Uwanma Odefa – transforming companies, cultures and careers

Uwanma Odefa for Teamdash

This time, we have a chance for an exclusive insight into Uwanma Odefa’s journey and learnings in recruitment and talent acquisition. Uwanma currently works as Group Head of Talent Acquisition at OlyBet Group, and her HR career spans almost two decades. She has experience working in various roles in Africa and Europe. 

She also provides individualised support in the areas of Personal Branding, LinkedIn Branding & Growth, Career Development, and related needs. She’s a public speaker, host and moderator for corporate and career-related events, and an active member of the Estonian HR Society.

How did you get started in recruitment? Was working in talent management something you always wanted to do? 

My first real job was as an Executive Assistant at an HR Consulting firm. The Managing Partner recommended I collaborate with the Recruitment team saying I showed strong insights when it comes to reading people, understanding their motivations, and connecting with them.

What would you say is a common misconception about the work of a recruiter/TA manager/HR professional? 

That we’re like an assembly line; just monotonously passing CVs through the process, focusing on just filling the vacancy and then on to the next one. We do understand there are real people and lives impacted by our selection decisions, so we do not take it lightly.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve managed to overcome or improve on during your career so far? How did you do it?

Trying to please everyone. It’s impossible. Even pizza struggles to please everyone! To address this challenge, I try to make sure I have set guidelines, processes or policies that guide my actions and decisions; these then direct the satisfaction of my stakeholders.

What are some of the most rewarding experiences or achievements you’ve had in your career so far?

Whew! There’ve been quite a few. The biggest, I’d say, is the successful Culture Transformation project I led at Unilever, working with a big cross-functional team in dispersed locations. 

Another more recent rewarding experience was at Nordic Aviation Group (Xfly), mapping the recruitment process, being project lead on the acquisition of a new Applicant Tracking System, and executing Talent Attraction and Employer Branding efforts.

What kind of experiences have you had as a candidate yourself? Any experiences that stand out?

I once talked so much at an interview that I could see the interviewer’s eyes glaze over. At the end of the interview, I said I had a few questions. He told me to email them. It still cracks me up whenever I think about it. This was a lifetime ago, though. I know better now.

Excited about the increasing focus on Recruitment Marketing, Talent Attraction and Employer Branding. Along with AI, including these in Talent Management efforts is more proactive rather than reactive. It would also, in the long term, positively impact a number of metrics: time-to-fill, cost-per-hire, etc.

What do you feel is unique about OlyBet as an employer? What makes the people stay? Why should people apply?

We are authentically who we are, and our advertised values are truly what employees (and customers) experience; we offer a thrilling experience, everyday is different, the vibes around colleagues literally vibrates with energy, that energy translates to passion and a love of what we do, and this passion is rewarded by the company in a variety of ways that impacts individual career growth. I’m proud and honoured to walk among this All-Stars team.

What tools are the most valuable to you in your day-to-day work? What do you use them for?

I’d mention 2 tools, one of which may be considered traditional: Microsoft Excel and LinkedIn.

  • Excel is my digital tracker and organiser for pretty much everything. 
  • LinkedIn is for every other thing: a resource for talent (source/review/reference), industry tools and tips, and everything else in between.

In your opinion, what are the most critical skills and qualities a recruiter should possess to be successful in this field?

Relationship building and strategic thinking. A recruiter has to be able to look at a profile and think of the possibilities and not just focus on the obvious, current possible fit but on the potential for cross-fit. With relationship building, it’s important because a lot of the success recruiters enjoy comes from their relationships.

How do you approach diversity and inclusion in the hiring process, and how do you ensure fair and unbiased recruitment?

It all starts with the diversity goals and brief for the company or department. But competence is non-negotiable; it always comes first. The diversity goals have to be data-driven, of course; what evaluations and audits led to the diversity focus? Then the hiring process needs to support this: the job ads must have inclusive job descriptions, the sourcing channels must be diverse to tap into a variety of communities and networks, interviewers must be trained on diversity-sensitivity and recognising/managing their own personal biases (which every human has), and finally a selection and decision-making process that is standardised and consistent across candidates.

How would you define a good candidate experience? What strategies do you use to offer one?

A good candidate experience is when the candidate still feels good about the experience even after they didn’t get the role. Timely and optimistic communication always adds to a positive candidate experience.

What is the key to attracting and retaining top talent? How to keep building strong teams?

Having an authentic employer brand and values embodied and exhibited by employees, and not just words listed on a website. Once attracted, build strong teams, empower and reward them, and provide direction through clear communication of goals and responsibilities.

Recommend us 3 books/TV shows/podcasts and let us know why you love them. 

  1. The first book is “Shades of Woman, and I’m recommending it because I wrote it. 
  2. And 2 TV shows would be Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den. They spark my entrepreneurial spirit; not specifically about starting a business but about thinking like a business owner so I can support my leaders as a business partner and not just a people partner. If I think as they do, understand the motivations behind certain business decisions, and generally speak the language of business, then I’m better equipped to provide valuable value-adding support and service.

How do you know when it’s time to take some time off to avoid burnout and take care of your mental health? How do you recharge?

When my productivity level and work output drops, and I find myself taking action that leads nowhere, then I know it’s time. Or if I start to get irritable. I’m a naturally affable person so when I start to feel like growling at people, then I need a break. I recharge by going on vacation, where I do nothing but eat, sleep, eat, chill with friends and family, eat, and do lots of retail therapy. Oh, and did I mention eat?

What motivates you professionally? What is your biggest professional goal for 2024?

The fear of stagnation and redundancy motivates me professionally. So I read, I learn, I network, and I surround myself with people who will provide intellectual, professional stimulation. I’ve got quite a number of goals for 2024 and they include leading and successfully executing a large-scale Talent Management project that visibly and significantly impacts the organisation.

How would you describe your job to people considering transitioning into recruitment/talent management? Any tips on where to start?

I’ll say most people already have the foundational skills for recruitment and talent management in everyday life. They just need to transfer those skills and hone them through practice in a structured professional environment. 

Get formal training on this to boost confidence. LinkedIn Learning is a great resource. The certificates also give you legitimacy with recruiters and potential employers. Also, don’t forget the University of YouTube. You can literally learn how to recruit astronauts for NASA there!

Thanks, Udewa, and good luck in all your endeavours this year and beyond! 👏


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Merilyn Uudmae


Content Marketing Manager

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