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Preparing for the big job hunt

A lecture series organised by the French community in Phnom Penh is helping Cambodian students learn the skills they will need to woo future employers

Photo by:

Anne-Laure Poree

Sok Kuong holds a lecture at the Royal University of Phnom Penh on the finer points of job hunting.

Sok Kuong's most common questions
1. Should I apply for a job where one or two years’ experience are required even if I do not have any experience?

If the candidate thinks that he has the capacity to do the job, he should apply. Maybe he will get lucky. Maybe the company will be interested in hiring someone who has got motivation and who will be happier with a lower salary than an experienced person. And it is better to work and to get this experience than to stay at home.
2. Should I add a photograph to my CV?

You don’t have to but it is better to let the prospective employer know your face.

3. Should I send documents like work and university certificates or recommendation letters with my CV and cover letter?

No. The candidate can bring these documents to the interview if he is selected for it.

Usually the job announcements specify if documents are requested.
The candidate has to read it very carefully.

4. How should I negotiate my salary during the interview, and how much should I ask for?

You have the right to ask how much the salary is, but the amount you should ask for depends on the job you are applying for. If you are just an employee, don’t ask for the salary of a manager. An NGO has made an inventory of the salary to live in Phnom Penh and established it at $150 a month. If all workers were paid at this level, the factories would have to close their doors; but if you have a university degree, the salary should be more than $150.
5. Can research conducted during a PhD be considered as job experience?

No, unless you did an internship or a training course in a company. Otherwise your PhD is counted as part of your studies.

In a lecture hall at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, more than 70 sociology, history and psychology students take up pen and paper. They are here to listen to job-hunting advice from Sok Kuong, a manager from the Departement de l'emploi Francophone (DEF), an organisation established to help Cambodian students enter the job market.

Among other things, Sok Kuong will take them through the basics of writing an effective CV and cover letter and preparing for a job interview during the course of the lecture.

Denis Gambade, director of the French-Cambodian Chamber of Commerce (FCCC), said the department  was set up in response to concerns from employers that job candidates tended to be inadequately prepared. "This year, more than 2,500 students should have attended the lectures," he said.

The FCCC is joined on the organising committee by the Association of Francophone Universities and the International Organisation of the Francophonie.

Almost half of the students in the URPP lecture hall have already written a CV, and one-third have managed to secure a part-time job. But according to Sok Kuong, most need help to polish their job-hunting skills. His first message to the students is straight to the point. "Your CV is your ambassador," he said, adding that employers judge in around 40 seconds whether an applicant is a potential candidate for a job based on his or her CV.

As such, he advises them to take great care preparing the document, and to try and keep the information on a single page. He lists a series of irrelevant details that all too commonly crop up, such as weight, height and hair colour. "You also do not need to include your religion," he added. The one thing that is essential, he said, is an email address.

One of the common problems faced by students is knowing how to adequately describe their skills and how they match the job they are applying for. "Saying you are an IT specialist is not enough," Sok Kuong said. "You have to be accurate. A specialist in what? Database management? Software?"

Job seekers tend to do better at the relatively more straightforward sections, such as listing work experience and education background. Sok Kuong impresses on the students the importance of including all the basic information on their one-page CV: dates of employment, companies worked for, positions held, responsibilities and achievements. They must also ensure they put the most recent experiences first.

Laugh and learn

During the lecture, students are shown real examples of bad CVs. Some are illogical, some are unreadable. The students laugh.

Sok Kuong said humour is an efficient educative technique, helping the students avoid making the mistakes of others.

In the second part of the lecture, Sok Kuong gives the students a paragraph-by-paragraph guide to writing a cover letter. The first paragraph should detail the position the applicant is interested in, where the job listing was found and, if possible, the name of a mutual contact.

The second paragraph should detail what the applicant can offer the employer, but without parroting the resume, and the final paragraph should thank the employer for considering the application. It should also tell the employer how and when the applicant will make a follow-up call or visit.

Kanhchana, a 22-year-old philosophy student, said this part of the lecture was the most useful for her and she was confident she could put what she had learned to good use.

The third part of the lecture focused on the job interview itself and the importance of preparation. The applicant should thoroughly research the company and its activities, Sok Kuong explains, and come up with a list of questions to ask the employer during the interview. They should also try to anticipate at this stage the kind of questions the prospective employer is likely to ask them during the interview.

He also details the do's and don'ts of the interview itself - punctuality, dress, the handshake and even how to sit in front of the prospective employer.

The lecture hall explodes into laughter when he imitates candidate stereotypes: the shy candidate who bows down like a slave, the candidate lacking enthusiasm, the young woman who doesn't dare to shake hands.

After the lecture, students ask questions. "What is the problem with a two-page CV?" asks Ply, a 24-year-old English and philosophy student who will graduate next year. He said later that Sok Kuong's answer has persuaded him to amend his resume.

Ply said he will begin looking for a job, and a monthly salary, next year, but is worried about his lack of experience. "If two candidates apply for the same job and one has a lot of experience but no degree and the other one has many degrees but no experience, which one will the company hire?" he asked.

As Sok Kuong packs away his computer at the end of the lecture, a group of students surround him to ask what they dared not ask in front of the others. For some these are questions of salary, for others these are personal questions about the life choices they will soon have to make.

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