Tope Niyi is the Head of Marketing and Products Development of Nigeria’s online job portal, Careers24. In this exclusive interview with JONAH NWOKPOKU, he argues that most of the online jobs in Nigeria are from scammers looking to exploit desperate job seekers. He also spoke on Careers24’s growth, market strategies and how job seekers can successfully explore the online job market to boost chances of employment. Excerpts
Careers24 has been in Nigeria’s online job market for the past one year, what has your experience been and what is your general assessment of the online job market in Nigeria?
Our experience for the past one year has been a good one. We have seen a growth in our business and for a business that is still very young; the growth has been encouraging to our investors. When we came on board, our job stock was standing at about a thousand jobs, and we were projecting five thousand available vacancies which seemed an impossible task at the time but today we average about 11, 000 vacancies. In terms of visit also, we have noticed that over the past few months the number of people applying for jobs through our platform has increased to about 1,500 a day. That is huge growth for us, seeing that applications have gone up and that people are really applying for jobs. The number of our job stock has gone up which are good indicators of growth for us but these are still early days but we are seeing the kind of growth which we want to see at this stage.
What we have seen is that there are a lot of people looking for jobs. We have also found out that the jobs that are available in the market are jobs that require certain expertise or years of experience. We do not get to see a lot of jobs for entry levels. And if you look at the job pool, there is high number of people leaving school every day, millions of them, who cannot seem to find that first job that will enable them to get the required experience and then apply for those experienced jobs. We have also found that maybe it is also about the young graduates coming out of school, and then have too high expectations about the job market. There are people who just finished school and expect to start earning big money. They want the best jobs.
The oil companies cannot employ everybody. The banking sector is not what it used to be in terms of employment. So you find these high expectations and the reality is that the people that hire the largest numbers of entry level employees are the small and medium enterprises, SMEs and they cannot afford to pay the huge salaries that big and multinational corporations can afford to pay.
With the goal of beating the main player in the job market in Nigeria, have you made any significant progress in this direction?
To be honest, we are still a long way from getting there in terms of brand recognition. This year we ran a major campaign on television and radio. This has really helped to boost our image and brand equity in the marketplace. If you remember, Jobberman has over five years’ head start. It is going to take time to catch up with Jobberman. But for us, beyond catching up with competition, one of the most important things for us and the reason why we are doing what we are doing is that we want to give recruiters and job seekers value. That is really important to us. Its always a game of numbers. In a marketplace, there is always going to be a number one and number two. Our job is going to be to increase the number of people who are using our platform and increase the kind of value satisfaction they get while using the platform.
In what significant ways has your entry into the online job market affected the online job space in Nigeria?
With our entry, people now have more than one option to search for jobs. Secondly it has helped to shine some lights about the opportunities in the space for other interested investors. For instance, Rocket Internet is looking to launch a job portal in Cameroun, which we know will eventually be in Nigeria because of their heavy presence in the country already.
Are there any new innovations you have brought to the table besides posting jobs online as everyone else is doing?
For us as Careers24, the way we look at this business is that we believe, as reflected in our name, in the careers of individuals who subscribe to our platforms. We believe that we want to be able to hold your hands through your career growth. We believe that an entry level worker would not always be entry level. So we believe that if we are able to assist you grow in your career growth, you would always come to us first. So one of the key things we are saying is, what kind of value can we give you in this timeline that you have, from the beginning to the end of your career? How can Careers24 come in? One of the major things that we are doing now is that we are also providing career advice, at whatever level that you find yourself. So there is advice for graduates, engineers, finance, technology, managers, and entrepreneurs on our website. For usability, we have also divided the site into verticals. Currently we have six verticals.
These include: Graduates, Engineering, Finance, Tech, Office, so that when one visits the site, it will take you the page for the advice most suitable to one’s needs. These pieces of advice revolve around what you need to do if you have just gotten a job, what to do on the job and how to grow your career on the job. So, there are lots of resources currently on the site because we believe that career portals shouldn’t just be a place where people apply for jobs only. It should be a place where people get useful career advice as well, no matter the circumstances one finds oneself in a current work life.
The online job space has become an attractive platform for fraudsters, what has been your experience and what have you done to combat the challenge?
At the time that Careers24 launched, it was being handled from South Africa. So what the team in South Africa did was to Google the email addresses of those recruiters who want to recruit through the platform. But when we came on board, we realised that a lot of those recruiters were actually fraudulent recruiters. I can tell you that out of a hundred jobs that are sent to us by recruiters in a day, about 80 per cent of that are fraudulent jobs. So what we did was to build a system where every job that comes on our site goes through a fraud proof registration process.
