The topic of graduate and youth unemployment in South Africa has been discussed ad nauseam, but with President Cyril Ramaphosa stating youth unemployment as the greatest challenge to social development in South Africa and, as the jobless rate for youth with tertiary qualifications rises above 20%, "how to" go about entering the job market deserves a lot more attention.
Three human resources and recruitment specialists – Dr Nceba Ndzwayiba (Transformation Director Netcare), Cindy Norcott (motivational speaker, business coach and CEO of the award-winning recruitment agency Pro Appointments) and Andrea van den Berg (National Career Centre Manager The IIE’s Varsity College) agree that networking is an effective way for graduates to secure employment.
Many job seekers are employed not through traditional channels, but because of referrals or recommendations by family or friends or by attending networking events. The greater the graduate’s network and ability to use it, the higher his or her chances of entering the job market.
"Networking is critical because it exposes one to a broader network of contacts, thus giving one greater exposure to an audience which may impact one’s career positively. Once you start networking, you’ll find that it creates a ripple effect thereby expanding your network and increasing possibilities for opportunities. It also broadens your knowledge, exposes you to critical career enhancing information, and allows you the opportunity to tap into an experienced audience that can offer psychosocial support and industry-specific insight," says Dr Ndzwayiba.
“A strong network increases one’s employment options considerably,” agrees van den Berg, w ho has extensive experience in the recruitment and training and development industry.
"Fourty-eight percent of the 2018 cohort of employed IIE graduates who secured their first position after completing their qualifications with The IIE’s Varsity College did so through a friend, family, personal contact or through attending one of our Career Fairs and interacting with potential employers”, adds van den Berg.
So how does one go about building and nurturing an effective network?
"There is no one size fits all. There are many factors one needs to consider for networking to be effective. One is your pool of potential contacts at the time of networking. You need to identify people who are in or who know your industry well," says Dr Ndzwayiba.
"If you can’t attend industry networking events, interact with industry leaders and specialists digitally by sending emails or joining industry-specific online platforms. Networking is not a quick fix – it will take time to achieve your goal. Just make sure that you always show up and keep at it."
Van den Berg’s advice on what one can do to improve their networking skills? "Start small! If you are looking for a new job, start with building contacts in that particular industry. Join LinkedIn and ask your parents or friends if they know anyone that you should connect with.
"Asking for referrals as you go will enhance your network. Listen to the advice and wisdom that these people share. Why not volunteer to work for them or assist them with ad-hoc duties to gain work experience? Offering your time and resources while you are young will assist with building skills that you could charge for at a later stage.
"You are building your personal brand and experience as you engage with these contacts. If you are keen and eager to learn and grow, you will become highly recommended by your contacts and you will be surrounded by great opportunities to choose from.
"Remember to be confident yet humble and consistent in your approach. A firm handshake, eye contact, and great listening skills are very important when it comes to networking."
According to Norcott, bringing an air of positivity to any networking event is key.
"When someone asks you how you are, you need to tell them something positive as nobody wants to talk to someone who is negative and down. It is so important to have positive body language and to smile," she says.
"Listening skills are also essential as is the ability to remember names and facts about others. If a graduate has a big network on social media, then they need to understand the importance of how what they are posting portrays their personal brand on these platforms.
"Another important skill if someone wants to be an effective networker is to refer and recommend others as well, thus adding some value to others. One favour often leads to another."