Best Interview Practices to Screen Operations Managers in Kenya

  Arielle Sandor wrote this on
October 13, 2017 | No Comments

How to interview operations managers effectively in Kenya to build the best team.

This is a tough post to write because all Operations Managers are different based on what sector the company is in. That being said, there should be some core things we can tease out to advise on in terms of best interview practices to screen Operations Managers in Kenya.

Here is how the Duma Works Placement Team thinks about hiring Operations Managers for companies in East Africa, based on  experience with our clients.

To hire someone with comparable experience or not?

If you are in a traditional sector like distribution, resales, manufacturing, production, or even IT, and this person is either building from scratch or inheriting a fully fledged operation that needs to be run more smoothly, then quite honestly – yes, it will probably be easier to hire someone with experience in your sector.

The reason for this is that each operation has its own unique quirks, and someone who is not familiar with your industry is not going to understand them. It’s these niches that will make or break the processes you implement – down to the small things.

For example, knowledge that you require City Council stamps for distribution of a certain product, or knowledge of the time it takes for a lorry to get to Mombasa and back, or knowledge about how to build a FMCG execution strategy, or how to create processes around client communication in agencies…

And hire from a company of a bigger size than you are right now. If you want to become a bigger company, find someone who knows how the processes work there, so when your sales double, your quality assurance and delivery doesn’t plummet because your systems are not robust enough to handle it, and are therefore failing.

Tests are easy to do in written form

When writing the Job Description, chances are (we hope!) that you’ve figured out what the core KPIs for this Operations Manager are going to be. Chances are, the operations of your business involve creating and managing processes that will become documented.

Thankfully, this makes your life a bit easier when putting together a case study test for your interviewees!

After you’ve confirmed that all your applicants do, in fact, match your requirements from the Job Description, you can send a practical case study test.

For Operations Managers, it’s best to give them a timed case study, because you want to understand how efficient they are in building processes. Ask them to create a process for something you need. For example:

Imagine you are working as an Operations Manager at a perishable goods distribution company. Tell us about how you would structure a process around how to prevent spoilage from occurring. What would be the key variable you are measuring? What key hires would you need to make to implement various elements of this process, if any?

You can also ask people talk about a time that they have did something that showed their competency as an Operations Manager. For example:

Tell me about a time that you built a new process within an organization from start to finish, with the help of a software platform. What was the desired outcome of creating this process? Please describe what the process looked like and which departments it involved. What was your strategy for communicating this new process to your team and was it effective? What was the outcome of this new process?

Operations spend your money, and you want someone with a comparable budget

I think this is a big mistake that companies make – especially small enterprises. Hiring the former Operations Manager from a huge multinational corporation might seem like a good idea, but if that person doesn’t understand what it means to hustle for budget, it’s not going to work out.

On the case study test, you can include tricks in the questions to assess what kind of approach a person would have to budgeting.

For example, say your Operations Manager will largely be in charge of overseeing flights and bookings for the company. You can ask them a question like the following:

You recently learned that the Director will be in Kenya from August 15th to September 1st. The Director needs you to book their hotel room, flight, and arrange for local transportation. Please describe how you would approach this request. What resources would you use to execute on this? What additional information would you need, if any?


Look up the prices of the various services (hotel, flight, and local transport) and report back on the options you would present.

When you are grading the tests, check which candidates were more considerate of budgetary concerns, and which are more accustomed to just finding the most convenient flight, regardless of the price.

The inverse is true as well. if you are at a company where there is a big budget for things like this, you would look to see that the person isn’t sacrificing convenience for cost.

What does an Operations Manager at a technology startup look like?

That’s a really interesting question. What we’ve seen is that because it doesn’t necessarily appear that there are many moving pieces to be dealt with, many startups decide they don’t need to hire an Operations Manager.

I’d say – Yes, this is true – but only up until a certain number of sales, growth, or employees.

At some point, when you are growing, you will need to hire an Operations Manager who is familiar with how to establish startup processes.

Usually, these are things are around:

  • Customer communication
  • How your internal teams are talking to each other or handing off projects
  • How your technology development syncs up with your operations or runs generally (Technical Ops Manager)
  • Developing handbooks or user manuals of products
  • Developing an on-boarding structure for new people

…and more.

It’s not rocket science. Imagine your company as if it’s a manufacturing line, and that in order to grow, you need to create a set user guide to the way every decision, communication, and development in your company works.

If they need negotiation skills…test for that

Depending on what the company looks like, sometimes Operations Managers will also be in charge of negotiating with all of the company’s suppliers. How can you test for this skill?

For starters, when conducting reference checks, make sure to talk to their boss or even the Finance Manager about how they contributed to driving down costs with suppliers.

Management of suppliers

If your Operations Manager is going to be heavily involved with suppliers, a good reference check to do may even be with one of their former suppliers. You can then ask the supplier’s opinion of what it was like to work with that person, if they were reliable, if they knew how to negotiate, and how good they were with follow up and confirmation of orders.

Sometimes it’s more informative to speak with the suppliers that this candidate worked with than even speaking to their former boss.

Give a case study in the phone screen as well

In addition to asking someone to complete a case study with a practical example of building a process, make sure you also check up on it during the phone screen.

Ask the candidate to explain why they made certain decisions in their case study, and check at how well they can problem solve. Ask them a slight variation on the written test question. For example:

Explain how & why your process change if you were no longer handling perishable goods and were now handling electronics?

This also checks to make sure they weren’t receiving help on the test from any of their friends.

Happy Hiring!

We hope this helps you with your recruitment process for hiring Operations Managers!

We would love your feedback if you think there are elements we missed in this article – just leave us a comment here or email us at [email protected]

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