This gives us access to the details of our potential recruiters so that we can verify that the job is genuine. For example, someone says Shell is recruiting, and says send your CV to Shell@gmail.com. Immediately you see that, you will realise it is a scam because a company like Shell should probably have emails like HR@shell.com. Generally we have little tolerance for scam, so even if it looks right, you still have to prove to us that it is right. Apart from that, we have a way of taking it further. We said because it is Nigeria and there is this problem of scam, we are going to ensure that we call every recruiter that puts a job on the site. This is possible since the job doesn’t go live once it is submitted for posting on our site. So the team at the backend that sees the job before it goes live calls the recruiter to actually verify the submission.
Can you share any instance where you successfully detected and pulled down fraudulent job scam?
There are lot of things that help us to detect scam. First is salary, because as a recruiter, you are meant to put the salary range of how much you are meant to pay. So as SME, a company that we have never heard before, you would naturally put a salary range that is low, maybe less than N100, 000 a month. But there was this instance when all of a sudden we began to see a salary range of up to N900, 000 and for a business one has never heard before.
So we flagged that and then Googled their email to see if they have put their jobs on other websites, and they had done that. So we looked at the salary range which they have put there and they were all different for that same job. On one job portal, it was N1.5m and on another portal, it was N900, 000 and then on another, it was N600, 000. Immediately we saw that, we called the company and they argued that it was genuine and that it was a mistake from the person who inputted the data. But we also noticed that the company does not even have a website for us to see that it is a company that can afford to pay that kind of salary. So at the end of the day, we took off the job completely from our site because they did not prove beyond reasonable doubt that the job was not a fraud.
But why do you not go further by reporting these cases to the police?
To be honest with you, we have not started doing that. We have not gone to the authorities because we do not allow the fraud to be perpetrated. We try to shut them down in the process because we believe that if we can reduce those kinds of people that come to our platform, we can protect job seekers from falling prey to such schemes. I am sure that getting the police involved is something that we will look into.
Also we also have scam alert mechanism on our website. It is a spam flag, that our users are expected to click on when they encounter suspicious job post. This is for cases where fraudulent jobs are able to pull through without it being detected by our team. This helps us to follow up on the company and verify the authenticity of their posts. And then in cases where the company has made a fraudulent post, we blacklist the company.
What can be done about the impact of fraud on the growth of the online job space in Nigeria?
I think the onus is on us the players in this market to educate the job seekers. I believe that a lot of times, these frauds occur because of the desperation on the part of the job seekers. For example, there is this popular scam that happens all the time with the oil companies where applicants are told to pay some money to somebody that will get them into the test room for maybe Shell or Chevron. But the truth is that applicants must never pay for a job. They should never pay for either the test or the job interview. There are always processes for hiring especially when it comes to big companies.
And there is no big company that will ask you to pay money to write a test or to come for an interview. The other one is that the moment anyone tells you to send your information via SMS, you should know it is a fraud. Any genuine recruiter will ask for your CV. He will not ask you to send your name, height, address and qualifications via SMS. These are the things that job seekers need to know because the truth remains that job scammers will always remain because the people they are scamming are gullible.
For us as a business in a country like Nigeria where there is always fear of insecurity, the truth is that as long as there is unemployment, and people are looking to get rich quick, people will always try to undermine the online sector through fraud. What the online operators needs to do is to continue to educate their target audience. Online solution providers also need to protect their consumers so that even if they can’t protect themselves, they should be able to deploy tighter measures to reduce the incidents of fraud. Every classified site in this country should take that into consideration so that if as a scammer, I go to this platform and my scam doesn’t go through and I go to another and another without success, I will probably pack my load and go to the social media.
From the regulatory point of view, do you think anything can be done?
If we can make scapegoats of few scammers, that can be a deterrent to many would-be scammers. The truth is that now, there is no one catching them. As an operator, you can stop them from coming to your website, but you can’t stop them from going to Facebook or other avenues they can explore to get to people. I think there should be some kind of legislations stipulating the punishment for this kind of fraud. What we are used to is the ‘Yahoo Yahoo’ kind of fraud but this one is more of a crisis. I think the way the security agencies rose to the challenge of ‘Yahoo’ scam to reduce it to the barest minimum, I think they can apply the same strategies to deal with this new kind of fraud.
Many people have been applying for jobs online without success, what must such job seekers do to become successful?
First, they cannot be lazy and they cannot have high expectations. They need to be prepared to work anywhere that fits into their career, probably at less pay. This might be painful but it will help them grow and exercise their talents. They have to prove that they are valuable and they have to show their achievements. If you have no achievements, it would be difficult to get employees to consider you. This is because employers are looking for achievers. They are looking for top talents. I also think that the mindsets of job seekers about instant success also have to change, especially for the graduate job seekers. They must manage their expectations and look towards developing themselves first.