the organisation.

Finally, the whole panel was delighted with the overall standard of applicants. Of the 25 people interviewed, I would happily have offered positions to 20 of them. That left us in the unusually pleasant position of being able to pick from among several strong options rather than being left with no real choice. Totally different from recruitment processes I have managed in the past.

It also left us wondering why we had such a strong group to chose from. Was it that we advertised several positions at the same time, and therefore had a very wide pool to start with? Was it that our advertising used non-traditional channels as well as newspaper adverts, with adverts circulated through a wide range of networks (several applicants said they had seen the advert that way)? Was it something about Daraja that attracted a different kind of applicant? Did we tap into an unexpected pool of people wanting to get out of Dar but without the job opportunities that allow them to do so?

Or were we just lucky?