What interviewers are looking for?

Live with Ahmed Sunka


  • So Ahmed tell us a bit more about yourself?

I work with the leading RAB GROUP of Malawi, an Agro-processing, trading and basic food & non-food distribution Group since July 2003. I am currently Group Deputy Managing Director (7 companies) in charge of all aspects of revenue generation, operations, logistics, and marketing and am a key member of the new product development team and also responsible for customer and supplier relationship management across the company.

Furthermore, I am an active member of various task forces and forums related to international trade and export development.

I serve on the board member of several key organizations in the country including the Export Association of Malawi, Agricultural Commodity Exchange, and Council of Non-Government Organization of Malawi.

(A pretty impressive profile!)

  • How involved are you in the hiring process at the RAB GROUP especially interviewing potential candidates?

As part of my role in the group, the HR department reports to me directly so all decisions regarding recruitments are done by me. In addition, I am involved in the senior management interviews directly.

  • What do you think are the three must-haves in potential candidates?

Right qualification, Team Culture Fit and Alignment of role/career with individual (Job Suitability)

  • When conducting interviews, what is the first thing that you notice about candidates and how much impact does it have in their being ultimately hired?

Attitude & confidence level especially when greeting and/or shaking hands tells a lot about the candidate.

  • When it comes to communication skills and candidates being able to express themselves during an interview, how important do you think they are versus a candidate being technically sound?

If one is able to communicate he will also be able to teach or work with others while someone who is technically sound but lacks communication skills may not be able to groom/mold nor work effectively with others.

(Very nicely put Ahmed)

  • Besides communication skills and technical knowledge of the potential candidates is there anything in particular that you look for?

Leadership skills, Energy/Passion, Flexibility/Adaptability

  • Since you have conducted numerous interviews, how would you rate each of the following to be the most important and least important when interviewing a candidate?
    • Appearance of the candidate (properly dressed, presentable) – 7/10
    • Confidence of candidate – 9/10
    • Fluency of English language – 8/10
    • Communication skills – the candidate being able to express themselves – 9/10
    • Technical knowledge – 8/10
    • Ability to ask smart questions – 8/10
    • Positivity and eagerness – 9/10
    • Knowledge about the job and the firm – 7/10
    • Leadership skills – 9/10
    • Energy/Passion – 9/10
    • Flexibility/Adaptability – 9/10
  • What is the one big blunder that you’ve seen candidates make that has ultimately led them on not being hired?


(Oh yes! Definitely!)

  • Just deviating a little from the topic of interviews, I think some of the readers might be quite keen on finding out what the current job market in Africa is like?

Africa is huge entailing many countries. I will relate more specific about Malawi and the Southern African region. At present, there are good opportunities in the region for managerial positions particularly in the field of finance, economics, and agriculture.

  • I am pretty sure that is a big news to most of my readers. With most of my readers from Pakistan, Middle East, and Asia-Pac, I am sure most don’t consider looking for jobs in Africa. But this might be of interest to them! But then again another question would be, do companies in Africa normally hire people from other countries and if so in which particular professions?

Like I just mentioned, Southern Africa opportunities for expat staff is for higher end skills like accounting etc

  • But then an important question would be, is it easy to get a work visa / residency in the country?

Yes generally within 6 months once can get a work visa provided they can clearly show the skills being brought in. Residence permits are a little difficult and take time, and have some conditions including but not limited to investment, duration of stay in country, etc.

  • Excellent, before we end the interview, would you like to share a little advice with our readers?

The interviewee should be able to have made a good research about the organization as well as vacancy/job opening to indicate show positive interest in the organization.

The interviewer must do a background check on the candidate with the previous companies he/she worked for both on their work conduct as well as the reason for leaving the job.

For Interviewer some pertinent questions that I have found useful and can get more in-depth knowledge about candidate:

  1. Can you give some info with specific example on when you had a career high (good achievement etc) and a career low (issue/challenge etc)
  2. Depending on job level give a question of an issue/challenge your company has faced and ask the candidate how he would have dealt with it?
  3. Ask candidate What skills he/she is wanting to develop and where he/she sees themselves in the organization 5 years from now. (This will help determine ambition/long term career goals/possibly loyalty etc)

(Thanks! I guess you are our first panelist who has offered advice to interviewers in addition to interviewees)


Please note:

  • All questions have been answered by Ahmed in his personal capacity and will have no impact on the organisation he works for;
  • Please do not spam Ahmed with personal questions. If you have any questions for Ahmed or me, feel free to comment below and we will try and answer them. 

Up next:

Interview with Taha Ali, Manager KPMG New Zealand

When: 18 June 2016

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Also, don’t forget to check what our previous panellist had to say:

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