You spent hours crafting your first CV, showcasing your school years, qualifications and experience, but employers don’t even give it nine seconds of attention before moving on to the next one.
Although the job market is tough even for people who have years of experience, it is particularly challenging for young graduates applying for entry-level positions, and first-time CV writers must put in extra effort to develop a stand-out CV.
Research by the UK’s youth programme, National Citizen Service, found that applications for junior positions have skyrocketed, increasing pressure on employers who have to wade through hundreds of CVs. In South Africa, the competition for entry-level positions is even fiercer, and the need for your CV to facilitate a foot in the door can’t be stressed enough.
You are at a tremendous disadvantage if your CV is poorly written and does not sell you effectively, and it is almost certain that you won’t be invited to an interview if that is the case.
The best route for graduates is to approach their public university or private higher education institution’s career centre for assistance in writing their first CV, to ensure it ticks all the boxes before being dispatched to the HR manager’s inbox. In addition to ensuring that one’s qualifications and experience match the technical criteria of an advertised position, first-time jobseekers should:
• Craft an industry-specific CV
An application for a position in finance will look very different to an application for a position in advertising. As always, Google is your friend. Do an image search for CV examples in your industry, and demonstrate that you are in touch with the culture and approach to business in your chosen sector.
• Showcase not only competence, but also character
Demonstrate that the employer can trust you and that you are a perfect fit for the position. Show, don’t tell. Raise relevant examples from you student or school career to prove your value in addition to providing qualifications details.
• Keep it short and to the point
Less is certainly not more. Give yourself nine seconds to scan your CV. Do your main selling points jump out at you? Is it clear from a first glance that you are suitably qualified for the position? Gone are the days when CVs stretched over numerous pages with personal details filling the first two. In 2017, the very first page (and there should be no more than two), has to give an employer a solid, positive overview of who you are and what you have achieved.
• Focus on facts and figures
When demonstrating your experience, don’t just speak in general terms. Use facts and figures to prove what you have done. For instance, if you gained work experience or interned during your student years (which ideally you should have done), don’t just say “Worked for Company Y” or “Was involved in Project X”. Instead, say: “Company Y: Production coordinator on R5 million project with responsibility for a, b and c”.
All CVs, regardless of whether they are from first-time jobseekers or experienced professionals, should demonstrate that the applicant understands the position and business of the prospective employer, which means generic CVs are out of the question.
Each CV must be tailored to the position being applied for. While this does take time and effort, a generic CV will not take you anywhere. Looking for work should be treated as work in itself, so make the investment.
Another way to highlight oneself as a candidate, is to demonstrate a commitment to lifelong learning.
Show that you are proficient in the latest software required in the position you are applying for. Don’t just list your existing qualifications, but also indicate if you are enrolled in any short courses or programmes to expand your skills.
And finally, a short, well-crafted cover or introductory letter should round off the application.
This is an opportunity to let the hiring manager get to know you – so make sure the letter is concise but contains personality, and make extra sure that there are no spelling and grammatical errors.
Wonga Ntshinga is the Senior Head of Programme: Faculty of ICT at The Independent Institute of Education.