Land the job you deserve

When studying it can be difficult to think much beyond the tasks at hand like the next assignment or test. Looking a little further ahead, your end goal is obviously to complete your course and graduate, but what about after that? Gaining a qualification is the start, the next step is landing yourself a decent job.

When applying for a new job, you need to present yourself as well as possible to stand out from the crowd, especially with South Africa’s high unemployment rate. A well compiled and intelligent CV, along with a good covering letter, is the best way to do this.

In this article, we will cover all the basics you need on how to format your CV, what to put in the CV and how to write a cover letter for your CV as well as share some very useful resources and services that are available to you as a Wits student (and some useful information even if you aren’t enrolled).


Preparing your job application

Before you get stuck in preparing your cover letter and CV, there are some important things to think about and consider. The most important is that you read the job requirements and the application details very carefully. The information we will give you below is quite general, but a particular recruiter may ask for something different to what we have recommended. For example, we would advise that you fit your CV onto 2 pages, but the recruiter may ask for something different.

Make sure you check your spelling and grammar very carefully as careless errors will give a poor impression. Use polite and formal language and avoid slang or colloquialisms.


Cover letters

Before a recruiter even looks at your CV, they will read your cover letter first. The purpose of the cover letter is to explain why you should be chosen for that specific job. While a CV can be reused again for multiple job applications (if the role and requirements are the same), the cover letter really should be unique for each application.

In your cover letter, you want to show that you have done your research about the prospective employer. Try to pick out any aspects about both the company and yourself that make you a good candidate for the position. You want to put your best features first and fit them into just two or three paragraphs.

Wits CCDU has prepared a detailed presentation PDF on creating your cover letter and CV that you can view here. (this document goes into more detail and also includes details for a motivation letter, which is not covered in this article.)

Things to remember for a cover letter:

  • Do not sound desperate or plead for the job.
  • Be polite.
  • Be concise – the letter should not be more than a page.
  • Introduce yourself.
  • Explain why you are suitable for the position and/or organisation.
  • Do not speak badly of past employers or colleagues


CV format

A quick online search will bring up heaps of templates and fancy tools for creating CVs, but do not get carried away. Many of these do not comply with the standard South African CV format. Simplicity is important. The websites offering these templates also need to stand out from their competition and each year they offer new formats with new bells and whistles. These can look flashy and impressive, but you could end up doing yourself a disservice.

For most jobs that require a university qualification, a plain text-based simple CV format, laid out neatly in black and white is entirely sufficient. Things like skills graphs, fancy graphics and a photograph will likely only detract from the core information you want to present.

Read the job application instructions carefully and follow them precisely. The job advert might specify a particular format that they want to receive your CV. If they specify a Word document, don’t send them a PDF, for example.

Knowing more about your prospective employer will also help you nuance your CV and cover letter to suit them. An established accounting firm will likely have very different criteria and expectations to a startup social media marketing company, for example.


What to put in a CV

What you put in your CV largely depends on the experience and qualifications that you have. The challenges are different depending on where you are in your career. If you are a fresh graduate entering the job market, then you likely have little in the way of relevant job experience.

Different industries will have different focuses and your own experience will also determine what goes into your CV, but there are some basics that should be included in any CV.

  • Name, professional title and contact details should all go at the top of the CV
  • Personal profile
  • Experience and employment history
  • Education and qualifications


  • References (if you do not include references in the CV, then it is recommended to include a mention that references are available on request)
  • Additional skills / Hobbies and interests (strictly keep relevant, eg hiking, camping and birdwatching could be relevant to a conservation company)
  • Awards and achievements

Wits CCDU put together a CV & cover letter presentation that gives you much more detail into what you will need.


Advice for fresh graduates

If you are or will be, a fresh graduate then you’ll likely want to put your education and qualifications ahead of your work experience. As you won’t have much or any work experience, you can put more focus on the course you have completed and go into more detail on your results and can include your school leaving results and achievements.

For young job-market entrants, the trick is to take what work experience you do have and highlight features from it that could relate to your job. Even completely unrelated work experience can be presented in a way that improves your chances.

What you lack in relevant work experience, you can make up for by showcasing your “soft skills”. Having waited tables for example might not be relevant to the position you are applying for, but it involves elements that could be positives for the role, such as customer engagement, conflict management or sales experience.


Advice for experienced applicants

Once you’ve got more work experience, your CV should put that ahead of your education and qualifications. As you add more work experience or accumulate additional postgraduate qualifications, you can go into less detail on earlier education. School results and achievements can be left off too. Applying for any senior position, it is unlikely that

For older, more experienced job applicants the challenge shifts to one of presenting the most relevant recent experience. If you work in a fast-changing industry, you want to show that you have kept up with recent trends and advances. This can be shown by both relevant on the job experience or by showing additional learning or skills development.


Don’t forget the soft skills

Soft skills are skills or personal attributes that generally aren’t taught at university but that can help you within your job. These are things like communication, reliability, time management, problem-solving, teamwork, work ethic and conflict resolution.

