Getting your first job as a young professional

It would be a wonderful world if your tertiary institution could also hand you your first job as a young professional when they hand you your degree or diploma. Unless you have your heart set on an academic career at that institution, however, it’s more likely that you’re going to have to look for a job.

Job hunting can be a tiring process, and you may be faced with a few roadblocks before you finally receive that ‘We are pleased to inform you …’ mail. But remember: you don’t get hired for 100% of all the jobs you don’t apply for, so don’t let rejection discourage you. However, applying is just one part of the job-hunting process.

Let’s explore some of the ways to improve your odds of landing that first job.

Drawing up your CV

Your CV is often your first point of contact with a recruiter, so it is vital that you make a good impression. Since companies receive a substantial number of applications, they often use recruitment software to help shortlist suitable candidates. The software will scan documents for keywords that fit the job criteria and will then send applications with the best fit to the recruiter.

Recruiters don’t have time to go through pages of information, so keep your CV short and to the point, at a maximum of 2 pages. Adapt each CV you send out, so that it highlights skills and experience relevant to the position you’re applying for.

Applicants who include a cover letter with their CVs are 10% more likely to get a response. Make sure that your application is addressed to the right person. Always proofread all material before you send it to avoid any spelling or grammatical errors that’ll make you look careless.

Applying for jobs

The number-one tip when applying for a job is to never give up. Apply daily, and apply for jobs even if you don’t meet all the requirements. The worst that could happen is that you don't get the job, so you have nothing to lose. Most job ads describe the ideal candidate, but recruiters are aware that they are unlikely to find someone who ticks all the boxes, and they will generally provide some form of training when onboarding new employees.


While you’ll be excited about receiving a job offer, you should always negotiate the terms of your contract


In today’s digital age, job hunting happens primarily online. Sign up to sites such as Indeed and LinkedIn to get notifications for jobs that best suit your skills. Recruiters can also view your information on these platforms and contact you directly to let you know you should apply for a role. If you are interested in working for a specific company, contact their human resources department and express your interest in working for them. If there are no positions available, ask them to hold onto your details in case a vacancy opens up.

One of the challenges you will face is your lack of experience. Even if you lack hands-on working experience, you could still have the skills needed. For example, if a job requires 2 years of experience working with Microsoft Excel and Word, you can highlight that you are proficient in Microsoft software if you’ve used these programmes to complete assignments and create presentations as a student.

Acing the interview

It’s completely normal to feel nervous in a job interview. That’s okay – just take a few deep breaths to calm your nerves before the interview, and be yourself.

Being prepared for the interview will make the process less nerve-racking and help you make a good impression. Research the company, find out what the job entails and go over generic interview questions that are often asked. Search the web or even reach out to employees of the company to find out how you can add value to the organisation. The internet is your best friend at this point, so research, research, research. However, keep in mind that other applicants are probably doing the same thing, and you don’t want to parrot the same generic answers as everyone else. To avoid this, tailor your responses to personal experiences and your own core values and interests.

Whether your interview is online or in person, it is essential that you are neat, presentable, and punctual. If your interview is virtual, check your internet connection, equipment, and the quality of your video and audio beforehand. It will help to call a friend via whatever platform the interviewer uses to run a quick quality-control test. Log in to the meeting at least 5 minutes before it starts to check that your background is not distracting and that you’re in a noise-free environment.

If your interview is in person, leave home early to account for any traffic delays. Show up 30 minutes early to give yourself time to find the correct floor and complete any sign-in and security checks. Freshen up before you go into your interview, neaten up your appearance, and take a few deep breaths. You want to enter the interview calm, cool and collected.

In the interview always refer to points in the job listing and show how you would add value – for example, ‘I know accuracy is important here, which is great because my attention to detail is superb.’ Remember, this is a two-way street, and you also need to ensure that the company and job are the right fit for you. Prepare questions to find out more about the company, the work environment, training opportunities, the team you will be working with, what the day-to-day responsibilities are, and what growth opportunities there are. This will show the recruiter that you know what you’re looking for and will help build mutual respect.


Landing your first job may take some time, but you need to trust the process and prepare


After your interview, send an email to the interviewer to thank them for their time, saying that it was a pleasure to get to know them and the company, and that they should contact you if they need more information or documents.

Accepting the job offer

While you’ll be excited about receiving a job offer, you should always negotiate the terms of your contract to ensure that you are being compensated fairly for the duties that you are required to fulfil. Ensure that factors such as core business hours, overtime, working on weekends or public holidays and compensation for travel expenses are clearly stipulated. Research the starting salary for similar job positions as well, to see how this offer compares.

Consider these key factors

  • The package 
    What will your overall compensation be, including benefits and time off?

  • Experience and personal development opportunities 
    Will you be able to learn in this role to help you progress in your career? Does the company provide training and upskilling opportunities?

  • Growth opportunities 
    Are you able to progress and move up in the company?

  • The company and employee culture 
    Do you find that the company culture and ways of working tie in with your expectations? Are the other employees happy, and do they have a positive attitude?

  • Working hours 
    Are the working hours flexible? Do you have to work shifts?

  • Location 
    Will you need to commute long distances to get to work? Will travel to and from work be expensive? Is this a remote job?

  • The organisation’s track record 
    What has the growth of the company been like over the years? Do employees stay at the company?

  • Listen to your gut 
    How do you feel after the interview? Are you excited about the opportunity and the company?

If, after considering all these factors, you decide the job is not for you, you can express this in an email and say that, while it’s a great opportunity, you just don’t feel like this aligns with your career path, but that you appreciate their time and wish them well in finding their ideal candidate.

Landing your first job may take some time, but you need to trust the process and prepare, so that you can show prospective employers that you’re the best candidate for the role.

What next?

If you’re less than  30 years old and hold a 4-year degree or NQF level 8 equivalent qualification, you can contact us for expert advice and affordable products and services at Nedbank Private Clients for Young Professionals.

For more information on how to secure your first job and manage your finances, check out our Young Professionals’ Toolkit.