How to Apply for a Job
Applying for a job… seems pretty simple and straight forward, right? Not always. If you’ve ever properly dived into the job hunting scene, which we’re assuming you have, you’ll know that what you assumed to be simple, quickly led to frustration. There are too many different job advertisement sites that can be difficult to navigate, lingo that is confusing and job titles that you’ve never heard of before.
You need to be able to guide any individual through this whole process. From setting up their first, impressive CV, to interview tips and finally getting the job.
At the end of this section, the course participant should be able to:
- Assist an individual with setting up a CV
- Help the individual write a professional and eloquent cover letter
- Navigate and use the job search engines and be able to show someone else how to do it
- Use LinkedIn and advise others on using it
- Explain how a recruitment agency works
- Give tips and advice on how to prepare for an interview
- Explain how to dress for an interview
- Advise on professional interview behaviour
- Advise on following up after an interview
Your CV is your prospective employer’s first introduction to you, unless you handed it in personally or met them prior. Your CV needs to be your personal brand and represent who you are, the value you’ll add to the company (your skills and experience) and show your seriousness and intent for the job you’re applying for. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a piece of paper. So how do you go about making yourself more marketable?
10 years ago, CVs used to be straightforward, black and white, orderly pieces of paper with no creative flair or personality. While some companies may like this, people are starting to make CVs that show more creativity, are more appealing to the eye and visually represent their skills and experience.
Adding a bit more flair to your CV is a great idea but, unless your a designer, we wouldn’t recommend going too overboard. Want an idea of what you could do? Download this template.
The main rule – no essays! Get straight to the point. The general rule of thumb is to limit your CV to one double sided page. Your CV will usually be one in a pile of many, so make sure to be concise and to the point so that your potential employer can get an idea of your skills and who you are with just a glance. This is where visual representations of your skills can come in handy.
Some essential information to include:
- Personal details: full name, email, contact number, gender, birth date (ID number, etc can be left out for safety reasons).
- Education history: start with your most recent qualifications and work your way down. They don’t need marks, just the qualification and years.
BEd Intermediate Phase Stellenbosch University (2010 – 2014)
- Work experience: Start from the most recent. Include company name, your position and your responsibilities. Don’t forget to add volunteer work and internships.
- Skills: This would be your hard skills. State your proficiency in each. Also include a small list of your soft skills to show some of your stellar personality.
- Online portfolios: This is especially important for more creative jobs like writing, design and photography. Add links to your PDF CV or give your handle for each online platform.
- Interests and hobbies: Keep it short and don’t make things up to sound more interesting.
It can be difficult to fit all of the above information into one or two pages. If you find that your CV is getting too long, cut the interests and hobbies section! As you get older and get more experience in your field, you can start leaving jobs like waitressing and babysitting out. Only put in what will help you get a job.
- Cover Letter
First things first, only submit a cover letter if they specifically asked for one! Surveys have shown that many employers throw away CVs that have too much writing or contain a cover letter when they didn’t ask for one.
Cover letters are your opportunity to motivate why you’re best suited for the job you’re applying for and what makes you a best candidate. It’s a time to sell yourself. Keep it short, upbeat and positive. Many people make the mistake of exaggerating in this section – honesty and humility are great traits to have. Keep this in mind while writing a cover letter.
You don’t need to include these in your CV. It takes up a lot of space and you only want to send them to people who are truly interested in potentially hiring you. Under your work experience, add a one liner stating that they can contact you for references.
- Social Media
In a world driven by social media and posting everything we do and believe online, it’s not surprising that more and more recruiters and employers are using our social media accounts to get insight into who we are and what we do.
We know the early twenties can be a wild time, we’ve all been there, but now is the time to give your social media accounts a good spring clean. Take out those pictures from crazy nights out with friends and inappropriate posts and pictures. Unfortunately many companies will automatically disregard you if they see something they don’t like.
Here are some final do’s and don’ts for CV writing:
- Double, triple, or even quadruple check your spelling and grammar. This is their first impression of you, make it count. If you have included links, make sure these are correct and work.
