A mountain of evidence from Statistics South Africa and elsewhere on graduate unemployment suggests that finding a job in South Africa has become more difficult than it has ever been before regardless of qualifications obtained. It is also clear that having a diploma, a bachelor degree, honours or even a master’s does not automatically guarantee anyone employment. A lack of job readiness, job scarcity, a mismatch between available skills and demands of the labour market, the disconnect between job seekers and location of jobs are often cited as some of the key drivers of both youth and graduate unemployment.
In light of the harsh realities of many young black youth in relation to finding work, it is perhaps important to have a conversation on how young people who are in higher learning institutions prepare themselves for the world upon exit of the higher education space.
University should be viewed as a transitory space between education, employment or entrepreneurship. It is a fantastic space to polish oneself and make oneself desirable to potential employers and seed funders for startup businesses. It is therefore important that one gets a number of things right:
Build your CV so that it speaks volumes louder than just a list of degrees. A CV is a self-marketing tool. It tells the potential employer why you, among thousands of applicants, should be selected for employment. Your CV is the story of your life that led to you seeing yourself as the ideal employee. Make certain that through what you do during your time at a higher education institution it becomes a good story.
Apply and attend training, symposiums, exhibitions, panel discussions and workshops available at the university and outside. Classroom content does not make a distinction between you and everybody else with the same qualification. A whole lot can supplement class content.
While attending events such as workshops, symposia, exhibitions, panel discussions both at the university and outside, talk to people. Do not necessarily beg for a job or talk about your struggles finding a job. Show that you have content and informed opinions. Also, express a hunger to learn and improve yourself both personally and professionally. Show some understanding of your field. Research indicates that character plays an important role in swaying your potential employer’s favour towards you.
Be yourself. I strongly advise against those scripted responses to interview questions that circulate on the internet and social media. Each of us has a story of her/his own. Answer earnestly and honestly. Tell your own story and do this with tact and confidence. You do not want to see yourself having the same life story, skills and competencies stated by the three interviewees who went in before you. Being yourself should give you the edge. Work on your confidence and ability to pick the best words to say what you mean. Your honesty and frankness speak volumes about your integrity.
More importantly, instead of dwelling on your diploma, bachelor, honours or master’s degree, rather tell them what it is about you having it that makes you stick out. “I have a master’s degree” is less convincing than “during my master’s study I learnt how to integrate research theory and fieldwork practice. I got firsthand experience in research design, assembling data collection tools and thematically analysing qualitative data sets. I also learnt how to use data analysis software, SPSS for quantitative data analysis. Moreover, I learnt the importance of viewing social reality through the lenses of others”.
Be frank and honest. Speak at your own pace. Avoid using a rehearsed accent. The less comfortable you are with how you speak, the lower the chances of carrying a good message. Avoid using words you do not correctly understand. This will confuse both you and your audience.
Look and smell nice. This do not have to be expensive. You can still look like a clown in expensive clothes. Do not do that. You can still look good, respect-worthy and confident in affordable clothing. Do that.
Arrive on time. Greet the person receiving you with a good handshake.
I said “good”, instead of “firm” for a purpose. “Firm” means different things to different people. I almost wrestled a potential employer to the ground in East London a couple of years ago.
Best wishes! Do not give up.
Gcina Mtengwane is a lecturer in the community development programme of the QwaQwa Campus of the University of the Free State.