On being Shiny and New – the CV Blues of the Young Ones

People are desperate

A degree is not a guarantee. The unemployment rates of youth and recent graduates are at shockingly high levels and with the current shrinkages in the economy, it is not going to get better for a long while.

Many young people apply for jobs that they are not in any way, shape or form appropriate candidates for. Just don’t! It won’t help – you will be rejected and all the time and money you spent will be wasted.

Do your research. Job shadow. Read. Find a mentor in your field. Follow renowned people in your field on LinkedIn.

Sure-fire ways you will not get a job

  1. So you spot a job in Jobmail. It says to send a CV. You send a please call me. They won’t call you.
  2. You have the qualifications. They ask you to send proof of your marks. You don’t send them everything. They will throw your CV out.
  3. They ask for references. You add your mother and best friend. You make your friend pretend to be your boss. Your boss will find out.
  4. You are invited to an interview. You oversleep and arrive an hour late. You will be turned away.
  5. You arrive on time. You look like you’ve crept out of the laundry basket. You won’t be given a second glance.

Your CV – it is the content that matters, right?

Well yes, but that’s not all. Have you ever played the game 30 seconds? That is how long you have to convince whoever is in charge of sifting through CVs that they should put yours on the review pile, instead of the bin.

There are many CV templates on the Internet that you can download. This blog is not about giving you something to copy. It is about explaining what makes a CV a good one.

  • Personal information
    Keep this brief and factual, preferably in a table. It should start with your full names and surname. State which languages you know (following each language, say if it is your first language and how well you can understand, speak and write it) indicate your driver’s licence if you have one. For HR and BBEEE purposes it is best to add your age, gender, nationality, racial group, suburb and city/town you live in, and disability status. For safety sake, unless you are specifically asked, do not add your ID number.
  • Education
    Start with your latest qualification and work backwards. State year you finished, the official name of the qualification, and state if you received it cum laude. Write it like this:

    2010 (DMS) Dip Fin M – cum laude (Damelin, Cape Town)

    If you are still busy with a qualification, write out the name of the qualification and add in brackets ‘still completing’ and say which year you are in.
  • Work experience
    It is important to state what you had done for which company. When you don’t have many examples, don’t stress. For entry-level jobs or internships, no one is going to expect you to have a long work history. Be honest above all else.

    If there is a gap in your CV account for it. Don’t change the timelines. Don’t pretend you have more experience than you do. Don’t try to make something simple sound fancy or more important than it was. It will backfire once your references are checked!

    So what do you do when you are stuck with a qualification but without a job? Unemployment rates are high. It is not a sin to be unemployed. What you DID in that time and what you learnt from it may be the key that unlocks the future.

    • Mar – May 2019 Waiter – Spur, Goodwood – I learnt how to deal with difficult customers
    • Jun – Aug 2019 Fixed appliances, from home – I learnt how to manage finances
    • Nov 2019 – Jan 2020 Tutor – Gr 8 – 10, from home – I learnt about planning and evaluating my own work

What your CV should look like at first glance

First, make sure it is complete! This means that you have added everything the advertisement had asked for – proof of qualifications, marks achieved (if asked) contactable references (re- read the section on references further down!)

  • Now is not the time to save the trees
    If you absolutely cannot cut down on text anymore, or will have to use a font under 11pt to fit it all in, or won’t be able to have at least an 8pt space between sections, do sacrifice a tree – use another page. Just don’t cram it full, too!
  • Cull words, not white space
    Do not set the margins of your document to ‘narrow’. For ease of reading, you need to leave enough white space on the page between sections.
  • Save ink, but only for some words
    Use headings and make them bold, don’t underline.
  • Be brief, use bullets
    This is especially important if you are a second language speaker, even if you think your English is good. Use short sentences. One idea at a time. It helps you keep a better eye on grammar. Keep paragraphs short – no more than five lines if you can.

    List, rather than describe. Use key phrases, containing at least a verb and a noun, rather than full sentences. For example:
    Core skills
    • Wrote follow-up emails NOT I responded to all the incoming communications
    • Sanitised office furniture NOT I was responsible for implementing the fortnightly sanitising protocols
  • Kill the fancy fonts
    You might think curls and squiggles are cute and show your personality. You may like comic-book or horror movie lettering. Good for you. Keep that to yourself.

This is work! A clean, classic, easy to read font is best. Many businesses prefer Arial, as it is slightly larger, but Verdana and Calibri are also good. Just be aware that Calibri is a much smaller font and sometimes do not copy very well.

  • Colour is cool, but don’t overdo it
    Headings in one or at the most two colours can make the CV interesting. Choose wisely though. Darker colours, especially blue, green and purple work best. Remember that some people are colour blind. Sometimes, if you submit your CV online or via email it will have to be printed, mostly in black and white.
  • Mind your language
    Be on the lookout for slang or language that is too informal. Do NOT use WhatsApp spelling! Also, though, don’t use jargon – never use a big ‘clever’ words when a simpler one will do (especially if you are not 100% sure what it means). Less descriptive words are best – don’t lay it on too thick! Let someone who has a good grip on written language read and edit your CV.
  • The overall look
    Clean, clear and crisp is good. The best advice we can give you is to ask professionals who hire or manage people to have a look at it. Maybe your older cousin works at a company. See if you could make an appointment to speak to their HR manager or boss for a few minutes. Tell them you just want their opinion on your CV, before you send it out.

Appropriate references

You may find your prospective boss asking for contactable references frightening! This may be because you do not know why a company would want to speak to them.

They want to know what you are like as an employee. They want to know if you did what was asked of you. How did you approach difficult situations, such as conflict or disagreement with other staff members? They want to know if you have good work habits. To some degree, they will ask about the application of what you have studied, but that is of less importance than getting a sense of what you were like as a worker and member of a team.

Now be clever. When deciding on who to put up as a reference make sure you cover the main areas of character, employability and knowledge.

  1. Character reference
    DON’T add a family member or friend! A clergy from your faith community, a coach or a leader from a club or choir or hobby or volunteer group you attend will do. 2. Employment reference
    Consider picking someone you got on with quite well, who has known you for a while and for whom you have done the greatest variety of work. You can then add an employer or shift supervisor as your second reference. If you have had more than one employer, say so and state that you can provide more references if needed.
  2. Knowledge reference
    Consider adding a study leader or lecturer that had supervised your practical work.

References etiquette

  1. Ask the reference’s permission
    Apart from it being good manners, you don’t want to run the risk of someone not being enthusiastic about what a brilliant person you are!
  2. Check that they have not left the country
    Before applying for a new position, touch base with the people you are asking to act as references for you. Many have lost potential jobs because the contact details of their references had changed. It may also be useful to remind them of who you are! Especially when it is a supervisor or a trainer/lecturer who deals with many young people over time.
  3. Warn them of what is coming
    Again, this is just good manners. Give them information about the position and the company. It makes them (and therefore you) sound good!

Whether you do get the job or not, take the time to let them know. Thank them. You may need them in the future.

Last words

When all the people around you seem desperate and circumstances are overwhelming, you can feel very alone. Find a mentor and become a mentor to someone younger than you. You may feel you are letting your family down if you do not get a brilliant, well-paying job in the field of your studies as soon as you graduate. Be honest with them. Don’t let anyone discourage you. Be open to open doors! Maybe there is a different position open at a company that specialises in your field. Small steps can take you closer to your dreams faster than waiting for that Once In A Lifetime Opportunity.

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