How to write a CV for the South African job market?

how to write a cv in south africa
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How to write a CV in South Africa in 2020? This is a very common question, and understandably so, considering where we live. In South Africa! It is also actually quite a good question, the reason being that different counties have different cultures and expectations for resume presentation. And South Africa is no different. Knowing what South African recruiters and hiring managers expect can greatly improve your chances of submitting a CV that gets noticed.

The idea of this article is to keep the process of designing a CV in South Africa as simple as possible. We will take a look at what to include in your South African CV, discuss a few dos and don’ts, and answer a common question I often receive about what language to design your CV in.

How to write a CV in South Africa in 2020?

I personally feel that there is a lot of wrong information available about how to write your CV. Especially for South Africans. So what information should you actually include in your CV? I recommend you use the following sections when building your CV.

  • 1) Personal Information
  • 2) Employment History
  • 3) Education
  • 4) References
Optional sections
  • 5) Objective Statement
  • 6) Skills relevant to the job vacancy

I would honestly not recommend that you add much more than these basics. If you want to write a CV for a job with no experience in South Africa, then you could possibly also add hobbies or interests that are relevant to the position. But always remember that you want to keep your CV within the recommended 2-page limit.

The essentials of a well-constructed CV in South Africa

Your CV is going to start with your name at the top of the page and your contact details directly below this. You should give at least one phone number and email address as your contact details and please make sure that you are reachable on these. One missed phone call or E-mail could be a missed opportunity. After your name and contact details you will get into your “CV sections.”

1) Personal Information: Everyone seems to have their own opinion about what personal information to share with a prospective employer. I suggest that you only give your gender, date of birth (Not your ID number), Nationality, and availability in this section.

Many people disagree with me on the limited personal information I recommend giving, however, because of the prevalence of Job Scams in South Africa I always err on the side of caution. Obviously, if there are other personal details that are required by the employer, these may have been listed in the job description. Then you should list these as well.

2) Employment History: Remember to always list your work experience from most recent moving backward in chronological order. If you start to run out of space it is acceptable to remove older jobs that are not related to the vacancy which you are applying for.

When I am helping someone with a CV revamp, one of my biggest challenges is often trying to fit everything into just two pages. I will quite often not list any duties/responsibilities for past jobs that do not have an impact on the vacancy being applied for. This method has the benefit of shortening the CV while still creating a nice timeline of experience.

I also recommend that you give more information about your job description for your most recent position than others on the list. Assuming your most recent position is most relevant to the position you are applying for.

3) Education: Just give a brief description of the qualifications that you have attained relating to the position you are applying for. Keep this section simple, you just want to assure the reader that you are indeed qualified for the role. No need to start listing your Matric results.

4) References: This is a very important section when designing a CV in South Africa. I suggest you list two references, preferably from your past two positions held. You need to let these individuals know that you would like to use them as a reference and ensure that the contact details you have are correct.

Yes, even if you have written references, please list your references on your CV.

5) Objective Statement: If you do decide to include an objective statement it should come directly after your personal details. An objective statement is a brief 3-4 line statement that outlines your career goals and ambitions.

I list this as an optional extra on your CV, simply because South Africa hiring managers and recruiters are not going to miss it if it is not on your CV. But, it could give you an advantage over the other candidates if you do write it.

6) Skills relevant to the job: This depends on the position. If the vacancy requires you to be able to work with particular software for example, then you can use this section to confirm your ability to do so.

These are the basics to remember when asking how to write a CV in South Africa. But there are some other questions which we might also want to discuss.

Should I include a photo on my CV?

This is really up to you. It’s a personal preference and if you are not comfortable putting your photo on your CV then leave it off. Of course, there are many vacancies in South Africa where the job advert will mention that applicants must please submit a head and shoulders photo of themselves. This is especially common in the Hospitality industry.

In my personal opinion, I like the idea of adding a professional photo to my CV. I believe that it creates a human connection between the reader and the “piece of paper” called my CV. But I am interested to hear what you all say, let me know in the comments below if you will include a photo on your CV?

In what language should I write my CV in South Africa?

As you all know we have 11 official languages in South Africa. It makes our country very special, but unfortunately can also cause confusion when trying to decide what language to write your CV in. The language most commonly used for CVs is English. I imagine that this is because English is commonly spoken in the corporate world in South Africa.

That being said you are not limited to English at all. I think that a good rule of thumb is to follow what was written in the job advert. If the advert was placed in Zulu then submit a Zulu CV. However, if you are trying to prepare a general CV that can be sent to multiple companies and recruiters then English is probably going to be your best bet.

Some extra Dos and Don’ts

Below are a few simple Dos and Don’ts that you should try to keep in mind when preparing your CV. These are not specific to South African CVs but are common mistakes people make or forget.

  • Do send a cover letter with your CV
  • Do make sure your CV is free of grammar and spelling mistakes
  • Do make you CV very easy to skim read
  • Do make sure your CV’s sections are clearly labeled
  • Do keep you CV up to date
  • Do customize your CV to each and every vacancy
  • DO NOT lie on your CV
  • DO NOT write long sentences/paragraphs. Keep it short and in bullet format if possible


Remember that your South African CV is simply a marketing tool to market yourself. You’ll want it to stand out for the right reasons, and if it does its job hopefully you will be preparing for an interview very soon.

Please remember to check out my free South African CV Templates which you can download and use as you like.

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The information contained on this website is simply aimed at providing readers with guidance on labour law in South Africa. This information has not been provided to meet the individual requirements of a specific individual. Bizcraft will always suggest that legal advice be obtained to address a person’s unique circumstances. It is important to remember that the law is constantly changing and although Bizcraft strives to keep the information up to date and of high quality, it cannot be guaranteed that the information will be updated and/or be without errors or omissions. As a result, Bizcraft will under no circumstances accept liability or be held liable, for any innocent or negligent actions or omissions which may result in any harm or liability flowing from the use of or the inability to use the information provided.

1 Comment

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    November 25, 2020

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