By Koketso Mamabolo
Sasha Knott once sent 348 job applications without a single response. Like many South Africans, the Managing Director of JobCrystal knows how difficult it is to find a job. “Finding a job in South Africa is a job itself!” says the entrepreneur. Despite the bumps along the way, including being retrenched three times, Sasha has had the sort of success many entrepreneurs can only dream of after starting several successful businesses which she was able to sell. In 2015, Sasha and her business partner, Kelly Louw, bought JobCrystal.
Sasha began her career as a software developer and combines her background in technology with an entrepreneurial spirit which makes JobCrystal a perfect way for her to fulfil her desire to help people. We find out how she managed to start more than one successful business, her advice for other entrepreneurs, and how businesses should approach recruitment.
Please tell us a bit about your background – how did you get to this point?
I started my career as a computer programmer, found my love for technology and saw what impact it could have on the world. Yet shortly after starting my career I found I was missing the element of human interaction, so I moved more into project management and support. By complete accident I fell into my first start-up and found my passion for entrepreneurship. Joining the two passions of technology and entrepreneurship took over the last few years! I started several businesses with the last one Switch2, which was sold to Clientele Life in 2018.
Kelly Louw (current COO and business partner) and I bought Job Crystal in 2015. We were a perfect business match. Kelly brings experience in recruitment and the ability to find all types of candidates, while I bring business experience, contacts and a technology background. Job Crystal has been steadily growing ever since 2015 and took a huge growth curve in 2020 when we took on investors Enygma Ventures.
How have you managed to start multiple companies which have succeeded when many other entrepreneurs have failed?
I love the saying “more luck arrives the harder you work”. I have been very lucky with amazing mentors in my life who gave me my first companies to start and lead, and with that support and the lessons I’ve learnt I have gotten to the point of applying those lessons. I will say I learnt how to sell and work hard when I was a teenager. My mom stopped all pocket money when I turned 16, which ensured I was motivated to get my first job when I was 16, first as a cashier and then later as a waitress. I learnt how to deal with customers, money and up-selling from an early age and can highly recommend this for all teenagers! This early start taught me all the tough lessons when I was still young, and didn’t hurt my career. And I learnt that working smart gets you a whole lot further!
What lessons have you learnt as an entrepreneur that you can share with other entrepreneurs looking to start a business?
My first lesson, in my first job – show up! When you are given an opportunity to talk, take the lead – even when you are not ready – jump at it! You will learn as you fly.
My second lesson, failure is really a lesson – but only if you learn from it. In one of my first start-ups, I pounded pavements around SA to sell our product, and found out the hard way that the industry was not yet ready for technology. It ensured that my future start-ups had a good market research component!
My third lesson, start-up businesses will feel like a marathon – all you need to do is make it to the next lamp post. A marathon isn’t done in 42 kilometres, it’s done step by step and the next step is always going to feel the toughest until it is done. Keep going, little by little, be consistent and you will get to your finish line.
How do you combine a tech background with an entrepreneurial spirit?
I love technology and the way it can automate simple tasks! It makes sense that all small businesses should use technology as early as possible to automate all the routine tasks they can. This gives rise to lots of new businesses and new ideas! Technology is always moving forward and breaking ground at a fast pace – just like being an entrepreneur! It’s almost a perfect match!
Where does your passion for helping people find jobs come from?
If I look back on my career, each job had a “helping people part”, from my early days as a programmer where I coded for an NPO, to running a support centre in a business, to helping make consumers lives better by ensuring they were paying the right amount for Credit Life and now to helping SMEs thrive by hiring fast and effectively. The passion to help has always been there, I guess being the youngest in the family and having to try and help my siblings to ensure I got noticed worked!
What does it take to find a job in South Africa – what are most businesses looking for when they are hiring?
Finding a job in South Africa is a job in itself! I have been retrenched 3 times and know the cost of trying to look for a job. In one instance I sent out 348 job applications and received zero replies. It’s a tough experience and one of the reasons we bought Job Crystal, to ensure we changed the experience for candidates.
Businesses are looking for grit, hard work and attitude – they look for this in the interview. But first they look for experience and skills and this is unfortunately in your CV so it is the first impression. So, to make it to the interview ensure your CV stands out in the pile. And what will get you a job is often your last job – references are critical so ensure you do not burn any bridges and the hard work will show.
What are some of the things you’ve learnt from the perspective of job-seekers that you think business can consider when hiring?
I think businesses often forget it’s an interview, which works both ways. Great candidates are interviewing you just as much as you are interviewing them. People spend 1/3 of their lives at work – they will ensure they are choosing the right company for themselves. So, for businesses, hire fast (the slower you take the quicker you lose good talent), remember to impress the talent (in the end you do want them to choose you) and lastly remember you can teach skills but not attitude.
How can technology be used to help people find jobs?
When we think back in the day people found an advert in a paper and applied via hand dropped CVs or faxes! How the world has changed you now have job boards (like Indeed and Gumtree) which advertise jobs, job portals (where candidates can upload their CVs for companies) and obviously the world has LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a great source of finding candidates, but LinkedIn is passive talent, meaning they aren’t necessarily looking, so it is often very difficult to get a candidate interested unless you know how to sell. AI is coming into the market at a rapid pace which is decreasing time for clients and candidates in hiring – something every SME needs.
What trends have you noticed on the job market and how can job-seekers adapt?
Google jobs has chosen 6 countries to launch in, and South Africa is one of the 6! What this means is jobs now have a SEO score. This means when you search for a job Google will show you who has the “best” job advert – in terms of details. Job-seekers need to be aware of how this works. Also, job-seekers should start to look at Recruitment Technology which uses AI, helping them find a job a lot more efficiently and effectively. Use technology to help you adapt to the job market and ensure you have a LinkedIn profile that matches your CV. And everything is now available to everyone; careful what you say on social media – it could change that next interview for you!