- Always place more impressive skills and achievements at the top of your CV to hook the employer from the get-go. Start with your most impressive skill or grade and work your way down.
- Ensure that your CV is neat and easy to read. The use of bullet points can help present lists and the use of font style Lucida Sans or Verdana in size 10 are commonly recommended by career services.
- Put your most recent qualifications first as these are usually the most relevant. For example, a potential employer will be more interested in what tertiary education or training you have rather than where you went to high school.
- Have an unprofessional email address. One study found that 76% of CV’s with unprofessional email addresses are rejected. So cut ‘email@example.com’ loose now, before it’s too late.
- Use decorative or colourful paper. The standard white piece of paper can go a long way, especially when 20% of employers discard CV’s on decorative paper before they even read it. Rather rely on your skills and work experience to get your CV to stand out.
- Include your home address on online CV’s as this can lead you to being targeted by fraudsters.
- Copy wording from the job advertisement. 41% of employers ignore CV’s that use too much of the advertisement’s wording. Employers are looking for candidates that can think for themselves.
Where to find jobs?
Now that you have your CV prepared and ready to send off, it’s time to figure out where to find job vacancies. In the good old days, you’d go out and buy every newspaper you could find. While that might still be viable, it’ll be a lot more useful to use online platforms, many of which are created just for job hunting.
LinkedIn is one of the most popular places for recruiters and employers to look for people who are looking for jobs. Over 133 million people use it, you should too. Create a profile, get an appropriate photo and follow the prompts to get started.
Here are some tips for having a good profile that gets the attention you need:
- Keep your profile up to date at all times with all of your work experience, skills, qualifications, etc. It’s like an online CV. Make sure you have an up to date, professional profile picture. And select those key skills that make you valuable in your field!
- Be comprehensive with all of your skills and work experience.
- Highlight your recent experience so that potential employers know what you’re up to currently and what you gained at that career.
- Update your headline. The first thing people see in a search is your picture, your title and your one liner – which should highlight what you’re looking for.
- Mark your profile as ‘available’. There is a setting which makes this invisible to your current employers, if you’re currently working. You can also use your headline to state that you’re looking for a position.
- Connections. Connections. Connections. Build your network as much as you can. You can import your Gmail contacts and invite them to join your network. You can also search for people you’ve met through networking events, studies and other activities.
- Follow organisations you want to work for. This will show them that you’re really interested in them and have prior knowledge on who they are. You’ll also see their latest news and see when positions become available.
- Advanced Search. You can use this tool to see who else works at the organisation you want to work with and try and network with them, see the company culture and build connections.
- Be active! Don’t just watch the business world go by on LinkedIn, take part. Read articles (there are tons of interesting and useful articles by industry leaders being posted daily) and share them, comment on your network’s activities and congratulate people on their new positions and work anniversaries!
- Network after hours on LinkedIn. Most people are active during this time and it shows your network how serious you are about finding a new job.
Job Search Engines
There are tons of job search engines available online. It’s like Google for career hunting. Simply go to the website, type in the job you want (like “Digital Marketing”), specify your location and start hunting!
Some search engines to use:
Some tips for search engines:
- Opt in for job alerts. You’ll get emails whenever a job within your field and title gets posted on the job search site.
- Use the advanced search tool to get more specific on career types, industry, location, etc.
- Get the mobile app. It’ll help you get in on a new post quickly.
Contact the company directly
If you’re freshly graduated from an institution, chances are you have your hopes set on a specific company. Within the finance, engineering, advertising and many other industries, the large organisations have graduate programmes to help newly graduated students gain experience. They also post vacancies for junior positions on their websites.
This doesn’t only apply for large organisations, you can directly contact any business or organisation you want to work for. You’ll be surprised to see how helpful and friendly organisations can be when you contact them directly and show that you’re genuinely interested and have done your research.
