Help the refugees

If you move around the world by choice, consider helping those forced from their homes by conflict. Donate to the UN Refugee Agency today.

Home Working in South Africa Finding a Job South African CV and interview advice
Last update on 25/07/2022

If you’re taking the plunge into the pool of employment in South Africa you’ll need to consider what employers will expect to see on your South African CV and job application. This guide provides some useful tips and tricks.

Finding work abroad can be a challenge and can involve feelings of nervousness and anxiety. Fear not: this guide offers some advice regarding the key elements from finding job vacancies in Cape Town and its surrounding areas, to being prepared for job interview questions in South Africa.

How strong is your CV?

Get a free, confidential review from a CV expert.

A guide to the South African CV

Looking for job vacancies in South Africa? Our South African CV guide will provide you with comprehensive information on how to structure your CV in South Africa. There’s also advice on job applications for South Africa and job interview questions for South African employment.

If you want to work in South Africa, then our guide on jobs in South Africa may be very useful. It’s also a good idea to ensure your South African CV, covering letter and interview skills suit the local job market.

While most CV styles and interview techniques are internationally recognized, it’s understandable that employers from different countries may emphasize different values. Therefore, adapting your CV for a South Africa job search will heighten your chances of finding a career here. You can also check your CV with TopCV who will help you on your way to finding that perfect job.

South African CV customs

Your South African CV is your best marketing tool to potential employers. You’ll want it to stand out for the right reasons, highlighting you as a suitable candidate for the interview stages. Especially as in South Africa you typically can’t enter the country to work without securing South African employment.

With employment in South Africa, it’s possible to apply for advertised positions, as well as speculatively applying to companies.

There are two types of CVs South African employers expect: a brief profile and a comprehensive CV. The former is a one-page CV, similar to a résumé, with a shortened and concise summary of the comprehensive CV.

Send a brief profile first. They provide prospective employers with your personal information, education, and previous employers in reverse chronological order. If you send this type of CV, you should also include a cover letter with it. You should follow up your application with a phone call to confirm receipt.

The comprehensive CV is usually sent at the second stage on request. It provides more in-depth information about your education, work experience, and skillset. It’s possible to send only the comprehensive CV; however, this should always have a cover letter with it and be followed up with a phone call.

Writing your South African CV

The key to successful South African CVs is ensuring all the important and relevant information is enclosed. Here’s some key points that should be included when writing your CV in South Africa:

  • Both the short and long version of your CV must include your personal information. This includes full name, address, contact telephone, and e-mail, date and place of birth, nationality, marital status, and sex.
  • A personal statement. On your comprehensive CV, it’s common to include a brief personal statement outlining career objectives/goals.
  • Education information. On the brief profile, simply list your education with the highest level and most recent first e.g. university, high school etc. including name of the institution, qualifications and subjects. For the comprehensive CV you should supply more detail highlighting specialist subjects and disciplines. You can also include extracurricular activities, awards, honors and courses.
  • Employment History – As above, the brief profile should simply give a list of previous employers in reverse chronological order – include company name, job title, dates of employment. The Comprehensive CV should list employment history in reverse chronological order or in a functional format that highlights particular skills. Be sure to include dates of employment, full company name, position held, responsibilities and achievements
  • Skills – bullet point any relevant skills you have gained through employment and education, including foreign languages (state your ability), computer literacy, and any training or development you have undertaken
  • Hobbies and Interests – only provide these if they are relevant to the role or demonstrate certain skills
  • References – South African employers do require references, which can feature on the comprehensive CV. However, they may take up valuable space; simply stating ‘available on request’ is also acceptable.

South Africa CV tips

  • To ensure your South African CV makes the right first impression here’s a few tips:
  • Do send a cover letter with your CV
  • Don’t include a photo
  • Do print on quality paper using black ink and a plain font
  • Do proofread your CV at least two times to check for spelling and grammar mistakes
  • Don’t use long sentences – keep points short, concise and bulleted
  • Do use action words and avoid adjectives
  • Do make sure it’s easy to read with clearly outlined sections
  • Don’t include current salary details
  • South Africans put great importance on post-school education, so do highlight higher education qualifications and relevant courses, awards or achievements
  • Do adapt each CV to each job application -highlighting specific skill sets

South Africa CV examples

A CV is an incredibly personal document and there is some flexibility to the layout and format you choose. However, if you need assistance with structuring your CV for careers in South Africa then you can find useful information and examples on these sites, as well as useful tips for writing a cover letter:

How to write a cover letter for a job application in South Africa

With a job search in South Africa, it’s fairly standard practice for South Africa job applications to be emailed, although you can post them as well. If you are emailing, you should use the email as your cover letter and attach your CV within the email as a word or PDF document.

