Many matrics are now entering the job market, keen to embark on a career and make their mark on the world. But with South Africa’s youth unemployment sitting at a staggering 54%, it’s clear that the market is competitive and tough. Young job seekers need to know how to present themselves, their skills and their experience in such a way that they will make a great impression that leads to a job offer.
We spoke to Shelagh Foster, who wrote My First Year of Work: A Survival Guide, and conducts workshops with young people entering the job market for the first time, to learn how to tackle the job hunt. This is the advice that she shared.
A matric certificate tells your potential employer nothing about you other than how well you did at school. If you are looking for an entry-level job, it’s also important to focus on the other things that you have done – things that will tell people about the kind of person you are. Think of things like participating in Scouts or Girl Guides, community groups or clubs, church groups, going on cricket tour, coaching other children, helping in your granny’s shop or doing volunteer work. If you haven’t done any of these things in the past, start doing them now.
Then think of the skills that these activities have taught you, from accounting to leadership to compassion to problem solving, and be ready to express these with examples. If you just say, “I have leadership skills,” it’s meaningless, but if you can provide evidence, then your prospective employer will look at you more seriously.
There are lots of free job-seeking apps like Careers24 or websites like:
These sites will match your skills with available jobs so you don’t have to comb through the classifieds – but you should always look everywhere that a job might be advertised.
You may not think you have a network, but everyone does!
It’s also a good idea to use your network. You may not think you have a network, but everyone does! Ask your friends, your family, your parents’ employers, your teachers, your church head, your community leaders and people you see every day in your local shops or restaurants if they have work or know someone who is looking. If you are on Facebook, prepare a photo and a request for work (get someone to check your spelling and language) and ask your friends and family to repost it. Make sure to delete any vulgar or compromising posts or pictures from your social media profiles, even if you think they are private, because employers now check up on you online to assess whether you’re a suitable candidate.
If you would like to sign up with a recruitment agency, do so, but be sure to get a recommendation from someone else so you can be sure that they place people at your level and have a wide range of jobs on their books. Don’t put yourself in their hands and then give up looking on your own – keep seeking opportunities anywhere you can.
Consider companies like leading national retailers, banks, petrol stations or factories and manufacturers – try to get hold of HR at head office rather than trying at each branch. Then approach smaller independent retailers, workshops or restaurants in your area. Bigger companies have more room for growth, smaller companies generally offer more opportunity for skills development in the role you are employed to fulfil.
There are also plenty of government initiatives targeted at the youth, which are worth pursuing.
Remember: Any work is better than no work. Don’t hold out for the perfect job; take any opportunity that presents itself and learn whatever you can.
Take care! Never pay for any job application services, whether they say it’s to process your application or buy a uniform. These are scams. Reputable employment agencies are paid by the employer, NOT YOU.
What you need now are workplace skills. If you can’t acquire them through experience, do everything you can to find cheap or free courses that round out your capabilities and look good on your CV. Have a look at your community centre, local NGOs or your church for any courses they might offer. Ask your old school if they know of any skills development opportunities. Speak to your network (see “where to look for work”) about job shadowing opportunities. And look for free courses online at EDX or Coursera or for tutorials on YouTube.com, to keep rounding out your skills.
These skills may or may not improve your chances of getting employed. What WILL improve your chances is the fact that you made an effort, you weren’t complacent and you kept yourself busy.
It is also worth getting in touch with workplace place readiness training providers like Harambee or Future Creation, who will help you develop the skills, confidence and resources you need to land your first job, and in some cases, will help to place you there.
Your CV should be no more than two pages long and must be 100% honest. Don’t lie about your subject marks or any other detail as this is considered to be fraud. Instead, find positive things to be honest about. It must be neat, and you should get a teacher or professional to read it for you to make sure that the spelling and grammar is correct.
Ideally, you should have a different CV for each job or company that you are applying to, because you should be highlighting different skills if you are applying to a restaurant than you would if you were applying to a fashion store.
The same applies for your covering letter, which is a great way of introducing yourself and letting a bit of your personality shine though. Try to find something positive (and honest) to say about the job you are applying for. Say things like, “I have a great interest in fashion, as my mother is a seamstress,” or “I’ve always wanted to get into the restaurant business, as I believe this is a wonderful way to develop skills and an opportunity work with people.”
You can download a CV template here.
If you are emailing your CV, make sure your email address is something sensible (preferably some variation of your name) and not SexyNthabi@gmail.com. If you can’t find out the name of the person that you are sending the email to, start the email with “Good day” rather than the overly formal “To whom it may concern”.
If it is an online job application form, under no circumstances do anything different to what they request. If you don’t know how, ask someone for help, because if you don’t get it right, they will assume that you can’t follow instructions, or worse, the computer may filter out your application altogether.
The most important thing about a job interview is that you arrive on time. If the interview is far away, do a practice run a day or two earlier (making sure you’re trying it out in weekday traffic) to be sure that you can get there by the time of your interview. Plan to be early, but don’t arrive early – wait in the parking lot until five or ten minutes before.
Another trick is to dress like you already work there. Obviously, if the company has a uniform, you don’t need to arrive in one, but find a way to check out the existing employees and try to dress similarly – are they smart-casual, or properly smart, or funky? If there’s room for a bit of personality, that’s fine, but don’t go overboard. Make sure that your clothes and hair are clean and neat, and don’t chew gum or use a toothpick.
Make sure that you have brought everything that you are required to bring. Employers will often ask to see a printout of your ID or matric certificate, and they may ask for these to be certified, which you can do at your local police station. It’s a good idea to get a bundle of about 10 of these done at a time, so that you have them when someone asks.
Be sure that you research the company online and on social media so that you can show that you are smart and interested, especially when they ask you if you have any questions. But that is not the time to ask about salary and leave – keep that question for when the job offer is made. They are looking for people who want to work at their company, not people who are just looking for a paycheque.
Have an answer ready for the interview question, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Strengths are usually easy to list, but be sure to provide evidence (see “Do everything you can to make yourself marketable”). Weaknesses can be tricky, because it’s not a good idea to tell an interviewer that you are always late, for example. Rather say something like “I used to have a problem with deadlines, but I had to learn time management to get through matric”. Turn the negative into a positive.
Don’t fidget, don’t slouch, don’t rub your nose or scratch your hair, listen to the questions being asked, and answer clearly while making eye contact. Search the internet for further interview tips and CV templates.
You can check out more interview tips here.
The job market is tough, but if you are able to master the skills and attitude that an employer is looking for, you’ll stand out in the crowd. Unfortunately, no one’s going to do this for you, so make seizing opportunities your goal and keep yourself focused on achieving that. Good luck and happy hunting!