Thursday, June 21, 2012



By Jonathan Jansen

21 June, 2012 00:03
Johannesburg, SA

Jobless Graduate writes to me often, posing a question filled with emotion and frustration. "I have a degree, but I cannot find a job. How do you explain that, professor?"

There is a veiled accusation in the question, something like "you are always telling people to study and get an education; well, my parents sacrificed much to send me to university and now, look, I cannot even find a simple job with this qualification."

JG is male and female, in the early to mid-20s, mostly black, from a poor family, and from all nine provinces.

JG has applied for every job available, starting with one that fits the degree that she studied for and then, later, going for any job that could earn her some money.

JG feels frustrated because he is invited to interviews but the companies nevercall back. He feels he is there simply to make up the numbers; at his lowest points, he believes they need black faces on parade without feeling the need to hire one. After all, they can claim they made the effort.

So JG, here is my message to you.

The reason you fail to get a job has little to do with your degree. It has everything to do with the other things employers look for in a candidate.

To begin with, take a close look at your curriculum vitae. You will notice spelling errors and large gaps between words. You will see that your paragraphs are not always aligned, and that your references at the end are missing information.

Your sloppy CV is one reason that employers decide, there and then, that you would probably make a careless worker.

You will also see that your CV is quite thin. From this important document it is clear that you did nothing else with your life while you were a student.

You did not belong to youth associations, and I do not mean the destructive political ones that go around insulting people and disrupting classes. You were not part of progressive social, cultural and political organisations that sought to make a difference in the lives of poor people.

Your CV makes no reference to voluntary work or holiday occupations. That part-time job at the Spur might have brought in much-needed cash, but volunteering at an Aids hospice or starting up your own youth literacy project or reading club in the township would have shortlisted you for the job.

Then take a look at the marks you took from your transcripts and pasted onto your CV.

Your marks reveal that you concentrated on passing, and so your 40% in mathematical literacy at school, and your 52% in sociology at university, send all the wrong signals, and here I am not even talking about your meaningless 90% in life orientation.

While you were concentrating on passing, other students were focused on excelling; there is a big difference.

I also noticed from your transcript that you repeated anthropology and political science three times each; fat chance of an interview, to be honest.

Now I want you to reflect on your last interview.

The way you walked into the interview room suggested a serious energy deficit. There was no smile, and you looked depressed, with your drooping shoulders. And for heaven's sake, dress properly.

The way you used language was not upbeat, and you made several grammatical errors that the panel members noticed.

You were not prepared, and this showed when one of the panellists asked you what you had found out about their organisation from Google. Your answer was not cool: "I have not yet met Mr Google."

I am glad you did not respond when one of the interviewers, out of frustration, mumbled, "Bring me Jack Daniels."

And so you see, JG, it is not about showing up with a degree that matters. It is the other stuff they are looking for, the value added to the degree.

You see, unlike with political appointments, they are looking for competence, composure and confidence, and evidence of a life well lived. They want proof of an energetic self-starter who filled her leisure time with service to others.

They want an articulate and accomplished employee who can be trusted to represent the organisation well to the outside world.

They regard an investment in a professional CV writer as demonstrating care and concern for the small things that matter.

And by the way, that line on the CV that says "Criminal Record - None." Please remove that useless information just in case they do a background check.