If searching for jobs isn’t working out or it’s intimidating you, you may want to consider a recruitment agency. Recruiters will build a profile for you on their system. They have access to tons of employers who contact them when they have vacancies. They’ll know who to send your CV to, and because they have relationships with these organisations and employers, they’ll have an advantage over you contacting them directly.
Many recruitment agencies specialise in specific industries, like OfferZen for software developers. If you can, join a recruitment agency that caters to your needs.
Here are some tips for going through a recruitment agency:
- Never pay. Recruitment agencies should never charge you. They get their money from the organisations they find candidates for.
- Be timeous. Respond as quickly as you can to your recruiter.
- Make your CV stand out. Using the tips above, make sure your CV represents your value and skills to a company extremely well.
- If it sounds too good to be true, chances are it is. If the job advert looks too good to be true, it could be fraudsters or someone trying to bait you in.
- Only apply for the jobs you want. Some agents may try and persuade you to apply for a certain job that doesn’t match the specifications you supplied. Stick to your guns and only apply for jobs you want.
- Be Honest. Always. Don’t over state any skills, your experience or your availability. Be honest, it always pays off in the long run.
- Check your expectations. Your recruiter will know your industry well. They’ll know whether your salary expectations are realistic or not.
The Big Day – Interview Time
Once the organisation has contacted you to confirm the interview time and date, you should start prepping. Here are some things you should go into the interview being confident about:
- The responsibilities and expectations of the role you applied for, as stated in the job ad.
- The vision, mission and purpose of the organisation.
- The culture of the organisation. You can find this on their “About Us” page and on their social media.
- Your skills and value-added for the position. You should be able to back every skill and experience listed on your CV up.
- Read up on standard interview questions. Be creative and don’t get startled by atypical questions.
Prepare some questions
While it’s important to brush up on the typical interview questions, it may be just as important for you to prepare some questions of your own before going in. It shows initiative and interest.
While doing research on the organisation, keep an eye out on factors that interest you that may lead to questions to ask during the interview process. Also read through the job advert and specifications again, see if anything was left out that you would like to know.
- Don’t discuss salary during the first interview unless they bring it up. While money is an important motivating factor, you don’t want to show that this is all that you care about. Rather, bring it up in the second or third interview, when you have an offer in hand or if they bring it up.
- If they ask about your current/previous company or you feel the need to bring it up, don’t bad mouth them. This looks extremely bad on your side. If your reasons for leaving or looking elsewhere is due to a negative experience, find a way to be honest without incriminating them.
It takes 7 seconds for someone who first meets you to make a judgement based on your appearance.
Even if you’re applying for a job at a startup or more casual environment, it’s still extremely important to dress well and look presentable.
Do some research on the organisation you’re going to. Get some insight into their dressing codes and atmosphere of the work space. If it’s corporate and formal, put on your best suit. If it’s more casual and relaxed, dress more relaxed, but still look professional.
That being said, if you’re unsure rather be overdressed than underdressed. It shows you put effort in and you value the opportunity you’ve been given.
Dress in attire that makes you feel confident. If you feel confident, you exude confidence and it’ll shine through to your interviewees. Just remember to remain professional and not to wear anything too flashy, colourful or over the top.
Keep your hair neat, your makeup simple and your nails groomed. It looks better and sets you up for a better first impression.
Interviews can be nerve wracking and may lead to the worst case scenarios running on repeat through your mind. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. It’s completely normal to feel jittery, get sweaty palms and doubt yourself. Just don’t let them see that.
Your interviewers will know and understand that you’ll be nervous. Part of the interview is seeing how you handle the stress of the interview itself. Make sure that you keep your nerves at bay.
- Make eye contact. The worst thing you can do is avert your gaze and look awkwardly around.
- Don’t fold your arms. Whether you mean it or not, this signifies that you’re closed off. It may be a comfortable position that stops you from fidgeting, but rather avoid crossing your arms.
- Don’t fidget. Nerves makes us fidget and look for distractions. Try and fold your hands in your lap, hold your own hands if you need to. This is also where wearing the appropriate clothing matters – if you’re uncomfortable you’ll fidget and readjust.
