27 Feb Your ultimate job application guide for entry-level roles
There are two significant challenges facing employers and job seekers when it comes to entry-level jobs.
On the employers’ side, they often struggle to find early-career professionals with the skills they need, making the recruitment process tedious and expensive.
But on the supply side, job seekers find it difficult to land their first jobs. On average, it takes a university graduate in Africa about six years to find a job. And to a large extent, the problem stems from insufficient jobs being created and a lack of adequate job readiness awareness. Even when there are jobs and these job seekers have the skills needed by employers, many don’t know how to put their best foot forward.
If you’re looking for an internship or a full-time entry-level role, this article is for you.
You will learn how to:
- Create a compelling resume and cover letter
- Prepare for an interview
- Enhance your digital presence
- Write a follow-up email that gets attention
Stoked? Let’s begin.
Job application guide #1: Write a compelling resume and cover letter
Your resume is the number one piece of information the recruiter will receive about you. In most, if not all, instances it’ll be the determinant factor as to whether or not you proceed to the next stage of the recruitment process.
Here’s how to optimize your resume to showcase your achievements:
- Structure your skills and experience to align with the internship or job description.
- Ensure that you are specific about the projects you worked on or managed. Highlight the outcome and not just activities. E.g. Increased data mining to 62% by creating a more efficient process to collect information from money managers.
- If you held a leadership position while volunteering for an organization, on-campus or in a part-time job, talk about it. Be specific: How big was the team? How big was the scope of your assignment?
- If you scored a high GPA, include it. Also, include any outstanding school-related projects or coursework that can demonstrate relevant skills and discipline. E.g Graduated with a 3.90 G.P.A while building a startup.
- Keep your resume concise and neat. Target to have one page. If the recruiter needs additional information (for example, a portfolio and project stack), they will request for it. You can also add a link to it below your personal details.
- Proof-read your copy and correct any spelling mistakes, use uniform fonts before hitting send. And, save as a PDF in your name unless otherwise stated. E.g FirstName_LastName_Resume.
Write a cover letter that gets attention
There’s been a lot of debate on the relevance of a cover letter. However, the majority of hiring managers think that it plays a fundamental role in helping “to better understand a candidate’s skills and qualifications, while also demonstrating their willingness to put in the extra effort.”
Overall, the unanimous consensus is that when carefully crafted, “your cover letter should leave a hiring manager with a positive and memorable impression of you — something a resume alone won’t always do.”
That said, below is a cross-functional cover letter template. Feel free to adapt it to suit your job application.
YOUR NAME GOES HERE
Street Address | City, Country | Email | Phone Number
Hiring Manager’s Name
Street Address, Accra – Ghana.
Dear [hiring manager’s name],
SUBJECT LINE GOES HERE [APPLICATION FOR XYZ JOB ROLE ]
I trust this finds you well. My name is [your name here] and I am a final year [current career status if otherwise] B.Sc. student at [xyz University Ghana]. I met your company’s representative at Quantum Leap Career Fair 2020 – Careers in Data Science and AI [state how you found the job if otherwise] which was held at the British Council on April 3. In our brief interaction, she mentioned that your company is recruiting for [job title]. Consequently, I write to express my interest in helping your company actualize [xyz goals].
As stated in my resume, I am [what you do or current role] at [xyz University or current company], and my responsibilities include [responsibility #1], [responsibility #2], and [responsibility #3]. Through these experiences, I have achieved [achievement #1], [achievement #2], and [achievement #3], while developing relevant job readiness skills like communication, team leadership, and resilience.
My career aspiration is to [your career aspirations in line with the job you’re applying to] and I hope to contribute my quota in helping your team meet and exceed your corporate goals. I admire [company name]’s commitment to [business priority] and feel passionate about your mission to [company mission here].
Please find attached my resume for your consideration. I look forward to discussing further.
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Job application guide #2: Prepare for the interview
- When you receive the call or email for an interview, find out what form the interview will take — whether on the phone, a video conference, or in-person.
- Prepare for the occasion: If the interview is online/on the phone, ensure you have enough data or airtime. For an in-person interview, do your homework on the company, review the JD, wear something that matches the company’s colors and dress code, be on time, and be organized. Bonus: Drink some vitamin or eat an apple to get some fresh breath.
- If you are interviewing for a technical role, be sure you’d be required to write some code. Do your homework: There are good samples of coding questions on platforms like CodeLab, Quora, and Stack Overflow.
- Think critically about your answers, be professional, make eye contact, and give a firm handshake. Also, remember the line you should not cross. Just because someone is nice doesn’t make her your friend. The interview is not over until you leave the venue.
- Don’t forget to say “thank you” to everyone, including the receptionist.
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Standard questions to expect from your interview.
- Tell me about yourself. This question is asked to know what you do, past experiences that are relevant to the job, and your strengths – experiences, traits, skills, etc.
- How do you work best, both as an individual and as part of a team? This question is asked to test your work ethics.
- What challenges have you faced at school or at work and how did you overcome them? This question is testing your problem-solving skills.
- Which of your skills or experiences would be assets in the role and why? This question is testing your job readiness.
Ask your interviewers for clarification if you don’t understand a question. Think about your answers, communicate audibly, and take the time you need with responses. The best interview is a conversation, not a quiz time.
Job application guide #3: Enhance your digital presence
Social Media has become a part of our lives these days. And employers know this. Next to the resume, your digital presence provides valuable information about you to a prospective employer. So take note, what you do and say out there in cyberspace can follow you all through your career. I think the first step is to Google yourself and see what comes up.
Then, use the following things to enhance your profile.
- Have a professional profile picture. You can ask one of the event photographers to take a picture of you in a clean background. Or get help from someone that has a good smartphone and edit the picture to black and white. What you need is a good headshot.
- Have a complete LinkedIn profile, use the same name across all Social Media platforms and leave the reputation you want to see online. I use Brand Yourself to keep track of things.
- Stay relevant: invest in your personal branding, keep things professional and add a google alert to your name.
- Apart from it being a way to improve your knowledge, blogging can establish you as an authority. Contribute to other blogs, share “how to” microblogs on Twitter and Facebook or use LinkedIn’s publishing tools to get started.
Remember, branding is the distinguishing factor in the marketplace. Treat your name as a brand.
Job application guide #4: Write a follow-up email that gets attention
If you don’t hear back from the recruiter after two weeks, and there was no prior information on feedback, you need to follow up. Copy and paste the email template below and edit to your heart desire.
Subject line: Follow Up: [inser job title]
Dear Ms. [add the name of recruiter],
Two weeks ago, I applied for the position of [job title]. I am checking in to ask if you could kindly give me your decision timeline regarding this application.
I am thrilled about the prospect of joining your wonderful team and contributing my [the specific skills you wish to contribute] to help you [value you’d bring to the company].
Please, let me know if you need any further detail regarding my application. I look forward to hearing back from you soon!
I wish you all the best in your job search!
If you found this job application guide useful, share it to help others find it. If you need further help preparing for an interview or upgrading your resume and cover letter, let’s talk about it here.
Tom-Chris Emewulu is the Founder & President of SFAN (Stars From All Nations). When he’s not building SFAN and helping entrepreneurs and rising professionals create fulfilling careers, he’s telling African innovation stories or advocating for people-centered policy. Tom-Chris is a former consultant at Mastercard Foundation, Seedstars Ambassador for Ghana, and the author of the forthcoming book: Breaking the Limits. He is a thought leader on youth development, social entrepreneurship, technological innovation, and the future of work.