The cover letter should follow a formal and business-style structure. A few things should appear in the cover letter, such as:

  • Your full name, address, nationality and contact details
  • Recipients full name, company name, address (if posting)
  • Date (if posting)
  • All cover letters should be personalised to the recipient using formal address –  ‘Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms/Miss X’
  • The body of the letter should be structured into three to four paragraphs and shouldn’t exceed more than one side of A4 paper explaining your suitability for the job, reason for applying and eagerness for an interview
  • Introduction – how you found out about the job in South Africa, why you’re applying
  • Also inform them you will follow up the application in a few days
  • Don’t include copies of diplomas or qualifications

Some South African employers will use application forms rather than cover letters, so be sure to adhere to this and send a copy of your CV with it.

Which language should I apply in?

South Africa is a country full of diversity with eleven official languages. The most common spoken languages are isiZulu (Zulu) and isiXhosa (Xhosa), followed by Afrikaans and English. In most urban areas, South Africans will speak English as their second language and it’s widely used in workplaces and business environments. However, naturally having a good understanding of Afrikaans or any of the other official languages will be a distinct advantage to foreign applicants. For the polyglots out there, learning a South African language is a great way to bolster your CV.

With English being the primary business language, most companies accept applications in English unless the job application specifies otherwise.

The job application process for employment in South Africa

The length of time for recruiting will vary depending on your circumstances and the company, but it’s common practice for applicants to follow up applications by phone and typically employers will notify you if you have been successful or not as quickly as possible.

South African job interviews

If an employer invites you for an interview, prepare yourself for the process beforehand. As always, preparation is key, as well as knowing South African business culture and customs and researching the company.

Job interviews in South Africa typically take place over the phone or in person, as well as online, which can be helpful as a foreign international looking to work in South Africa and if the company insist on a face-to-face interview in South Africa, then they should pay for your travel expenses.

Job interview questions in South Africa: Tips

  • Research the company to demonstrate knowledge and initiative and help prepare insightful and valuable questions during the interview
  • Find out the contact name for the person conducting the interview and always address interviewers by Mr, Miss, Ms or Mrs followed by their surname – unless invited to use first name terms
  • Dress in business attire and ensure you look well-presented
  • Be punctual
  • Take a copy of your Comprehensive CV, diploma certificates and other relevant qualifications and a pen and paper
  • Know the interview customs – greet your interviewer with a firm handshake, don’t put your hands in your pockets, make eye contact and avoid pointing or aggressive hand gestures
  • Prepare answers to standard interview questions with examples that demonstrate your skills.
  • Talk about your strengths and weaknesses
  • Have answers prepared if they ask why you left your previous employment
  • Prepare two to three questions to ask at the end of the interview, but avoid asking about salary and benefits
  • Prepare a brief 30-second self-selling pitch that makes you an ideal candidate for the position

Phone and online interviews

If you’re having a phone or online interview, you should still apply the same preparation to the process as above, but also consider:

  • The environment you choose for the interview – it should be quiet, look professional as well as well-lit if on camera
  • Practising phone / online interviews with friends to make you feel more comfortable talking over the phone or on camera
  • If it’s an online interview you can also prepare a prompt to look at the camera during the interview

You should always follow up your interview with a courteous thank you letter addressed personally to the interviewer.

Common job interview questions in South Africa

Most interviews follow a similar structure across the board, with employers asking open questions that allow them to assess your skills and suitability for the position. In South Africa, employers put great emphasis on post-education qualifications and work experience, so the questions are likely to be focused on these areas, but can also include:

  • Why are you applying to work in South Africa?
  • What do you like/know about the job?
  • What do you know about the company?
  • Which are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are your career goals/objectives for the future?
  • What makes you a good candidate for the job?
  • Can you name a time where you demonstrated initiative/problem solving skills/leadership?
  • What did you dislike about your previous role? Did you ever have any conflicts with management or colleagues? – This isn’t to dredge up negative aspects, but more to show how you overcame challenges in a working environment, so keep it positive and relevant.

Qualifications for your job application

As previously mentioned you won’t typically be asked to supply originals or copies of your qualifications with your job application for working in South Africa, however at the interview stage they may request to see them along with references.

As a foreign worker in South Africa, some employers may not understand the qualifications from your country, so it may be worth checking they are suitable and equivalent to the South Africa job prerequisites.

More information on verifying qualifications and which institutions are accredited can be found in English on the South Africa Qualifications Authority website.