All eyes on Africa – nurturing talent for the next wave of growth

An online recruitment platform is changing the hiring landscape across the African continent in staffing for much needed infrastructure and energy projects. Victor Thien, founder and managing director of afringa, tells us how.

An online recruitment platform is changing the hiring landscape across the African continent in staffing for much needed infrastructure and energy projects. Victor Thien, founder and managing director of afringa, tells us how.

In a candid interview, Camilla Fröhlich, a foreign lawyer from our Frankfurt office discussed all things recruitment with Victor Thien, founder and managing director of one of the leading executive recruitment firms. Topics ranged from how the right candidates are singled out and how afringa is being widely referred to as Africa’s digital solution to recruitment hurdles.

HL: afringa’s mission is to become the leading digital employment platform, connecting job seekers, professionals and organisations across the African continent. You offer a variety of membership options to both job seekers as well as companies, but what sets afringa apart is the video application. Can you briefly illustrate how this works and the benefits it offers?

Victor Thien:

During the final stage of a recruiting process, typically in-person interviews take place to establish personal fit and chemistry. Eventually, very subjective elements are assessed by hiring managers.

afringa streamlines the recruiting process, by moving the final in-person interview to the very beginning, enabling the hiring manager to assess candidate motivation, attitude and willingness-to-learn from 60-second asynchronous “Cover Videos” and “Problem-Solving Videos” which are easily viewable at their own discretion. Don’t be afraid though: Traditional recruiting elements such as the CV or qualitative written questions are included for every candidate, too.

HL: Given the nature of this interview being Africa-focused, your solution seems like it could be applied to any international recruiting process. What triggered the decision to focus on the African continent?

Victor Thien:

The key challenge for organisations recruiting across the African continent are the very high numbers of job applications received for the comparatively few open job positions available. As a result, HR departments have to dedicate enormous amounts of time in identifying the top 10% of matching talent. In addition, many companies still receive job applications via email, adding additional time required to review at least two additional documents for every submission. It’s like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.

The African continent has the youngest population worldwide with a median age of only 19.7 years. As a consequence, the majority of job seekers do not possess extensive qualifications and years of professional experience on their CVs which many organizations expect to see.

HL: This sounds as if the traditional job application process, including CVs, cover letters and corresponding documents, is not adequate to identify suitable talent across the African continent?

Victor Thien:

What really matters to our clients are the individual candidate’s motivation, attitude, and willingness to learn. Elements that typically don’t get across in soft- or hard copy CVs and cover letters, though crucial in assessing whether you can imagine having a certain candidate work in your team or alongside you.

To facilitate the shortlisting process, we implemented 60-second “Cover Videos” and “Problem-Solving Videos”. As a result, the total number of job applications went down, limiting the recruiting process to only really serious candidates that were willing to record the videos.

Our clients reported overall time saving of more than 65% as a result of the reduced numbers of job applications per open role and less time spent on reviewing individual application documents.

The afringa development team, mainly composed of African talent with personal knowledge and experience in the market, is currently working on adding artificial intelligence and machine learning to automatically analyse application videos and overall candidate profiles in order to build candidate rankings and further reduce time spent on the shortlisting process.

HL: But are you only focussed on connecting those already in Africa with employees based in Africa?

Victor Thien:

No, not at all. As part of our consulting services, we advise clients from e.g. Germany, France, the UK and Singapore on their market entry strategy as well as their individual recruiting approach. We have recently supported a German engineering company with subsidiaries in Egypt and Ivory Coast to open and staff an additional location in Kigali, Rwanda. For every client, market attractiveness and recruiting approaches may vary depending on their individual business requirements as well as availability of specific qualifications in respective geographies.

HL: In how many African countries is afringa physically present with staff on the ground and what are the plans to grow in the future?

Victor Thien:

afringa currently operates physical offices in Nairobi, Kenya and Kigali, Rwanda. We have representatives on the ground in more than 30 African countries to support local clients and business development activities. As part of our next funding round, we plan to further expand our footprint in West Africa with locations in Accra, Ghana and Abidjan, Ivory Coast. The long term goal is to have physical offices in all 54 African countries.

HL: I could imagine you are not only focussed on assisting clients to staff one particular project in one particular area or field but rather to form a lasting relationship of mutual trust – have you noticed a trend of so called “repeat customers” and how do you go about encouraging this trend?

Victor Thien:

Generally, long lasting business relationships across the African continent are formed through establishing trust. This counts in African countries even more so than outside of the African continent. Hence, all our effort goes into establishing afringa as the credible and trusted go-to brand for all your employment challenges across the African continent. Repeat customers are our primary target.

HL: Let’s say one of our infrastructure and energy clients is about to embark on a large-scale project in East Africa. They need to staff their soon-to-be established branch office and also the project itself to an extent. What can afringa offer them, in terms of employee placements, and how do you mitigate the risk of employing staff from abroad on a “sight unseen” basis?