If you join a company, you will likely spend a lot of time with your new colleagues. They want to know that you are capable of doing the job required, but beyond that, they will likely pick someone that is also a pleasure to work with. Take the opportunity to show off your soft skills in your cover letter and when describing your work experience.


Examples of CVs:

The Wits Counselling and Careers Development Unit (CCDU) has good CV examples for first job applications and a template you can make use of:

  • Sample CV (Word) – A Word template providing a guide to the essential elements of a CV.
  • Sample CV (PDF) – A PDF version of the above Word document

Keep in mind that the above sample CV is specifically for a fresh graduate and new entrant into the job market who has no experience in the field for which they are applying. For someone with more relevant experience, the work experience section will usually come before the education section.


Finding a job

Wits CCDU has many resources, including a comprehensive list of South Africa’s top job search websites.

Take care of yourself

If you want to perform at your very best with your online studies, then it is essential to take care of your body and your physical health. In a previous article, we spoke of the importance of staying connected in looking after your mental health. There is a strong link between a healthy mind and a healthy body. As the saying goes, “healthy body, healthy mind” and a healthy diet and regular exercise are two top ways to take care of yourself and manage student stress.

It may seem difficult to keep active while studying online, but with just a bit of effort you can reap the benefits of a regular home workout and a healthy diet. Putting a bit of time and effort aside will help you to concentrate and focus, making the time well spent.

As a Wits student, you can make use of the Wits gyms and joins any one of the many sports clubs.


Healthy food for focus

Maintaining a healthy diet when studying online is easier than when attending traditional classes on campus. You can cook for yourself and keep your fridge and kitchen stocked with healthy food. Eating from home makes it both cheaper and easier to make some changes to ensure you are eating better.

Here are some diet tips for mental health from the Wits Counselling and Career Development Unit (CCDU):

  • Replace refined carbs (such as white bread) with healthier options (such as brown bread)
  • Swop junk food for healthier items (e.g. buy a banana or a yoghurt instead of a chocolate bar)
  • Include more fresh options such as fruit and vegetables
  • Avoid skipping meals

If you are close to campus, you can also visit Campus Health and Wellness Centre to discuss nutrition with a nurse.


Exercise boosts brain function

Getting regular exercise has many benefits and is a crucial part of taking good care of yourself. Exercise and the chemicals it releases can improve your concentration and memory and promote the growth of new brain cells. Getting your heart rate up for 20 minutes a day, or even just five to 10 minutes, will boost information processing and memory functions.

Regular exercise also helps you to sleep better, allowing you to wake up refreshed in the morning. Another benefit of exercise is improved resilience. This means that you will be better able to deal with stressful situations in your life.


Home exercise workouts

You can get all the exercise you need within your own home. There are many different routines that you can do at home to get your blood flowing and your muscles working. While we may have laughed about it just two years ago, there are now many different online fitness classes that you can join, which can help with motivation.

Here are some aerobic exercise routines that you can try out at home to get your blood pumping and body working. We’ve also included some lower impact exercises that will help you take better care of yourself, both while studying online and for life in general.



You don’t need complicated gym equipment to get a good workout and get in shape. Callisthenics is the name for exercise that relies on your body weight. Push-ups, sit-ups, crunches exercises and pull-ups are all forms of callisthenics.

Follow these links for introductory callisthenics courses and lessons:



Pilates is a form of exercise that has grown in popularity immensely in recent years and can be done at home. Although some routines require more complicated, specialised equipment, you can still do a full session at home with a mat. Pilates will increase your flexibility and muscle tone, but it is recommended that you still also do some form of aerobic exercise as it is low impact and does not increase your heart rate.

Follow these links for introductory Pilates courses and lessons:



Yoga has many proven benefits to those that practice it on a regular basis. It is fantastic for dealing with stress, anxiety and depression and practitioners claim that it improves their overall quality of life. Yoga improves posture, strength and flexibility and can also help alleviate chronic pain and migraines. As with Pilates, yoga is best mixed with some other form of regular higher intensity exercise to get your heart rate up.

Follow these links for introductory yoga courses and lessons:


Jumping rope

Here is a simple and quick way to work up a sweat without having to go outside. Although very simple, jumping rope is an effective way to get good aerobic exercise in a short time. Although many of us think of it as a childhood playground activity, there’s a good reason why boxers do it to get their fitness levels up and to keep them on their toes.

Follow these links for introductory courses and lessons on jumping rope:


Japanese towel exercise

Here’s one way of getting a good home workout that you may not have heard about. All this requires is a towel and enough space to lie down. This method was created by Toshiki Fukutsudzi, a Japanese doctor and specialist in reflexology and massage. The exercise aims to strengthen the core muscles, overcome bad posture, reduce back pain and shrink the waist.

Follow these links for introductory courses and lessons to do the Japanese towel exercise:


Wits gym

The two indoor gyms at Wits were closed due to Covid-19 at the time of writing, but with restrictions easing up they are likely to open in the coming months. Wits’ two outdoor interactive gyms are unaffected by these restrictions and have remained open to staff and students to enjoy for free. The gyms are located on East Campus Matrix courts and West Campus Gavin Raily lawns.

