While some people do choose to study just for interest or the sake of acquiring knowledge, most people study to qualify to work in the field they are interested in. In this article we’ll help you out on those next steps of searching for, finding and ultimately securing your first job after graduation.

South Africa’s terribly high unemployment rate means the job market is fiercely competitive and most job openings are flooded with applicants. You will need to stand out from the crowd if you want to be noticed. A well compiled, intelligent CV together with a strong cover letter for your CV will help you do this.

We’ll give some general guidelines on how to write a CV and cover letter and provide links to more detailed resources, but it is important to read the job application instructions carefully. The job advert might specify that they want to receive your application in a different format and want different information to what we have outlined.

The University of Pretoria has a dedicated careers services team to assist students in securing a job after graduation. There is a treasure trove of useful information on their site to help you with things such as planning a career and providing up to date jobs and opportunities.

Cover letter

Your cover letter will be the first impression that you give to the employer. While the saying is that a first impression lasts, it is worth adding that a poor first impression will mean you are soon forgotten. There are often many applications for any advertised vacancy, so without a strong and appealing cover letter, the recruiter may not even bother to look at your CV.

You could put together a basic outline that you reuse and edit each time, but you must write your cover letter with the specific organisation in mind. Admittedly there are sometimes cases where you apply through a recruiting agency and the actual company is not named. If so, the job advert is likely to give you at least some information that you can use, such as that the company is a leading multinational electronics manufacturer expanding locally, a vibrant new start-up in the e-commerce sector or an established mid-tier accounting firm.

The important thing here is to sell yourself as best as possible. When writing your cover letter, try to place yourself in the position of the recruiter and think of what about you will appeal the most to them. Of course, this is trickier for less experienced applicants, but what you lack in experience can be made up for with enthusiasm, energy and willingness to work your way up in the company.

Some light flattery can work well here too, but don’t overdo it. Try to find out things about the business that is maybe a little different to their competitors. Examples could be that they have won awards for their work, that they are forerunners in a new technology that you are interested in or they have high profile clients that you would love to work with.

Tips for your cover letter:

  • Use powerful words
  • Tailor the cover letter to the job you are applying for
  • Do not repeat your CV
  • Show personality and keep it short
  • Avoid “My name is… and I am applying for…”.
  • Add a strong closing that answers the question “why you?”
  • Be proactive and follow up

Preparing your CV

The Careers Services department provides useful and detailed information on how to build your CV, providing good CV exmples for a first job and a CV template. As you’ll see, they use a simple CV format, which is preferable to many of the flashier and more elaborate templates available online.

When putting together your CV, order the information so that the most recent experience and achievements appear first. For work experience and education, which one comes first will probably depend on your experience.

As a fresh graduate, you will probably put your education first as it is your degree that makes you suited for the role. For older more experienced applicants, the work experience will probably come first.

Your CV should always include:

  • Professional profile (customise this for each application)
  • Qualifications and professional development
  • Competencies and skills
  • Achievements
  • Work experience

South African CV format vs international

If you are searching online for CV templates then it is likely you are finding templates that cater to other countries with different expectations to employers in South Africa.

In the UK for example, personal information like your marital status as well as date and place of birth should be excluded due to privacy and employment laws in the country. Here in South Africa date of birth is quite standard and marital status is commonly included.

Many CV templates also include a photograph of the job applicant, but this is usually excluded from South African CVs. Of course, there are obvious exceptions, such as modelling and acting jobs, but your physical appearance is irrelevant to almost every job requiring a university qualification.

You can download a CV template from here.

More links and resources for finding a job

The Career Services department offers training to prepare you for the working world, through their Ready to Work programme, run in collaboration with Enterprises UP

Each year Career Services publish a career guide that combines useful information for job applications along with advertisements by companies looking to recruit graduates. You can view both this year’s and the last few years’ guides on the Career Guides page.

UP students and alumni can make use of the UP Career Hub to find a job. Alternatively, you can look through the following South African and international job listing websites: