This article summarises the highlights of a survey we recently conducted with candidates in South Africa around the subject of job applications in 2021: where are they applying for new roles, what time of the day, how often are they applying, are they tailoring their CV and including a cover letter?

There is no denying it: the pandemic changed the employment market in 2020, and the effects of the global health crisis will continue to be felt for many years across many sectors. With any increase in unemployment, there is a corresponding increase in applications to open roles. One question about this increase is where do job applicants put their efforts when applying to open roles in South Africa?

The most popular website for job applicants in the South Africa is LinkedIn, with 43% of candidates using the site to find and apply for open roles. The second most popular platform used for job search is recruitment consultancies, according to 31% of job applicants. This is followed by employer websites used by 28% of applicants. 20% use job boards and our survey shows that social media sites like Facebook are the least used platforms to search and apply for jobs.

With recruitment consultancies key for 31% of job applicants who look for jobs every day, there are benefits for employers in South Africa using a specialist not only to hire top talent, but also to benefit from employment market insights and learn which skills are in high demand in any sector.

This information is important for hiring managers, as it can give an indication of where they should focus their efforts in terms of job ads promotion, and when thinking of using a recruitment partner. If you are a hiring manager, download our 2021 South Africa Market Overview and Hiring Insights to learn about the post pandemic job market.

When do candidates think it is too late to apply to an open role?

Other key statistics our recent survey found relate to the frequency people apply for jobs and when they consider it too late for a role. In general, 43% of applicants use LinkedIn everyday, 29% several times a week, and 8% once a week. 31% apply for roles via recruitment firms everyday, 31% several times a week and 9% once a week. This statistic tallies with job applicants checking when the job ad was posted - 9% of applicants in South Africa said they felt it was too late to apply for a job after it had been live for 2-3 days, compared with 18% who felt it was too late to apply when the job was live for 5-10 days.

However, with 25% saying they would still apply for a role even if it was live for over 10 days, it seems as though the quality of a position will prompt a dedicated job seeker to send their CV in. These figures suggest that candidates want to apply for roles even if not recently posted, suggesting they think they will be more likely to have their application viewed by a hiring manager.

And in terms of time of day for applications, it seems as though candidates in South Africa follow the saying “the early bird gets the worm”, with 40% applying in the morning. Although not all of our job applicants think like this - 38% apply at any time of day, and only 6% use their lunchtimes to find new roles.

What approach do job applicants take: apply to all open roles, or only ones that match their profile?

When applying for open roles, candidates in South Africa generally look for positions that match their skills and experience, with 74% following this path, and only 5% applying for all roles.

Further statistics from the survey suggest that candidates today know about keywords on CVs and in cover letters, with 12% adapting their CVs for each role they apply to, 22% alter their CV most of the times and 31% only sometimes. Their knowledge of keywords and of applicant tracking systems (ATS) means that job seekers today are very aware of the why behind adapting a CV for a specific role. Read more about the importance of keywords in CV and cover letter.

But why specifically do job applicants take the effort of tailoring their CV according to the role? 52% explaining that they know it adds value to an application, 35% adapt their CV because the role is a perfect fit, 33% of job applicants adapt their CV to meet a specific job description and 28% said they do this to increase the response rate from the potential employer, meaning they want the opportunity to interview, and know a role specific CV is the gateway to this.

To send a cover letter or not send a cover letter, that is the question

Job applicants in South Africa are very aware of the importance of cover letters when sending in an application – or at least 24% of them are, as they include one with every CV sent. 13% include a cover letter specific to the role, and 20% include one sometimes and specific. However, a surprising 39% only send a cover letter when it is mandatory. Which prompts the question – why do candidates include a cover letter?

50% said it is to prove their relevance for the role, 48% to communicate their experience in an engaging way, 45% explain it is to demonstrate their motivation, and 22% to demonstrate their understanding of the role. With only 16% saying they include a cover letter only because it is mandatory, are cover letters declining in importance?

Cover letters can help an application pass through specific points of a job application process by helping the candidate detail their history in an engaging way, and by meeting search terms from the potential employer.

If you want advice on writing job descriptions, asking for cover letters or any part of the hiring process, Michael Page’s South Africa team of expert recruitment consultants are waiting to help you. Simply get in touch via this form, or contact our Johannesburg office.

154 job applicants based in South Africa participated in this survey.

Get in touch

If you are an employer and would like to talk to us about your current recruitment needs, fill in the form below and one of our consultants will call you back.

If you're a candidate, please submit your CV here. CVs submitted on this form will not be actioned.

Access our South Africa employment market insights

Access our free Webinar & Events