Little is known about job matching in labour markets with mass unemployment. Using a unique data set of labour market experiences of young African job participants in South Africa, our findings show that accessing jobs through various employment channels is non-random. Specifically, different individual, household, job and firm characteristics are correlated with the probability of accessing the first job via a particular channel, indicating that firms and/or job seekers select themselves into the use of these channels in their recruitment and job search strategies. Further research using panel data and/or matched employer–employee data is needed to unpack these associations. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.