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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist

Reference letters can increase job seeker prospects by over 50% – study

A study has revealed that most job seekers do not have contactable references listed on their CVs, and less than 5% include a reference letter with their applications.

With President Cyril Ramaphosa having conceded in the State of the Nation address that a substantial number of youth struggled to find employment, a new study has found that job seekers with previous work experience who used reference letters in their applications increased their prospects by more than 50%.

According to Statistics SA’s 2019 figures for the first quarter, youth aged 15 to 24 were the most vulnerable in the country’s labour market, as the unemployment rate among that age group stood at 55.2%.

The study, conducted in collaboration with the department of labour by professors Martin Abel of Middlebury College, Rulof Burger of Stellenbosch University and Patrizio Piraino from the University of Cape Town, surveyed unemployed youth aged between 18 and 34 at labour centres in Gauteng and Limpopo.

About 70% of the participants had a secondary school qualification, with limited work experience in short-term, low-skill jobs.

“A common challenge for job seekers is that a curriculum vitae reflecting limited credentials can leave hiring firms with very little information with which to assess job applicants,” said the researchers.

Focus group discussions indicated that while many hiring managers noted the benefit of references from previous employers, most job seekers did not have contactable references listed on their CVs and less than 5% included a reference letter with their applications.

“South African employers often rely on informal referrals to fill vacancies. This can lead to the exclusion of groups who benefit less from referrals, such as women,” added the researchers.

Standardised reference letters gave previous employers the opportunity to list their contact details and indicated how well they knew the candidate – giving them the opportunity to rate employees.

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