Ongolo Proud African

Fresh graduates: tips for how to land that first job

Author: Muloongo Muchelemba
14 October 2021

Graduates find the process of landing that first job after university to be incredibly stressful, especially after believing that exams and thesis deadlines were the worst of it. The biggest mistake graduates make is underestimating the time it takes to find that job. Other mistakes include applying too late, not prepping adequately for psychometric tests used to screen applicants, not interning with the right companies during university breaks, and putting all eggs in one basket.

The first step in the job search is to understand the job market and when to apply. There are three ways to do this. Firstly, most universities have careers centres which hold details of graduate and other job opportunities. Most of the centres are grossly underutilised by the very people they were meant to serve. The second approach is to research company websites. Many companies invest a lot of time and money in creating informative careers pages which are a good starting point for understanding the jobs available for fresh graduates and they paths they can take. The third approach is word of mouth. Not every job is advertised, especially in smaller companies. Telling your network that you are looking for a job is necessary – you’ll never know who is able to help.

Congratulations on getting your degree! And welcome to the real world...

The next step is to write a powerful curriculum vitae (CV) or resume. Think of a CV as an amuse-bouche, which is served in French restaurants to prepare the pallet for the actual meal. Much like a movie trailer, it is supposed to entice the reader to want more. Remember the 30-second rule - that’s how long it will take the person screening to decide whether the applicant is worth shortlisting.

The key sections of a CV are as follows:

Personal Statement

It is important to avoid clichés. A typical personal statement would read: I am a confident, enthusiastic, ambitious, and hard-working person. I am responsible with a mature outlook and have excellent interpersonal skills and enjoy meeting new people. I am highly motivated, creative, and enjoy learning new skills.

An alternative and more punchy statement would be to state: I am currently pursuing a degree in ___ at ____. My ambition is to start my career in ____ with a leading organization, such as _____ (the one you are applying to). Plus, 3-4 adjectives to describe you (e.g., keen to learn or strong technical skills).


Recruiters are interested in knowing where candidates studied, the years they attended, and the degree obtained or expected. Some employers in certain countries, like South Africa, expect to see high school details such as the subjects and grades or GPA. Candidates who didn’t get good grades are better off simply stating: Obtained xx GCEs/GCSEs. Candidates who didn’t go to university can add a sentence to explain what else they bring to the role.

Job applications
Job applications are fairly standard

Work experience

This section starts with the most recent job and includes the company, position held, and dates of employment. The focus should be on achievements, not tasks. The highlights include accomplishments, leadership roles, and teamwork and can be phrased as: I was responsible for… OR My achievements included …


This section is where the adjectives in the personal statement come to life and includes leadership roles, such as university clubs, societies, and outside school pursuits, plus academic awards, such as scholarship awards or making the Dean’s List.


The job adverts and job descriptions outline the key skills and experience that the employer seeks. This information is useful when writing the cover letter. Skills required include computer literacy (list which software and languages) and languages. However, if all you know are swear words in Italian or Mandarin, best not to include these as you may get caught out in the interview

Chess is a standout hobby
Chess is a hobby that signals a deep thinker


Hobbies add a different dimension to the mental picture the recruiter forms of candidates. Common hobbies include reading, travelling, music, and movies. Less common examples include sailing, golf, martial arts, making origami, chess (signals a deep thinker), playing the piano or cello (signals discipline). Other activities to add are examples of community service, or charity work. Are you a member of the Rotary Club? Help at the Salvation Army? Fundraise at your church? These are all important


Candidates should always have at least three referees they can call upon to vouch for them. These referees should be relevant – no one is impressed by the famous uncle or aunt unless the candidate worked for him or her. Referees should be able to provide an honest and favourable write up that supports the application. Note: a bad referee can be more damaging than no referee at all.

Wishing you all the best!