As you know, it’s tough out there. South Africa’s economy is not doing well and jobs are scarce. We interviewed a manager, John, to find out how young people can stand out when they apply for a job. John is an industrial engineer and team leader at a large logistics company which stores goods in warehouses and transports them to the marketplace for different customers. Here he tells us about the other side of the interview table.

1. What are you looking for in a young person who comes for an interview?

I look for someone who has some idea of the company and what we do. They’ve done a little preparation because most people don’t prepare well. You need to arrive slightly before the time and in the interview you need to show that you have energy, a pleasant personality and that you will fit into the team. You should show that you have potential even if you aren’t fully perfect for the job. If you show that you’re prepared to grow and we can groom you into the position and you’re willing to work, then we would definitely consider you.

2. How do you think someone can best prepare themselves for an interview?

You need to prepare your unique selling points. What this is depends on the job but showing responsibility is good. That if you’re sick, you’ll phone in. This kind of thing shows that you have a professional attitude.

3. What kind of work is entry level at you company?

There’s office work such as an administrative clerk. You might be an inventory clerk when you’ll help the manager with managing the stock in the warehouse. You would need to enjoy investigating problems so an inquisitive, analytical mind is good. In the warehouse an entry level job is a general worker who unloads containers. To get any permanent position in our company you need matric. You definitely need matric to be a supervisor.

4. What is your favourite interview question and why?

‘What do you like to do on the weekends?’ I get to know a little bit about the person. I also like to ask, ‘If I had to ask your best friend what your strengths are, what would they say?’ and ‘If I asked them to describe you, what would they say?’ Another question I like to ask is, ‘How do you deal with a difficult person or situation?’

5. What can young people do to get them work ready?

You can get to know about the industry you are interested in. Have a positive attitude and sell yourselves. Hopefully you’ll meet someone who will give you a chance. The biggest differentiator is if you come prepared to the interview. Have some meaningful questions about the job, the company and your growth plans. Be realistic about your growth plans, though. Don’t say, ‘I want to become a manager’ as this is so unrealistic at this point. 98% of people don’t have any questions to ask because they haven’t thought about the work at all and that’s a problem. People who make an impact are those that are prepared and they are in the minority. Even if you’re wrong about something at least you’ve tried.

6. Why is it so difficult for young people to get a job?

Many people’s CVs are poorly written. Make sure that it is well written and clearly laid out. Ask someone to help you to get it right if you need to. You need to demonstrate how you can help the company and why they should hire you above anyone else. Everyone says that they want to work hard. Rather say something such as, ‘I’ll keep knocking on your door’ and ‘I’m resilient. I’m passionate and I want to make an impact’. If your growth plan is to become a supervisor, then you need to say that you’re prepared to learn for the next couple of years about the job. It’s important though that you sound genuine but not obsequious (submissive and too eager to please).

7. What else can help some at the interview stage of getting a job?

When you finish the interview, thank the person and ask them when you will hear from them about the job. Get their email address or business card and email them afterwards. Summarise your abilities for the job that may have come up in the interview. This reminds them about who you are and keeps you in their mind.

8. What advice do you have to someone who starts a new job?

Make sure that you arrive on time for the first day that you are supposed to start. You will have a probation period so make sure that you pitch up every day. Always phone your manager if there are issues. A lot of people don’t bother to do that and it’s a problem.

9. What qualities do you look for in someone who aspires to be in a supervisor or managerial role?

The 21st century manager is someone who can think on their feet and is prepared to make decisions. You need to be willing to get to know your staff, their family issues and be able to motivate them. Be discreet and confidential with their information. Be able to say that you were wrong about something and say ‘Thank you’ and ‘Well done’ to them when they have done well. Don’t lose your temper even when things are very difficult. You can be angry about an issue but not at the people. Stick to your promises and be consistent with your dealings with your staff. Don’t have favourites. Be friendly but firm.

10. If you were a young person today, what would you do to get a job?

Don’t drop out of school! Work, study and forget about your friends. Don’t succumb to peer pressure. We know it’s really tough but you need to focus on some sort of goal for yourself and work very hard for it. Be persistent. Be realistic but pursue your dreams based on your academic abilities and where you are in life.

11. Do you have anything else to add?

If you’re targeting a certain company you want to work for and, if you don’t get in the first time, keep applying. Another tip is to remember that your interview starts as soon as you walk in the door and only ends when you leave the building. Your attitude to everyone you meet is important, right from the receptionist to the person who does the interview. Leave everyone with a good impression of you and this will help.
This interview with John shows how it’s really important to pursue your future with commitment and energy, as this is what interviewers are looking for. Don’t give up on your dream but always make sure that you show that you aren’t just a dreamer! Be prepared, resilient and professional and you will be in a good position to get that job.

For further information about writing a CV, job interviews and professional behaviour see previous Workwise blogs

Getting professional with your cv
Writting a winning covering letter
Preparing for a job interview


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