Deception Among Applicants, Employers Threatens African Business

By Everest Turyahikayo Jul 19, 2012

Failure to attract and retain suitable employees not only hampers productivity in organizations, it also causes management ulcers. Attracting and retaining the right employees, however, is not an easy task. A lack of skills, attitudes, knowledge and abilities in the job market—coupled with the unethical behavior of potential employees and employers—act in concert to complicate the employee selection process.

In Africa, data about skills shortages are scarce, yet every sector is hit by insufficient levels of skilled labor. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, formal education alone has not helped to solve the skills shortage problem. Many organizations are embracing firm-based training, according to A Comparative Analysis of Firm Based Training in East African Manufacturing Sector: Does Level of Education Matter?, a 2006 study by the Economic and Social Research Foundation in Tanzania.

The lack of skilled labor in pharmaceutical manufacturing has led to the distribution of ineffective medicine. The construction sector has also faced skills shortages resulting in shoddy construction and the collapse of newly built structures, particularly in Nigeria.

Kenya is missing out on big opportunities to export professional services due to the poor nature of its education system, which emphasizes theory over practical skills. Service markets such as the United States, Europe and the East African Community region, which Kenya targets to export its professional services, are increasingly demanding practical skills. And, a shortage of humanities and language teachers—as opposed to science teachers—in Kenya is a cause for worry.

Sandra Burmeister, CEO of Landelahni Recruitment Group in Johannesburg, South Africa, said that although South Africa produces more mining engineers than all other English-speaking countries combined, there are limited sufficient skills to replace the aging engineers and artisans, let alone to gear the industry for growth.

Jobseekers’ Dishonesty

It is common for some job seekers to list qualifications they have never obtained, thereby creating false impressions at recruitment. Much as employers are blamed for indulging in recruitment malpractices, some job seekers have made it difficult for employers to attract and retain the right job candidate. It can be costly on the part of the employer to offer a job opportunity to an applicant on the basis of the presented documentation, only to discover forgery of the degree certificate or embellishment of work experience.

Sales applicants are more likely to inflate their level of success. A common denominator, however, is that job applicants distort their responses to align more closely with a typical incumbent.

Research suggests that as many as three in four people tell lies on their curriculum vitaes (CV), mostly about qualifications, dates of employment and salary. According to The Risk Advisory Group in the United Kingdom, a company that screens and verifies job seekers’ applications, 65 percent of 3,800 CVs submitted in 2007 contained false information.

On the African continent, just like other continents, there is very little literature on examination malpractices and how the problem affects the labor market. In 2010, Exam Ethics International reviewed five examination centers in Nigeria and found that 429,000 test results were canceled yearly. The chairman of Exam Ethics, Iky Onyechere, noted that examination fraud “plants the seed of criminal values in the fertile minds of youths, and the schools have become places for breeding potential fraudsters.” This could potentially lead to criminalization of society, an incompetent labor force and corrupt leadership.

In 2007, Kenya National Examinations Council canceled the results of more than 40,000 students who sat for their final secondary school exams due to examination fraud.

A 2007 report by the Inspector General of Government (IGG) to the Ugandan Parliament in Kampala revealed that Makerere University students were involved in multiple examination malpractices, including bribing university officials to get examination questions in advance. In 2010 alone, Makerere University Business School suspended 44 students for indulging in examination malpractices. Graduates who benefit from the examination malpractices end up being hired and placed in senior positions.

This examination fraud means employers suffer the consequences arising from unqualified and incompetent employees. A 2010 IGGreport to the Ugandan Parliament warned that if the increasing cases of examination malpractices were not checked, the country was destined to get dishonest public servants who would practice theft. This is based on the notion that students who progress in their academic pursuits through cheating will grow into corrupt adults. The aggregate of all this is a corrupt and incompetent future workforce in the country.

Examination fraud is not just a university problem; it is an HR problem. Organizations lose billions of shillings in training semi-illiterate and incompetent staff.

Unethical Hiring Practices

Unethical and unlawful behavior is not solely an applicant problem. Employers also engage in unscrupulous practices when hiring unqualified job applicants at the expense of qualified individuals. Recruitment decisions that result in bad hires sap the organization’s time, training resources and employee morale.

Some companies have built a tradition of hiring people based on personal connections when the person is not qualified for the job. All the processes that follow are only formalities, as the decision has already been made by the line manager or HR professional extending the favor.

Potential applicants may be asked to pay bribes in exchange for a job and may be sexually harassed—and still do not necessarily get the job, according to the International Labour Organization’s 2009 study Protecting People, Promoting Jobs: A Survey of Country Employment and Social Protection Policy Responses to the Global Economic Crisis. Others are denied jobs due to their family and religious background.

The situation is made worse when a country lacks clear recruitment laws. In the absence of strong labor unions, lack of equality in employment laws and enforcement of those laws, and limited advocacy for human rights, job applicants remain silent.

Job applicants in most cases have neither reported abuses faced at recruitment nor sought legal redress. The following are possible reasons job seekers affected by recruitment abuses do not seek legal redress:

  • They hope that the selection team will recruit them when another job opportunity arises in the same organization.
  • They believe that reporting culprits would mean disclosing their own identity. This is likely to jeopardize their job prospects with other employers.
  • They at times do not have the evidence to pin-down culprits. In organizations where selection malpractices exist, the recruitment team is typically organized such that exploiters of job applicants are difficult to uncover. Moreover, a secretive transaction is difficult, if not impossible, to detect.
  • They fear for their lives because of intimidation from the exploiters. Moreover, some of the members of the selection team can be very powerful both politically and economically, such that it makes no sense for less-advantaged job seekers to report them to relevant authorities.
  • They think it is the order of the day for most organizations to exploit job applicants. They feel that the practice is common to all organizations. In many countries, it is hard to convince young job seekers that one can get a job on merit. Belief in the backdoor” recruitment method is becoming the norm.

In many countries, there is no law prohibiting discrimination at recruitment. Where the law is in place, implementation is lacking.


Employers struggling to find the right talent encounter numerous challenges. Labor shortages are a global problem in spite of the high unemployment rates in many countries. But, they are especially challenging in growing African countries. The fact that some job seekers are dishonest leaves employers entangled in staff retention dilemmas. Better recruitment and screening practices, along with building a reputation as an ethical employer, are effective ways HR professionals in Africa can compete and win on talent.

Everest Turyahikayo is assistant secretary of personnel and administration at the Law Development Centre in Kampala, Uganda. He can be reached via

This article first appeared in the May 2012 issue of Worldlink, the newsletter of the World Federation of People Management Associations (WFPMA), published by the Society for Human Resource Management. Copyright 2012. World Federation of People Management Association.


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