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Kay Vittee’s 3 Steps To Winning The Talent War

Hiring is an incredibly expensive process, so you want to get it right. You also need top talent to grow your organisation. Here’s how you win the talent war.

Nadine Todd




Vital Stats

  • Player: Kay Vittee
  • Position: CEO
  • Companies: Quest Staffing Solutions and Kelly, both members of the Adcorp Group
  • Visit: and

The war of talent is on, and talent is winning. “If you’re a business owner, you know that there’s a definite shortage of skills and talent out there,” says Kay Vittee, CEO of Quest Staffing Solutions and Kelly Recruitment.

“Technology plays a key role in building businesses, but ultimately people interact with people.

“To paraphrase Jim Collins, if you want to ensure the growth and sustainability of your business, you need to get the right talent on the bus.”

So how do you go about attracting and retaining talent in your organisation? Vittee highlights three steps to successfully hiring great staff who suit your company.

Related: View Every Interaction Through your Brand Lens – It’s Significant Believes Kate Moodley

Step 1: Fine tune your employer brand

How do you become an employer brand? While we can’t all be the next Google when it comes to super-cool places to work, people want to be proud of the company that employs them. In this regard, brand becomes critically important.

“Your employer brand encompasses a range of areas, from philanthropic activities, to environmental awareness; what your organisation does for job growth to work/life balance,” says Vittee. “You’d be amazed how often we’re asked about social media access and flexible work hours, for example.”

According to Vittee, talented people in particular want to be measured on contribution and output. “Your company can operate according to fixed schedules, but you’re unlikely to attract the truly talented if you do,” she adds.

To create an employer brand that attracts the right kind of talent, you first need to understand who you’re targeting. “Think of potential employees like customers,” says Vittee.

“Categorise them into micro-segments. The more specific the better. Now answer these questions: Who are you targeting? What do they care about? What is their Employee Value Proposition, or EVP? Once you have these answers you can create one clear voice across multiple channels. Make it clear who your organisation is and what you stand for.

“South African companies do not excel in this area, which leaves a real opportunity for entrepreneur-led businesses. This is how you win the war on talent — you can’t offer corporate salaries and benefits, but you can offer the brand and environment that people are looking for.”

Step 2: Create a job description


“There’s a complete mismatch between actual job scopes and positions that are advertised,” says Vittee.

“The reality of today’s job marketplace is that there are vastly more people than jobs. In addition, talented people who know their own worth are choosy about what positions they apply for. The result is that for every job your company advertises, you’re inundated with CVs, and the vast majority of those will not be from highly talented individuals.”

According to Vittee, finding the right person for your organisation starts with understanding who you’re looking for.

“The problem is that many organisations don’t know what they’re looking for because they haven’t taken the time to properly outline what a culture fit and value alignment between the company and candidate looks like. Simply creating a short list of skills and competencies to go with a brief job description is not enough, particularly if the reality of the role’s scope is far more extensive than the job title suggests.”

So how do you create a proper job scope? First, create a detailed list of all aspects of the job and technical abilities associated with the role.

  • What competencies are you looking for?
  • Are experienced candidates or newbies better suited to the position?
  • What critical tasks are required to do this job successfully?

Next, consider how an individual is behaviourally successful in the role. What attributes are more likely to result in success? Does it require a lot of teamwork? Attention to detail? Reliance on others? Creativity, innovation?

“Getting this right takes hard work upfront but in the long run it will mean the difference between a mediocre employee and a top performer,” says Vittee.

Related: Free Job Description Template Download

Step 3: The interview

There are a range of filtering steps available to businesses, from assessments to recruitment agencies. Whichever you choose, keep in mind that people embellish their CVs, and will always be looking to put their best foot forward in an interview. This can range from outright lies to simply telling the interviewer what they think they want to hear.

According to Vittee, to get to the most out of the interview process, there are a few tips and tricks that you can implement immediately.


  • Always make sure the position’s direct manager is in the room. They understand their team’s dynamic best, as well as the real job scope.
  • Train and select the right interview panel. Does the panel understand the nature of the appointment? Just as you need the direct manager in the room, so a completely impartial manager is also vital. If an individual does not need to work with the person being hired, they are more likely to take an objective, impartial view of the candidate.
  • Interview on competencies. Look for real-world tangible answers, not academic answers.
  • Ask the candidate what they liked and disliked about their previous boss and the company they worked for. This gives insight into the candidate’s values. Be cognisant of how they frame their answers though. Is their default negative or positive framing? A negative person can be toxic to your team, even if they’re a brilliant candidate at a skills level. Jack Welch always used to say that no matter how great an employee was, if they were destructive to the team, get rid of them.
  • Call the references given to you and try to find one or two additional references that were not. Make sure the person you’re talking to isn’t a family member and that they actually worked together. List specific scenarios and ask how the candidate handled them in the past. If it’s a top-level position in your organisation, face-to-face discussions are better than telephonic reference checks.


