Safety Skills for Youth Job-Seekers

The rape and death of a Cape Town woman at a fake job interview recently put into focus the risks of meeting with perfect strangers when appying for a job. While this type of occurence is more exception than norm, “the few bad guys can spoil it for everyone,” Tania Bownes of nonprofit employment agency, DreamWorker, in Cape Town rightly points out. While this should not deter people from putting themselves out there, it does signal the need for information to empower job-seekers to take charge of their safety on the job hunt.

Karin Chisholm, CEO of Cape Town-based Career Planet – a not-for-profit organisation that links young people with educational and employment resources and opportunities, says that: “We care about the safety of job-seekers and believe it’s important to provide as much information as possible to help candidates avoid dangerous situations. Job-hunting can be stressful but it should never be scary.”

Chief director within the Department of Labour in the Western Cape,Teboho Thejane, notes that while “the career books have seemingly not yet prepared for these types of crime now raising their head,” there are various pointers people can use to keep safe when following up a job advertisement.

  1. Thejane says you should always be able to trace the process leading up to the actual interview: “There must be transparency and visibility along the way.  Bogus companies and criminals will never allow a trace to be left.” For recruitment specialist and owner of Vega Recruitment, Liz Cowell ,in Cape Town, this means doing your homework, like checking out the website and credentials of the hiring company. Is there a logo? Does the location seem appropriate for the kind of business?  Is the building well maintained and does it have proper signage? 
  1. Not all companies or businesses will have websites. In this case, find out if they have a legitimate telephone number and address, and try speak to them verbally first. “Try to find an excuse to call or have them call you as this will add another dimension to the impression one has of the business and individuals involved.  If necessary, ask for a phone number in case you get lost getting there, and then use the number to confirm the appointment before leaving,” advises Cowell.
  2. You should also check out the venue out beforehand, suggests Thejane. “Is it Isolated or remote? What is the human traffic like in and out of the building?  What is the general appearance of the individuals who make use of the building?  What is the gender mix?  Are there other signs of occupation/activity like cars parked outside? Is there security in place, like cameras and guards – these are all things you need to think about before stepping into the interview.”
  3. Never meet at the interviewer’s home – even if they do not have secured or formal business premises. Rather meet in neutral public spaces.
  4. Always tell someone where and when you are going for an interview, including the time you expect to be finished. Take a charged cell phone with you in case of an emergency but keep your valuables to a minimum, advises Bownes. “We heard of a person having their belongings stolen at an interview recently. Yes, take a cell phone and some basic money but as few personal belongings as possible. And keep your belongings on you at all times.”
  5. Take someone with you if you feel worried. They obviously cannot sit through the interview with you, but can wait in a nearby coffee shop or downstairs lobby.
  6. If you’re going alone, think about taking some pepper spray with you, but remember you need to be able use it correctly so would-be attackers cannot use it against you, cautions Bownes.
  7. Always ask to schedule your interview during the day. “If the interviewer or employer thinks that the candidate is worthwhile and really wants to see the candidate, they will shift their diary accordingly,” says Cowell.
  8. If the interviewer asks to continue the interview over dinner, politely refuse. Also be cautious of accepting drinks if you are not 100% comfortable and confident with the set-up, cautions Cowell.
  9. You should also refuse any offers for a lift from the interviewer. Says Bownes: “This could be a trap. I think the only exception would be domestic workers being met by a female future employer. It may appear silly at the time but it could mean you miss the job yet save your life!”
  10. Don’t give away all your personal information, especially your financial details. There is no need for a potential employer to have these details before you get the job.
  11. Trust your gut! “Your first impression is usually the right one so if there is a red flag anywhere in your mind, examine the reason for this and don't go unless you are convinced all is okay,” says Cowell.

It may seem like common sense, but with the stress and demands of finding employment, especially to youth new to the game, these tips may go a long way.


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