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Having a good qualification and a great track record provide compelling reasons for employers to consider a candidate for a position, but many with those crucial qualities never even make it to the interview list because of simple but persistent mistakes, an expert says.

Lillian Bususu, an employment expert at The Independent Institute of Education, South Africa’s largest private higher education provider, says because of the difficult economic climate, job applicants will often apply for scores of positions before they get shortlisted. After a while, repetition and despondency may cause job-seekers to become careless and not pay sufficient attention to detail, resulting in the kind of mistakes that instantly get their CVs canned.

“Graduates and those seeking to further their careers often pay 99% of their attention to the big things on their CVs – their academic performance, employment history, achievements and so forth,” says Bususu.

“But those things mean little when a company receives a CV addressed to the HR manager of their rival, which is a surprisingly prevalent but unforgivable slip-up,” she says.

Bususu, National Graduate Development Manager of The IIE’s Rosebank College, whose team assists thousands of students and alumni in their job search annually, says in addition to the insights gained from helping these young people tailor and polish their applications, the Career Centre’s collaboration with some of SA’s top employers also means that they are privy to regular and valuable feedback from the marketplace.

Bususu says a few avoidable gremlins consistently make their appearance.

“With the end of the year in sight, many of us are starting to consider 2017 and how we can grow in our careers. Spring is an excellent time to start working on your CV, so that it is ready to go when you spot a fantastic vacancy in January,” she says.

“But make sure that your application is not guilty of the Big Five of CV sins. A lot of time and effort go into searching for the right position, and spending just an extra ten minutes on every application before you hit send is an investment you won’t regret.”

Bususu says each CV should be scrutinised for the following before responding to a job advert:


What is the name of the company, and what is the position you are applying for? Make sure that you have the correct details everywhere, and that any references correspond to the correct information. Get a second pair of eyes to scan for any slip-ups, as getting this wrong is guaranteed to sink your application. It seems like a very basic thing, but employers receive CVs every day from people applying for a job in their organisation while addressing the application to another organisation recruiting at the same time.


Is it clear that you understand what you are applying for, and that you are responding to the criteria raised in the job advert? If you are sending out the exact same generic CV for every vacancy, you can be sure that your application will lack the character required to stand out. Google the company, figure out how you and your experience will be the best fit, and motivate why you will be a fantastic fit on both scores. You have to customise your CV and covering letter for every application – and that goes beyond getting the company details right.


How you approach the drafting of your CV will make a visible difference. Did you take the necessary time and effort to ensure you have covered everything relating to your qualifications, academic performance, experience and background? Did you ensure that your CV and covering letter were proof-read to eliminate typos and grammar and spelling mistakes? Does the layout and formatting look professional? Are your dates, reference details and contact details accurate and complete? It is well within the rights of a company to question why you would be professional and pay attention to detail if hired, if you can’t be that when selling yourself. Look at your CV and ask yourself: If I were the boss, would I hire myself?


Competition is tough out there, that is true. But never be tempted to massage the truth on your CV. Hiring managers are seasoned professionals and have a nose for waffle. Even in the unlikely event that a false claim is not picked up, you will never be able to settle into your position without constantly having to worry that it will come back to bite you. If you have an experiential or qualifications gap, there are other ways to rectify the situation. For instance, you can sign up for a short or distance learning course while you are searching for a position.


Things are tough for those looking for work, but things are also tough for companies looking to survive in a challenging economy. Employers want the best talent and ambitious individuals to join their teams. It does not create a good impression when your CV shows you graduated two years ago and have been sitting at home since. Show that you are industrious and that you value your own time, and that you are committed to personal growth. Seek out activities that will prove your value even if it doesn’t relate 100% to your area of expertise. Volunteer your services in your community, tutor learners in your field, or cultivate a complementary skill. In addition to ensuring there are no gaps on your CV, these activities could even open doors for you.

“Quality and quantity go hand-in-hand,” says Bususu.

“In a difficult job market, it is important to treat the job hunt as a job in itself. So you should spend enough time every day searching and responding to positions for which you are qualified, to improve your chances of getting a foot in the door. But if you are just going to adopt a spray and pray approach, you are wasting your time.

“Stay positive and confident, and take pride also in the application process. Employers will see that you take them seriously, and will treat you as a serious contender if your CV is part of the small percentage which don’t fall foul of the non-negotiables of professional applications.”

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