As you might have seen in the Newsletter or on our Facebook page, ACIPP West Africa’s CV and cover letter writing trainings in Freetown have resumed a couple of weeks ago. We started the CV and Cover letter training programme in partnership with educational institutions to facilitate the integration of graduates into the job market. We found that the lack of skills and knowledge in crafting comprehensive, professional looking CV’s and Cover letters to be a major stepping stone for otherwise excellently qualified graduates. Simon Tsike-Sossah, ACIPP West Africa’s executive director, started these workshops in partnership with the Government Technical Institute in Kissy in November 2012. The workshops were met with a lot of interest, with over 250 Students attending the first workshop. The principals of the schools and Colleges we work with are acutely aware of their students’ lack of skills and knowledge in these areas, and they have all been very supportive of our idea and asked for more trainings after we trained the first group of students in their institution.

I usually start the trainings by introducing the idea of a CV or cover letter to the students, many of whom heard about them before, but never actually saw one. After stating the purpose, I draw the structure of a CV or a cover letter on the board and talk about the individual sections, to make sure that all the necessary information will be in the CV’s and cover letters. After this, the trainings usually get more lively, the students will have questions, and the presentation becomes more of a discussion. This is usually also the moment I start talking about the most delicate topic of the presentation – what personal information about yourself not to include. People in West Africa often mention their religion, marital status, their tribe and region – all things that one would not see in western-style CV’s. My main argument to not to include them is that including this information perpetuates longstanding problems like tribalism, religious factionalism and favouritism. At this point, there will usually be an interesting conversation between some of the students, the tecahers and me, because obviously, including this information can sometimes help you to get a job in Sierra Leone! And ultimately, what these young kids care about in a country with 70% youth unemplyoment is to get a job, which I can understand very well. So I usually try and strike a balance, and also tell them to mention these personal things rather in the cover letter than in the CV.

If possible, I try to have the cover letter training for one group 1-2 weeks after the CV training, so the students will have time to write up their CV’s and show them to me for feedback after the cover letter workshop. This is not only good for the students, but also for the trainers, since it gives us an idea of what has come through to the students and which issues need to be addressed more in depth in a next session. After a few weeks of experience in giving these trainings, I can say that the workshops are usually very well received both by students and the school staff, and that they address a real gap in knowledge in the general population. In the future, we plan on expanding these trainings from covering only application materials to more topics, like public speaking skills and other blocks for personal development that will help graduates’ entrance in the job market. Often, more than one teacher sits in on the training, and they and the students often come up to me afterward to thank me for the presentation. This, and seeing someone write a good CV after a training, is what makes these trainings personally very rewarding!