- Don’t flail. Sometimes people talk with their hands when they get excited and/or nervous. Still use hand gestures, but don’t go crazy.
- Sit appropriately. You know… Don’t hunch your back, don’t spin on your chair, cross your legs if you’re wearing a skirt, the normal etiquette.
- Chin up, shoulders back. Just for a bit of confidence and good posture
- Keep your feet planted. Physiologically, this aids in rational and creative thinking. It’s in the science.
- Nod your head while listening. This shows your interest and keeps you tuned in to what your interviewers are saying.
- Lean in. This is something we naturally do in conversation, it shows interest and that you’re focused on what they’re saying. So go on and lean in.
Small things make a difference. Things like your palms facing upwards could indicate trustworthiness. We don’t think about stuff like that, but subconsciously people are always aware of these subtle signs and movements. Don’t overthink what you’re doing with your body, but be aware of it.
What to take with
They already have your CV, stalked your social media and called you in despite that. So what more could they possibly need? Chances are, probably nothing. But this is more for your peace of mind than theirs.
- Lip ice
- Spare print out of CV
- Prepared questions
After the interview
Time for the waiting game. Your mind will probably go awry with questions. You might start doubting your eligibility for the position, your performance during the interview, and your worthiness of it.
Will they contact you, or won’t they? Did you say something silly? Did you disclose too much information? Weren’t you good enough? Should you follow up?
Before you do something rash, take a deep breath. Organisations usually interview a large handful of candidates. They need to revise each person with their board, go through CVs and shorten the lists. The whole process can take a week or more.
Here are a few things that you can do:
The Follow Up Email
Before doubt overtakes your mind and you start overthinking every little detail from your interview, consider sending a follow up email. This can be sent the day after your interview. Why? To thank them for the opportunity and to pop up in their minds again.
Some follow up email tips:
- Always open an email with an appropriate greeting such as; Good day, Dear or To whom this may concern. Refer to them by their first name – if you know it (this should sound familiar, as you must have done this in your application email).
- Always wish the reader well in some way: I trust this mail finds you well (this should also ring a few bells).
- Inform them of who you are and how you met, whether it was at the interview or a recruitment event.
- Thank them for the interview and their time.
- Briefly reiterate why you admire their establishment and why you would like to be a part of it. You may, in short, mention how you believe the company values and philosophy aligns with your own.
- Thank them again and tell them that you look forward to hearing from them and possibly working with them in future.
- Close the email with an appropriate sign off before your name and contact details: Kind regards, Sincerely, Best.
To whom this may concern,
I trust this mail finds you well.
Thank you very much for taking the time to sit down and chat with me yesterday. I am immensely passionate about the indigenous plant watering industry and am truly grateful for the opportunity to learn more about your establishment.
I completely agree with the company’s philosophy on promoting a sustainable lifestyle and preserving our water supply and believe that the work you are doing is both forward thinking and innovative.
Once again, I am grateful for the opportunity to engage with such creative thinkers in the indigenous plant watering industry and look forward to hearing from you soon.
After this, all you can do is wait.
D-Day – they respond
Let’s skip the part where your heart starts beating at 100 miles per hour and you simply can’t open the email.
You’ve opened it and there are only two types of responses:
- Congratulations, you’ve got the job!
After this it’s pretty simple. They’ll most likely call you to confirm all of the details on your starting date, when you can come in to sign the contract, will you even accept, etc. This part is easy and the organisation will guide you through the process on how to start your career with them.
- Sorry, you were not successful.
This one is a real bummer and can be absolutely disheartening. But don’t worry, many people will experience this more than once in their life. The best thing you can do? Email them, thank them for the opportunity and ask why you were not successful.
Why? Because you’ll know where you went wrong or if it was simply one of those things. If you went wrong somewhere, you’ll be able to improve on it for your next interview. The key is to continue keeping your head up and pursuing your dreams.