  • Hire the person because they’re like you. Is the job like yours?
  • Compare candidates to each other.
  • Take the best of a bad bunch — this will cost you more in the long run than going back to market.
  • Assume a culture fit. If you like someone, get them to interact with other employees. Put them in a room and watch them. They can tell you anything in an interview, but the real test comes with how they interact with others. That’s much harder to fake.

Related: 13 Female Entrepreneurs Rising To The Top

Do this

Create a recruitment system designed to attract top talent to your organisation.


Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

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Designing Her Destiny

Oh Yay! owner, Emmerentia van den Hoven does business her way.

QuickBooks SA




In 2011, Emmerentia van den Hoven took a leap of faith when she decided to leave her graphic design job at an agency and pursue her real passion – and it has paid off tenfold. Here’s her story.

“When I started planning my own wedding eight years ago, I fell in love with wedding design and wanted to do that for the rest of my life. Designing for brands had become a set of rules rather than being creative, and I’d always wanted to work for myself. So, in September 2011, I turned my seven-month-old side gig into a fully-fledged business and launched Oh Yay!

I have to hustle every month to get new clients because every client will use my services maximum twice – first for the wedding invitations and then for the stationery on the day – so I don’t normally have returning clients.

Because my main business is seasonal and usually once-off per customer, I have branched out into branding for small businesses in the beauty and lifestyle industry. I also earn a passive income through the Oh Yay! online shop where I sell wedding décor items.  Oh Yay Kids – my other online store – is my passion project. I launched it just before my second child was born, adding items to the store that I made for my two boys when I saw a need for it. I then expanded into prints for nurseries and kids’ party stationery.

I work for myself and have no employees, so the fact that QuickBooks lets me load all my services, products and prices in one place makes running my business so much easier. Being an entrepreneur is difficult because you don’t know if you’ll be successful or not. But if you believe in and love what you’re doing, it reflects in your work and the service you give.”

Less admin, more of what you love


When Oh Yay! was launched, along with her dream of being an entrepreneur, came the nightmare of other administrative tasks. But that changed in 2018 when Emmerentia started using QuickBooks.

“When I was using spreadsheets to balance my books, I was spending 80% of my time on admin, which left very little time to tend to customers’ orders. I now spend no more than 25% of my time on admin, which is important, especially when it comes to the speed at which I send quotes. You don’t get any work if you don’t send out quotes and it’s tough to juggle the admin with your actual job of running the business.

Numbers were never really my strong point, so having a professional quote done in record time not only projects professionalism, but the format also changes the way new clients see me. In my industry, the quicker you can send a quote out, the likelier you’ll get the clients’ business. It gives legitimacy to my business. The QuickBooks system operates so seamlessly that clients communicate with me differently, like I have my own accounting department, when in fact, I’m a one-woman-show.

I used to dread doing admin, but now it’s so easy and quick. I’m not just saying this – QuickBooks changed my life.”

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

These female entrepreneurs are breaking barriers, transforming industries and inspiring change on the continent.

Diana Albertyn



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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Owner Of Nouwens Carpets Shares Success Lessons From Running A 50 Year Old Family Business

Embrace technology every chance you get.

Nadine Todd




A company that’s been active for more than five decades in an industry that’s hundreds of years old doesn’t sound like a recipe for innovation — and yet that’s exactly what Luci Nouwens, owner of Nouwens Carpets, is focused on.

The modern carpet has a history that goes back thousands of years. And despite the hipster trend of reclaimed and hard wood flooring, the carpet still remains a popular choice for consumers.

In South Africa, a name that’s synonymous with quality carpeting is Nouwens. When Cornelis Nouwens arrived in the country in the 1950s, bringing the skills of a trade which he had mastered alongside his father in Tilburg, the hub of the Netherlands’ wool textile industry, he passed on the skills and the love of the craft to his family and to workers in the Harrismith region in KwaZulu Natal.

More than 50 years after her father started it in 1962, the company remains family owned, and is headed by Luci Nouwens, who has been with the business for 48 years.

