So, you’ve completed your degree. Well done. That’s a promising first step to a great career. However, with a vast number of graduates entering the market at the same time as you, you’ll need to make a good impression at job interviews if you’re to stand any chance of success.
The thing is, preparing for interviews goes beyond having a degree and a well-crafted CV. You’ve got to understand what potential employers are looking for to even get in the door. Then you need to make sure you really stand out, and for the right reasons.
“That means taking care of some important details,” says Vuyo Kobokoane, executive head: PPS Foundation. “When applying for a job with an email address like [email protected], for example, a potential employer won’t take you seriously.”
She should know. The PPS Foundation has been partnering extensively with various organisations to prepare graduates for the world of work, fulfilling of one of their key pillars. With some of their programmes aimed specifically at enhancing job-readiness such as the LEAP Programme, they’ve been providing the skills needed for graduates to become economically empowered professionals.
Kobokoane shares her top tips for beating the competition to secure your first job:
1. Clean up your social media – set up a professional looking LinkedIn profile, and beef up the privacy settings on your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Companies are very wary of employees whose social media habits might embarrass them. “You can be sure that recruitment agencies and employers are going to check you out on social media,” says Kobokoane. “So before you even apply for a job, there’s some housekeeping you need to do.”
2. Ensure your covering email and CV answer directly to the skills requested in the job post ‒ “Make things easy for potential employers,” says Kobokoane. “Put the job reference code and position title in the email’s subject line. And keep the covering email brief. Simply say which position you’re applying for, and how you think your qualifications and skills make you a good candidate for the position, and ensure any other contact details like your phone number are at the end of the email as well as on your CV.”
3. Get an appropriate email address – preferably one with your name in it. This isn’t just for professionalism, but also to allow a potential employer to be able to find and respond to your mail with ease.
4. Practise your interview techniques – ask someone with more career experience than you to give you a practice interview so you know what to expect. Practise answering succinctly, and don’t forget important aspects like your posture and speaking clearly.
5. Research the company you’re applying to – if you haven’t done your homework, you will appear uninterested, which doesn’t make a good impression. Make sure you understand the company’s products or services, its market and competitors, and its ethos. Have an answer for why you want to work there.
6. Prepare some questions for the interviewer – you don’t want to be left scrambling for something intelligent to say when they ask if you have any questions. You could ask about any corporate social investment (CSI) initiatives, company culture, management style, or what internal training and mentorship opportunities they offer.
7. First impressions are very important – make eye contact, practise a firm handshake, and watch your body language. You want to come across as likeable and confident – but not arrogant. And ensure you dress professionally and appropriately – find out what people wear in that industry, and remember that it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed. Formal corporate environments may demand a suit, for example.
“Being prepared is key, but also remember to be yourself,” concludes Kobokoane, “As clichéd as this might sound, the employer doesn’t only want to see if you can do the job. They also want to assess whether you are a good fit for the company, and that you are in person, what you seem to be on paper”.