The job hunt: How to stand out in the crowd

In a country where employment is few and far between, job searching is time consuming and certainly stressful. 

This is equally true for a seasoned executive or a new entrant. 

Competition will be tough, because the market is highly competitive – almost as competitive as the property market in Cape Town.

Madge Gibson, head of outplacement company The Change Initiative, says a critical issue for jobseekers is to know themselves.

“Know what you are looking for in a job, what your marketable skills are and what your strengths and weaknesses are compared to competing applicants.

“It is also critical to know the company and to ensure that it indeed is a place where you want to work. Research what is being said about it in the media, and how much of the talk is positive and how much is negative. Be on the look-out for rumours of a takeover or a merger, and see if you can find the company’s retention rate,” she says. 

Be wary of scams

Most jobseekers are searching online for the perfect job, and Gibson has a word of caution: When a job looks too good to be true, it probably is. 

She also warns against employment scams. “You should never pay any money to go for an interview, no matter what the reason.”

Ideally a job should be a comfortable match to your expertise and educational background, with some room for development and growth. 

However, job advertisements can be misleading, depending on the knowledge and skill of the writer. 

If the same job is advertised on more than five job boards, the recruiters will be inundated with responses. 

The selection process will probably take longer than expected. 

If the job appeals to you enough to apply, be sure your Curriculum Vitae (CV) stands out from the masses in terms of content relevance and visual appeal. 

“Poorly constructed CVs are very quickly assigned to the miscellaneous bin,” says Gibson.

Do your research

Looking for a job is a bit like dating, says Alison Doyle, international career expert and writer. 

It can be easy to go online and find a match for the first date. But what will turn the date into a long-term relationship?

She offers advice in an article she wrote in The Balance, an online source of personal finance and career information: “If you are not certain about what you want to do, take a career quiz to generate some ideas. 

If needs be, get career coaching or counselling to help get you on the right track. Use the job search engines to search for jobs that are a match for your skills, experience, and interests,” she says.

In addition to making sure that you want to work for the company, you should also carefully evaluate the job offer. 

She suggests making sure you truly want the job. Be honest about it giving you the flexibility or work-life balance you need, and whether the salary is what you expected. 

If not, would it be possible to negotiate for a higher salary?

She adds that if there is anything about the job or the compensation package that makes you think twice, the time to act is before accepting the offer.

Lele Mehlomakulu, MD and founder of mPower, a human resources consultancy, says people often apply for jobs that sound good, without regarding the fact that their skills are not suited to the job.

“It does not do you any good frustrating yourself by applying for jobs that you will be declined for.” 

Try to talk to people who are working at the company where you have applied for a position, but keep an open mind, she cautions.

Those who left under a cloud will tend to speak badly of the company and those who have been successful will project a “rosy picture”.

Once you have your foot in the door with an interview, jobseekers must be well-prepared and should consider the interview a “two-way process”. 

Questions to expect at the interview

Questions that will most certainly be asked during an interview, include why you left your previous job, or why you are considering leaving your current employer.

When asked about your strengths and weaknesses, be honest and avoid hackneyed answers, says Gibson.

Ask the interviewer to describe an average day in the role, why there is a vacancy and if they could change just one thing about the last person’s performance, what would that be? 

“Also, prepare heavily for red-flag questions. These could be questions that make you uncomfortable or which you struggle to answer … Spend time brainstorming beforehand so you are prepared and less flustered on the day,” says Gibson.

Smile and stay calm

Not all questions are answerable; admit when you do not know how to answer something or if it is not relevant to your experience.

Maintain a sense of humour, smile, and make comfortable eye contact during the interview. Do not fidget, stresses Gibson.

Listen carefully to the questions during an interview. Only answer what you are asked. There is no reason why you should feel obliged to fill the silence. 

Mehlomakulu says people sometimes end up in the “wrong job” mainly because of desperation or not doing proper due diligence.

“People get caught up in brands that are not aligned to who they are because they believe it makes them look good to their friends and family.”

The 2017 CareerBuilder survey under human resource professionals and full-time workers in the US showed companies lost an average of $14 900 on every “bad hire” in the last year.

This article originally appeared in the 2 August edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here or subscribe to our newsletter here.