Victor Thien:

From our past experience, staffing large scale projects requires, at least to a certain extent, a “boots-on-the-ground” approach, in order to avoid unnecessary hiring mistakes. Typically, our local country representatives perform final interviews with previously shortlisted job candidates on the afringa platform and coordinate staffing activities along an agreed timeline. We provide regular progress updates to the client to ensure timely project completion, leading to quick commencement of the client’s business operations. When staffing large-scale projects more quickly and efficiently, we utilise a combination of modern technology shortlisting algorithms and old-fashioned support from local afringa representatives, ensuring a smooth ride until completion of the client’s hiring goals.

HL: Could you kindly walk us through the afringa process from the client’s perspective.

Victor Thien:

Usually, the afringa team is approached by two different types of clients:

Type 1: The client utilises afringa’s online platform self-service recruiting features

This client typically knows exactly what they are looking for. As first step they will sign up with the afringa online employment platform and create their company profile. As next step, they purchase one of our recruiting packages and subsequently submit an online job advertisement. Suitable job candidates will receive notifications about the job opportunity and start applying with their 60-second cover videos as well as problem-solving videos. In addition, afringa job advertisements will be automatically listed and pushed to hundreds of other job platforms via Google. Once job candidates will start to submit their applications, the client will perform all subsequent steps such as shortlisting job candidates and performing final rounds of interviews from the afringa hiring manager dashboard, before extending offers.

Type 2: The client requests a bespoke and full-service recruiting experience

The client intends to fill open positions quickly and delegates all work to the afringa team. afringa takes care of setting up job descriptions, publishes job advertisements, reviews and shortlists incoming job applications, and performs final interviews. Eventually, clients receive a presentation detailing the most suitable job candidates. afringa aides the client’s decision-making process at all times.

HL: Let’s say the client narrows their search down to 10 local employees as a starting point. The next step, from my understanding, is a virtual interview – does afringa remain involved right up until the signing of contracts and facilitate this “on the ground”?

Victor Thien:

The final step, after reviewing and shortlisting job application videos, is a personal virtual live interview. Given the extent of the Covid-19 pandemic, the majority of our clients prefer virtual online interviews as opposed to physical meetings. Hence, we have decided to implement a seamless experience allowing hiring managers to schedule live video interview appointments with shortlisted job candidates on the afringa platform.

We have recently been asked to include options for job candidate background checks, as well as guidance on local employment contracts.

HL: afringa has grown significantly recently and you have staff strategically placed in the big hubs in order to facilitate the process for clients. It is also assisting in reducing unemployment on the continent. How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected their ability to reach potential candidates?

Victor Thien:

Fortunately, we did not experience any change to rising numbers of job candidates signing up to afringa’s employment platform. Some of our clients, however, have reduced the number of new hires, resulting in fewer career opportunities for our members. We have used the time to setup the afringa Academy to support our job candidates and raise awareness about job market expectations relating to minimum qualifications and how to attain them. The afringa Academy features a three month employability program to provide students with various skills to enable a smooth start in the working world. The program covers the four most important competence categories, namely: basic digital-, soft-, language- and career development skills.

HL: Does afringa place expats in relevant positions on the African continent and, if so, do you have any advice or input you could give regarding the employment market for expats in Africa generally? i.e things people should consider before moving back/working in Africa?

Victor Thien:

African nationals, living outside of the African continent, are among our clients too. Many of them in professional roles such as banking and consulting consider returning to their home countries. afringa supports their journeys with our bespoke “Return Home” program to facilitate reintegration and support identification of local career opportunities. Cultural adjustments are among many different factors to consider before moving back. afringa representatives will advise on country-specific characteristics and prepare an individual phased plan to accommodate smooth reintegration.

Non-African nationals are starting to become our third largest group of members on afringa. Nationals from e.g. France, China, the UK and Germany contact us for career opportunities across the African continent.

HL: One should always be cautious of grouping Africa as a whole, it is obviously an extremely diverse continent however one thing is true for Africa and that is that it’s no stranger to crises and has shown time and again that it is capable of bouncing back. How do you see the landscape developing/bouncing back post-COVID?

Victor Thien:

All eyes are on Africa’s youth as it will drive future development. During my time in Kigali, Rwanda I had the chance to live under the same roof as a local family and meet many local youth. What was astonishing for me was how many of them had their own start-ups and were working on their own projects. Entrepreneurship has become an integral part of life for many young people as a means to design their own futures. If we can do one thing right with afringa, it is to support young Africans to find the careers that they are passionate about.

HL: Thank you Victor and good luck to afringa going forward.

About Victor Thien and afringa

Victor Thien built his first business at the age of 14 and continued his career in management consulting with Ernst & Young (EY) in Germany and Singapore, before he decided that something had to be done about the employment market challenge across the African continent. Thien explains the vision behind afringa: “I founded the afringa online employment platform with the vision and mission to help young job seekers across African countries to find job opportunities and apply to them more easily. On the other hand, the recruiting process should be more simple and easy for local and international companies hiring in African countries.”


Authored by Dr. Tobias Faber and Camilla Fröhlich

Tobias Faber
Camilla Froehlich
Foreign Associate
Frankfurt am Main


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