12 Mistakes you’ll make that will not land you a job

By Angelique Ruzicka

I love this meme that’s made the rounds on Facebook poking fun at youngsters. It goes something like: “TEENAGERS” ‘Fed up with being harassed by your stupid parents? ACT NOW…move out…get a job…pay your own bills…Do it while you still know everything.” While you’re probably rolling your eyes right now for opening this post by making fun of you Post Millennials – trust me, I’m going somewhere with this. Just hear me out.

This post is about your future, particularly those of you 2016 matrics who have just passed, some with several distinctions (congratulations!), some with average results (don’t worry, we don’t need the world to be filled with nerds) and those of you who have failed and will enter the job market instead. It’s about me imparting some tips and advice on my experience in the job market.

You see, I’ve hired a few hacks (journalists to you – both junior and senior) in my time as an editor, which I’ve been now for several years for various companies. Don’t worry this post is not about how to enter the world of journalism. No, this is going to be generic and the tips I will bring to the table will be applicable to just about any role you apply for.

I’ve seen it all before. Young applicants, fresh out of school or varsity that are hungry for jobs. You may have achieved some stellar results or you may feel that you are the perfect candidate for the job, but your CV won’t be noticed by every HR or senior management panel.

The sad thing is you’ll never get any feedback about why you weren’t picked. The reason for this is that employers get hundreds if not thousands of applications for roles that they advertise. There simply isn’t the man power out there to respond to every potential candidate or send them ‘gentle’ rejection letters. So you’ll often see job posts that end with “If you don’t hear from us within three weeks of you sending us your CV, you can take it as red that you didn’t make the cut”, or something along these lines.

Here’s 12 reasons why you weren’t considered. You’ll notice that it’s often not because you didn’t get the kind of results that employers expect but because you made these mistakes:

  1. You didn’t bother to follow instructions: If the job advert asks you to do something ‘daft’ like insert a reference number in the subject line or explain something ‘lame’ like why you are the perfect person for the job – just do it. There’s a reason why we put things like this in place. Reference numbers are there so we can reduce our time searching through emails for job applicants for a certain position and other tests are there to weed out the ‘mice from the men’. It also shows that you can follow an instruction to the letter – a value that many employers treasure. Now be a good robot or if that doesn’t suit best you find a way to become an entrepreneur.
  2. You snubbed the wage/salary: I don’t think Marie Claire will ever live it down that they put a job advert up offering an internship for just R30 a day. They received a lot of flack with many pointing out that you can just about afford to buy the magazine for a day’s work (it costs R29.90 – or at least that’s what it was when they advertised for an intern last year). Marie Claire hit back saying that interns get valuable experience and training. While this still landed them with more egg on their face the reality is that in South Africa there are a lot of companies that won’t offer you the ideal wage you are looking for. You may have to work for a stipend, commission or even for free. It’s a contentious issue but if you can afford to work for free or for a low salary, I believe it’s good to at least gain some experience and get your foot in the door. The good news is that there is a minimum wage set for certain industries and there’s talk of introducing a National Minimum Wage so chances are that by the time you finished studying you could be in with a decent wage. Until then, I’m afraid you’re at the mercy of what companies can afford to give you.
  3. You made derogatory comments on your blog or Facebook page: I once had an applicant who applied for a junior journalist position and she invited me to read her blog. Thinking this was good initiative on her part (it showed me she has an interest in writing and knows how to attract an audience) one of the first posts I came across was a derogatory one about her periods. It came with too many expletives and gross descriptions to repeat here. Needless to say I wasn’t impressed. Remember, employers will Google you and will likely stumble upon your social media pages and blogs. Try not to have something embarrassing posted up that could put potential employers off.
  4. You didn’t bother to research the company, job or the people being interviewed: Schools are often criticised for a number of things and one of the reasons for this is that they don’t teach kids how to think laterally, critically or how to apply for a job. It’s not enough when you apply for a job to demonstrate to us what you know. I’m not impressed that you can recite MBA textbooks. I want to know what YOU know about the job, the industry, about me…I want to know that you are able to do proper research about the company you want to work for. Do you agree with their philosophy and what they stand for? If not, tell us how we can make improvements or changes – that’s the kind of thing I’m after. I typically show candidates the door if I ask them what they think of our websites and they sit there with a mouthful of teeth.
  5. You let us know that you’re keeping your options open: I once offered a candidate a job but he promptly told me he would only accept the offer if he didn’t get another job he was interviewing for later in the week. I promptly retracted my offer.
  6. You lied your way through the interview: If you don’t know something, don’t pretend that you do. I asked one candidate what they thought of our websites and he proceeded to provide me with a whole lot of false information, wasting both my time and his. He didn’t get the job.
  7. You didn’t bother to put your CV or covering letter through spell check: You’d think this goes without saying. But apparently it can’t be hammered home enough. I’ve had journalism students send me CVs and covering letters littered with grammar and spelling mistakes. While you may not want to go into publishing, I can’t think of many jobs where not having a basic understanding of grammar and spelling is not a necessity.
  8. You don’t actually want the job: Here’s the thing – I know that you’re young and you’ll probably hoof off at the first company that offers you the same opportunity or a different one with more money. But if you’re just using the job as a stepping stone to gain some experience don’t talk about it in the interview. For me I’d rather hire someone with some passion for the job or industry than someone who’s just going to be miserable in the corner and answer the phone like some death mettle fan on a suicide mission.
  9. You don’t know what the job requirements are: Asking for more clarification about what the job entails is perfectly OK, but don’t rock up to the interview not knowing what it’s about or expecting the employer to regurgitate the spec to you. Make sure you’re armed with this information.
  10. You let yourself be micromanaged by your parents: While I joked in the beginning about your generation pretending to know everything, I have to admit that I also don’t enjoy the antithesis of that, i.e. the ones that cling onto their parent’s every word and action. I want to hire you and the skills you can offer, not your parent.
  11. You project a sense of entitlement: Got somewhere to be while you’re hired to do your 8:30 till 5pm job? I once read about an intern who the first day, informed their boss that he had to leave early that Thursday for a horseback riding lesson. Talk about a career-limiting move!
  12. You failed to be polite: Generally I tend to blame parents for this one. If you’re not polite, this is not actually our fault, it’s your parent’s. Thank the interviewer for his or her time. Better yet, send them a follow up email thanking them – who knows this may keep you top of mind.


Some of the points above may make you roll your eyes, or even ask questions like “Do I want to work for a company that offers me the bare minimum in wages” or “Do I really want to be constricted by times and rules?” That’s OK too. While some may refer to you as a maverick, I’d like to think that you may be a potential entrepreneur. And South Africa needs more of these too!