Career My South Africa

How I found my first job

(You can also watch the video here.)

What do you do when there are no real expectations for your life?

I was the first one in my immediate family to see my name published in the paper. I got two distinctions and my matric exemption meant that I could apply for tertiary study. I was even provisionally accepted for a BA Degree at Wits.

Except there was no money.

It was 1997. No one told me about bursaries. My parents honestly didn’t know what would happen once I finished matric. We never spoke about it. I had no clue what I would do next. Secretly heartbroken, I spend the first two weeks after my anti-climatic matric pass doing chores at home and watching tv. One day, when I’d walked to the shopping centre in Lenasia South, which was about 3km away from my house, I saw the office for Southern Globe, our local community newspaper.

I thought:”maybe they need help writing articles.” The only think I knew that I could do, was write. I got A’s for English and History in high school and I read a lot. When I rang the bell, I didn’t really know what to expect.

The editor was there and I was able to speak to her. “We’re looking for a journalist,” she said. “I’ll talk to my husband. Leave your phone number and we’ll get back to you.” Two days later, I got a call and was asked to come in for an interview.

I went in with jeans and a tie dyed t-shirt (I didn’t know better). The editor’s husband asked me to write an article after we chatted and asked me to wait while he read it. He offered me a job and told me what the salary would be, after the UIF was deducted.

There was no one to help me prepare for my first job. I went into work on the first day, met the rest of the team and started learning about the newspaper business. I had a stutter in high school and was far from being confident.

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My first salary, at age 17, was R1 450. After giving some money to my parents, I could, for the first time, buy my own clothes, instead of the hand me downs we got from family. Within a few months, I was compiling all the editorial and working on the layout with the designer who could only work at night, as he had a full time job.

There is more to share on my career journey but for those looking for their first job, here is my advice:

  1. Think about something that you’re good at: For me, it was writing. Even though I was a typical insecure teenager, I had evidence from my good grades in English that I had a skill that I could potentially apply within a work content. Maybe you can cook well, or you are great with numbers. Think about the thing that people always complement you about.
  2. Find a place where you can practice your skill: When I rang the the bell at the newspaper office that day, I didn’t know that the editor was looking for a journalist. I had to actually work hard and prove that I could do the job but I probably would’ve volunteered there for a few months anyway, just to get experience. We lived an hour away from Joburb central. Lenasia South was (still is) a remote, sleepy suburb in the middle of nowhere. There is someone in your community that holds the key to your next step.
  3. Keep doing what you’re good at until you get paid for what you do: This first year at work helped me to see what I was able to do and gave me the confidence to keep applying myself in this field. Even though my next two jobs didn’t involve writing, eventually I was able to get a communications job at a national organisation because starting with what I could do helped me to grow and expand my skills over the years. Stay in your strength zone as much as possible – one day, you will be able to apply your unique skills in the right environment.

What are your challenges with finding your first job? How can you apply these three steps in your own life? Leave a comment or question below.

If you’re just starting out in your career, check out our Whole Person Academy Youtube channel, where we post videos of free webinars and other career development content. You can also follow our Whole Person Academy LinkedIn page for info on upcoming webinars and special offers on one on one career coaching.

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