How to get in gear for your first job search

Your first job search after graduation can be both exciting and terrifying, particularly in South Africa where many qualified people compete for a limited number of vacancies. But the experience can be made much more rewarding, and the chances of success greater, by following a few simple guidelines, an education expert says.

“You have to approach the job search with a plan, rather than falling into it haphazardly, as the latter can quickly lead to frustration and disappointment,” says Wonga Ntshinga, Senior Head of Programme: Faculty of ICT at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest and most accredited private higher education institution.

Ntshinga says when the economy is constrained, as it currently is in South Africa, finding a job can be hard even for those with experience, but that it can be especially daunting for first-time job seekers who are not yet familiar with the processes related to searching for work. 

“First of all, recent graduates must keep an open mind and stay alert for potential opportunities. Don’t get stuck on the idea that there is just one specific kind of job for you and that if you don’t find the exact role that you intended stepping into after graduation, you need to keep looking until you do.

“Understand that you may need to get a foot in a door first, and that once you’ve done so and proved yourself, you may start encountering more desirable opportunities in the environment you find yourself,” he says.

Ntshinga says it is very important for graduates to use their time as productively as possible, and go searching for opportunities rather than waiting for them to come knocking.

“By following the steps below, you will be in a much better position to realise success on your job search journey,” he says.


It may sound obvious, but many don’t realise the importance of getting the slog out of the way before they start submitting applications, Ntshinga says.

“You have to make sure that all your paperwork is in order, such as copies of your ID, academic transcripts, your degree, and so forth. Depending on your field, you may need additional documentation specific to your industry. Ensure that you have these in hard and digital format, ready to submit when required.

“Then, of course, you need to get your CV in tip-top shape. It can’t be stressed enough that it needs to be neat, concise and without any errors such as incorrect dates or grammatical slip-ups. It’s always a good idea to get a set of expert eyes on your CV before sending it off, so approach your graduate institution’s career centre for assistance in this regard,” he says.

2)     SET GOALS

Ntshinga says one should spend a few hours every day on the search, and not leave it for when you feel like it. 

“Inspiration may never hit, so don’t wait for it. Set out each day with the aim of finding and applying for a certain number of opportunities. Scour online job listings, widen your net to related vacancies even if not a 100% match to your preferred position, and cold call companies’ HR departments.

“When you send in an application for a vacancy, or your CV to the HR department to keep on file, remember to tailor your covering letter and experience to the specific company and position. And very importantly, keep a detailed and updated spreadsheet indicating where you applied, what you applied for, date of application and contact details of the person to whom you submitted the application. This may be useful later when you need to follow up on an application, or even when you want test the waters in future about potential vacancies.”


The job search will feel lonely at times, but you don’t have to go it alone, says Ntshinga.

“Join forces with recruitment agencies and approach your graduate institution for help with your search,” he advises.

“A good institution will have specialist resources to help you prepare your CV, practise your interview skills, and assist you in identifying where you might need to strengthen or alter your approach.

“There are also many public, private and online resources dedicated to assisting job-seekers, so identify and connect with those in your area.” 


Ntshinga says it is vitally important not to stagnate professionally, particularly if the job-search takes a while.

“You absolutely must stay on top of developments in your profession, by networking and developing your relevant skills. Spend some time every week honing your professional skills by applying what you learnt during your studies. Volunteer your services in your community, go to industry networking events, and stay sharp.

“Also consider gaining a complementary skill to boost your CV and your range of competence. If you keep going and keep growing, the doors of opportunity will start opening for you.”

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