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Updated 29 Feb 2020

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, Entrepreneur, 02 November 2016  Share  0 comments  Print

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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: 21 Richest self-made women in the world

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: 8 Women entrepreneurs who successfully juggle running a business and family

Step 3: The interview

Quest -Staffing -Solutions -logo

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.

Do this

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

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About the author

Nadine Todd, Entrepreneur

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