“We have maintained our reputation for premium quality all this time by paying meticulous attention to crafting standards and selecting only the finest raw materials,” says Luci. “Equally important is that we have innovated at every opportunity, embracing technology without ever compromising the traditional craftsman’s spirit.”

Innovation drives growth

Businesses that innovate are able to grow and hire more employees. As a result, they grab a bigger share of the market. That’s true regardless of the size of your business: If you innovate, you can scale up.

In 1968 Nouwens launched a pure karakul wool carpet that was extremely hard wearing and took the company into the commercial carpet market. Luci recalls the manufacturing of the carpet as “a major feat of unique textile engineering.” Another innovation in 2005 was the introduction of a totally new style of flat weave wool carpet, a very clean, minimalist and natural look requiring much less wool without compromising on wearability.

“These innovations are just two of many that have allowed the business to boost its market share over the years,” says Luci. “But beyond that, innovation has enabled Nouwens Carpets to form the backbone of economic activity and upliftment in the local community around Harrismith. This has allowed us to make substantial investment in providing education and skills development for the local population, to ensure that the craft is preserved for generations to come.”

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

Innovation enables sustainability

Innovation in technologies and how they are applied is key to enabling a manufacturer like Nouwens to create new business value, while also protecting the planet.

“We have used technology to enable sustainable manufacturing, for the benefit of the business, the community, and our customers.”

Nouwens selects equipment, materials and manufacturing methods based on their degree of sustainability and protection of the environment. The company is also a member of the Green Building Council of South Africa and submits its products for VOC testing to ensure that harmful emissions are significantly reduced.

“Ultimately, we are driven by a passion for textiles and the ability to constantly find better ways to produce beautiful products. After the downturn in the economy, we started to produce more cost-effective commercial nylon yarns, and in 2017, we became the new kid on the block for synthetic grass. The bottom line is that a true entrepreneur does what has to be done when the time comes.” — Monique Verduyn

The role of disruption in creating value

A disruptive business is a business that challenges and potentially changes the status quo. From a mindset point of view, a culture that questions ‘why’ can help foster organisational and market disruption. But disruption for the sake of disruption is self-defeating, it needs to be on the back of making things better and based on commercial principles, i.e. people or market players actually wanting to be disrupted.

The starting point is this: Does someone, or a market, value what you’re producing? If the answer is yes, you have a commercially viable disruption. Disruption that is valued by its target market has the best chance of resulting in success.

Get that right and you’ll have a customer base, you’ll gain traction and you’ll attract investors, provided you’re also making a meaningful and sustainable difference to your target market or community. — Ian Lessem, CEO, HAVAIC Investment and Advisory Firm


Team up with customers and competitors.

There’s more power in collaboration than competition. We’re stronger together than when we’re apart. When it comes to working with competitors, consider this: They may have something that you don’t, or vice versa, and 50% of something is always more than 100% of nothing. You’re then positioned to add value before you add an invoice, so your clients benefit from your relationships, and the market wins. From there, you become your client’s go-to-person, because you’re putting them first.

Customers are also a great source of knowledge: They might just have the answers you’re looking for, but are you asking them the right questions? They often know more about an entrepreneur’s business than they know themselves, because they’re on the receiving end of your offering. One way to collaborate with customers is to ask them more questions about yourselves, themselves and their clients. Harness their perspective and develop yourself to give them what they want, not what you think they want. — Wes Boshoff, founder, Imagine Thinking

Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Business Women To Watch


Know what your audiences are interested in

As a brand, there are many ways to ensure your audience is paying attention to you, but you can’t expect them to find you unless you’re sharing content that captures their interest. If you send out press releases, don’t be too rigid or plain. Audiences want to be engaged, and not to have to deal with long, cumbersome information. An infographic, along with a video or pictures will make your release easier to ingest and more memorable. People don’t want boring figures, they want relatable stories.

One way to be relatable is by tapping into influencer marketing. This doesn’t mean you need celebrities with the highest followings to endorse you. Micro-influencers are proving to have just as much clout as those with larger followings. Evidence shows that micro-influencers have a more established and deeper connection with their audience, which translates to loyalty and a readiness to follow their advice. The trick is to find the micro-influencers who are speaking to the audience you want to reach.

Big data plays a key role in painting a picture of who is ‘out there’. With the right information, you can tailor your content to a specific audience. Big data can show you what topics and problems are trending in your industry, so that you can get the jump on them. Use big data to deliver your own insights on current topics, shaping and leading the conversation, converting your audience’s attention into action. — Madelain Roscher, founder and managing director, PR Worx and Status Reputation Management

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