3 months ago

Here’s How To Make Your Job Application Actually Stand Out

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You’ve seen it. It’s the dream job. You’ve got the qualifications and you know you could do it. But you also know about 200 other people will also be applying, and you want whoever (or whatever) is sifting through applications to pick yours. How?

We’ve all heard that you need to stand out, and we’ve all seen the completely extra (and frankly unadvisable) stories about the guys who hired billboards, stuck their CV to guitars, or stitched their CVs onto fabric. But, we’re here to tell you that you don’t need to do that. There are plenty of other ways to stand out.

As a person who’s done hiring myself (and also spoken to lots of other people who’ve done hiring), it’s unfathomable how many basic mistakes you see in applications, even though people never believe me.

I try to be a bit more generous, but it’s easy to see why busy recruiters simply cut out more than half of applications by eliminating those with spelling mistakes..

Once you’ve got rid of those people, even then, 99 per cent won’t go the one per cent extra to really stand out. So essentially, some sick proofreading and a few extra touches and you’ve given yourself an immeasurably better chance. What are those extra touches? Here are just a few ideas.

Show Your Skills And Results

One of the easiest things you can do to make yourself stand out is to switch your mindset from just telling people skills. I’ve come to call it ‘show not tell’, and basically use to it mean giving a bit more granular detail on what you’ve done. I don’t just want to know what your role entails, I want to know how you do it, and the results you’re getting and some links to the actual stuff thrown in for good measure. It basically shows me another layer of thought – you’re not just showing up, doing your time and going home.

See It In Action – Slide To See The Difference

We all know the benefits of keeping it concise (if you’d like to scare yourself, research shows some recruiters only look at your CV for a total of six seconds 😱), but that doesn’t mean you should skimp on the detail. Yes, you probably do want to keep your cover letter and CV to a page each, but it’s much better to have just a few more detailed examples, which really relate to the role. The application is just about getting you through the door – you can talk about the rest later.

If you’re talking about your portfolio, make sure to pull out examples of your favourite pieces and hyperlink them. Talk about how you had to work for the story – maybe it involved sensitive interviews, perhaps you had to do some FOIs, or you delved into the archives somewhere. Also, think about the impact – did the story cause a change, or did you manage to grow engagement on a social channel? And remember, no change is too small, percentages are your best friends.

Think Like A Robot

We joked about it earlier, but we weren’t really joking. Robots aren’t just coming for our jobs, they’re deciding who gets the job in the first place. It makes sense really – if there are more than a hundred applicants for just one job, it’s going to take up a lot of someone’s time to sift through it all and give it a fair look.

The robots are our friends. Yes, they are. (Image Credit: Andy Kelly / Unsplash)

Even if it’s not an actual robot taking a gander at your CV, it’s pretty likely the editor isn’t going to be the one doing all the grafting. It’s much more likely someone junior is going to be going through and referencing the job description. So, you need to be making it easy for them.

So where’s this dream job coming from? This article was kindly sponsored by Cision Jobs, the leading journalism jobs site in the UK. They’ll sort you out.

Think of it a bit like SEO for your cover letter and CV. What are the keywords they’re using in the job description? What things do they want this person to be doing day to day? The ones at the top are probably the most important, so make sure you address these first.

Don’t be afraid of a little bit of ‘buzzword bingo’. As long as you’re using words and themes they have highlighted themselves, and couple them with tangible examples, there is no such thing as being too blatant. The same rule applies for linking it back to the job, which can honestly be as easy as saying ‘which are skills I’d love to bring to X’. Make it easy for whoever is reading it to tick off a load of boxes. Ticks are great.

We’re Personalising Everything, Yes?

It’s been pretty implicit in everything we’ve said here so far, but just to follow our own advice and be obvious – if you’re applying for a job, you should be personalising everything. Yes, that includes your CV as well as your cover letter. The example below is two of my CVs from a couple of years ago – it was exactly the same time in my careers, but different jobs I was gunning for.

You don’t have to read them to see they’re very different, even in the structure – one has a more discursive chatty block of text to explain why I’d fit in, while the other goes for a more granular method of breaking down the blocks they mentioned in their job description. It’s worth saying that there’s absolutely no need to mess around with custom designs like this (our resident CV guru Jack Dearlove has only ever used a black and white word document), I’m just a sucker for InDesign.

The point here is more about the level of thinking you should be putting into each CV. Craft every bullet point, rethink what should be at the top, decide what title you’re going to call yourself (are you a writer, journalist or producer?), and match the tone of the publication with what you write.

Make Your Opening Stand Out

How many cover letters do you think start with some variant of ‘I’m applying for the position of X’? Sure, it’s expected and it fits the template, but just sometimes there’s more that can be done. Here’s just one example of starting your cover letter slightly differently.

This can’t always be done, but if you’ve got a genuine connection with the outlet, or there’s an anecdote which explains why you’re applying it’s a sure fire way to catch someone’s attention by being different.

Two caveats here – don’t force it. If there’s no natural in, it’s not worth crowbarring something that doesn’t work, it will be painfully obvious. Secondly, keep it brief. It should be a brief interesting tidbit to draw people in, before you hit them in the face with your wonderful skills and experience, not a lengthy saga.

Don’t Make It All About You

Okay, sounds counterintuitive. Hold with it. We all know the real reason why we apply for jobs – it looks really cool and we’d like to work there, or perhaps it would be good for us in our career trajectory. The thing is, that’s not what a hiring manager wants to hear.

See It In Action – Slide To See The Difference

The reason people take on other people is to make their lives easier, and this is the thing about yourself you need to sell. Even if this is the dream job which made you fall out of your seat when you saw it, take a deep breath and bottle that enthusiasm into wonderful skills about how your skills are perfect for the job.

An Added Bit Of Sparkle ✨

Once you’ve got the basics in order, there are, of course, other ways of really going for it. If you’re going for a video job, there’s every reason to send them a showreel. If you’re going for a radio gig, a bulletin in the style of their station is unlikely to go down badly. Typical news outlet? Why not work in a couple of ideas you would like to write for them?

Whatever you’re doing though, make sure it’s relevant to the job you’re applying for, and that you don’t put it together at the expense of your CV and cover letter. As with anything, less is more. Pick the jobs you really want to go for, apply for them well, and in the way they’ve told you to apply. Unlike for Katniss, the odds could actually be in your favour.

This article was kindly supported and funded by our official jobs partner, Cision Jobs. Want to see pages and page of journalism and PR jobs? They’ve got you covered ⬇️⬇️⬇️

Featured Image: Rodion Kutsaev / Unsplash