For more details on the facilities, please visit the Wits Fitness and Wellness Centre page.

You can follow Wits Sport on social media to get the latest updates:


Wits sports societies:

For sports enthusiasts, Wits has 28 different sports societies to choose from. While some teams compete at a very high level, such as the men’s soccer team which won the national premier league in 2017, beginners are also welcomed.

Take a look at the Wits sports clubs page for more information and contact details.

Staying connected

With October 10 being World Mental Health Day, it is a good reminder to think about mental health. Depression and anxiety disorders are the most common forms of mental illness, with depression affecting about 1 in 15 adults in any given year while one in six people will experience depression at some time in their life.

Last month was also Suicide Prevention Awareness month, which is quite closely linked to issues of mental health. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) reported recently that they now handle 2,200 calls a day on their national suicide hotline, up hugely from 600 before Covid struck.

This is not particularly surprising. Covid brought unprecedented changes to our lives, many of which have only made conditions worse for those at risk of depression or anxiety. Job losses, deaths of loved ones, enforced isolation and uncertainty have increased hugely and together create something of a perfect storm for anxiety and depression.

The importance of staying connected

Social isolation is a very big risk factor for depression. Fortunately, restrictions have eased up, but the risk of isolation remains. Far more people now work from home and social interaction has been limited. Simple things like a hug from a friend or a smile from a passing stranger in the street are far less likely in our current times of social distancing and wearing masks in public.

Human beings are social creatures after all. Introverts feel it less strongly, but we all need social interaction and we crave physical contact. For example, think about people who are in prison. Even when surrounded by murderers, rapists and other dangerous criminals, the worst punishment that can be given to a prisoner is to put them into solitary confinement.

Studying online is also far less social than traditional contact classes, but thanks to technology you can still stay connected with people over long distances. It is also important to realise that you are not alone. Should you find yourself struggling, there are support services in place for Wits students as well as other services for the general public.

Anxiety and depression are complicated things and symptoms and experiences range from mild to very severe. This article is in no way a substitute for advice and counselling from a trained mental health professional, but we can help point you in the right direction.

What is anxiety and depression?

Before we go further it is useful to define what we are talking about, as the words depression and anxiety get used in many different contexts. Depression refers to a single illness and it is classified as a mood disorder. Anxiety refers to an entire class or group of conditions. Included under the umbrella of anxiety disorders are generalised anxiety, social anxiety specific phobias and some others.

Depression is characterised by feelings of despondency and overwhelming sadness. It is an actual clinical condition and not something that someone can just snap out of. It affects women more than men and usually first occurs between the mid-teens and the mid-20s.

Anxiety is an overwhelming worry or stress related to the feeling that something bad is going to happen. Some common anxiety disorders are generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder (and anxiety attacks), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Signs of depression

Depression is caused by a mix of social, psychological and biological factors. Certain people are genetically more prone to depression and it is more likely to occur to people who’ve gone through an adverse life event, such as the death of a loved one or losing a job.

These are some of the common symptoms of depression:

  • low mood, feeling sad, irritable or angry
  • loss of energy to do certain things
  • losing interest or enjoyment in activities you used to enjoy
  • reduced concentration,
  • becoming tired more easily
  • disturbed sleep and loss of appetite
  • loss of self-confidence and self-esteem
  • feeling guilty or worthless.

Signs of anxiety

Anxiety can manifest in various different specific disorders, with their own subtle differences. These are some of the broader warning signs and symptoms that you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.

  • fatigue
  • restlessness
  • sweating
  • inability to concentrate
  • rumination or obsessive thought patterns
  • nausea
  • insomnia
  • panic attacks
  • irritability
  • changes in appetite

Dealing with anxiety and depression

For severe cases of anxiety or depression, you should definitely consult a health professional. There are, however some changes you can make to your lifestyle to help you cope with milder cases or to reduce your risk of experiencing either in the first place.

  • Improve your diet
  • Get enough regular exercise
  • Relaxation
  • Meditation
  • Improve your sleep habits to get enough sleep each night
  • Spend time with other people, especially if they can offer emotional support
  • Interact with pets and animals
  • Reduce the use of alcohol and tobacco
  • For anxiety, reducing or removing caffeine can be beneficial.
  • For depression, spending time with enjoyable leisure activities can help.

Wits counselling services

The Wits Counselling and Careers Development Unit (CCDU) provides an incredible amount of support for students. The unit offers career guidance, personal counselling and a host of other services related to student life and overcoming common difficulties. The unit also offers good advice for dealing with anxiety as well as useful information on various health and well-being subjects.

  • Student counselling
  • Steps to get counselling
  • Mental & emotional health resources
  • Student crisis app
  • 24 hour Lifeline: 011 728 1347 or 0861 322 322
  • Crisis Line: 0800 111 331


National support services

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) offers a range of services, with several hotlines for the general public as well as for students.

  • Speak to a trained counsellor on 011 234 4837 or 0800 20 50 26 (8am to 8pm, 7 days a week)
  • Call the SADAG Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or SMS 31393

Links for various support services and groups can be found at:

You can use this site to find therapists operating in your area: