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How to land your first PA job

By TerenceStoker, 1 January, 1970

Having studied along the lines of human resources and legal courses, you may be wondering where a good place would be to start gaining some work experience. Starting out as a Personal Assistant is an easy way to get your foot in the door and gain experience in all the areas of your chosen industry.

Apply application etiquette

Apply like there’s no tomorrow and don’t assume you’re going to get the first position you applied for. PA positions are almost always available but that doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to get one. Yes, they’re available but they are also sought after by recent graduates and experienced workers looking for a salary upgrade or industry change. Take a look on one of the many online job listing portals of South Africa and get applying.

Don’t worry about applying to multiple job advertisements. At the end of the day, after all the application processes and interviews, you decide out of all the options where you want to be. You shouldn’t feel obligated to accept the first offer that comes through simply because they asked first. Just like no company would feel obligated to accept your application because it happened to be the first response to the position.  

There is a 50/50 chance you will be applying for jobs that just want to see your CV and applying for companies that are looking for candidates to verify their qualifications by completing a task along with their application or writing a comprehensive cover letter.

Irrespective of which type of requirements your application requires, always have a standard cover letter to cover your bases. If you’re not sure, add a cover letter message to introduce yourself, where you’re currently at education-wise, where you want to be going career-wise, what type of experience you are looking for, how you think that company will help you get there and why you’ll fit right in.

Where to find CV-worthy content

It’s all good and well to apply wherever possible, but you kind of need to have something to back your name and lying is not an option. Qualifications are essential for any serious job position and there are various quick and free online certifications you can do as well to decorate that section of your CV.

Unfortunately, businesses these days are more interested in experience, where they can save time and money on extensive training and find someone who can be put to work from day one. You may be thinking “Where am I supposed to find experience if I’m fresh out of varsity?” and you’re right, it is a little ridiculous that you need a job to gain experience but you also need experience to get a job.

There are some things you can do in the meantime that can help you out in this regard. You’ve finished your studies and are just sitting around the house, twiddling your thumbs, while you wait for new job positions to open up. Take that time and focus that energy on job shadowing or volunteering, two things you could have been doing during your student holidays. You could even find an internship position for a few months. Any experience in an office environment, or understanding of basic administration tasks, is valuable on a CV and encourages employers to reconsider your application.

An added bonus would be to ask for recommendation letters and contacts for references from these volunteering, job shadowing or intern positions. It comes across as more professional and acts as accreditation for your experience.

Ask questions, this isn’t an interrogation

Your application has been approved and you’ve been asked to come in for an interview. Make sure you know everything there is to know about the company and who you would be working for, you should know if you’re hoping to be their PA, along with organising everything else in preparation for an interview.

Have your list of questions ready. You’re not being interrogated, you’re being interviewed, which means two-way communication and equal opportunity. The company wants to get to know you and you want to get to know the company, simple as that. Arriving at an interview with your questions ready shows that you’ve taken initiative in preparing and researching the position. It also shows that you are indeed organised, a key quality for any PA.

Don’t take it personally

It’s not you, it’s the system and every interview is a credible experience to take into the next one. The world of job hunting is competitive and the next candidate is as hungry for opportunity as you are. Eventually, you will find the right company, industry and PA position that will give you the necessary experience and insight you’ll need to one day get to the top.

Remember, smile and say thank you regardless of the outcome.

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