October 8, 2018 (Updated )
When it comes to hiring people, three things will always be true. Firstly, you will get an absolute bucket load of applications. Actually, scrap that, at least five buckets. There are a lot of people wanting to break into the media ya’know? But, more importantly, 90 per cent of these applications simply won’t be good enough. And, crucially, it’s not hard to be part of the ten per cent that are.
Throughout the various jobs I’ve had, I’ve been lucky enough to be part of a range of hiring processes. Sometimes they resulted in offering a job to people who became an integral part of the organisation, but a lot of times things ended with a big paper pile of disappointment and a need to go back to the drawing board.
The most frustrating part is that it isn’t hard to stop this from happening. A few simple tweaks, and going the extra one per cent (which really isn’t a lot when you think about it) means you’ll stand out, make hirer’s lives a hell of a lot easier. Oh, and get to interview, of course.
Make That Application Unique. Please. Just. Do. It.
Chances are the task of shortlisting CVs has been given to an unfortunate (and likely overworked) human, which means they’re going to be pretty ruthless when it comes to cutting down that pile. If the task has been given to a computer programme looking for keywords (which is something that’s becoming more and more likely), you’re not even going to get through to a human at all.
Either way, it’ll be really obvious you’ve literally just attached YourNameCV.pdf, with hardly any thought as to the outcome. Copy the job description into your word processor, identify the key things the hirer is looking for and include a heavy sprinkling of key words and examples. I promise you it’s not rocket science, but shortlisters do want to see that you’ve thought about the job and how you fit it.
Send it how they want it: You might think you’re taking intiative if you’re DMing the editor when they asked it to be emailed, but you’re probably just blacklisting yourself. If we’ve asked for a CV in a certain way, we’ve asked for a reason, and anything else is a massive faff.
The CV and cover letter stage of hiring is really just about finding some people to meet in real life, it’s not going to get you the job on its own. Giver the hirer a reason to at least think about meeting you face to face. And make sure you name the file YourNameThatJob.pdf. It’s the little things.
Your First Sentence Really Matters
If your CV is lucky enough to reach the desk of a real (coffee-fueled) person, it’s probably going to be there with a lot of others. And if you’ve got a pile of 50 to 100 CVs in front of you, you’re going to be pretty ruthless in order to whittle it down to the few people you’ll invite in. So it’s really important not to be boring.
How many CVs or cover letters do you think start with a variation of ‘My name’s X and I’m a journalist with X years experience’? Maybe you should think about writing something different? You could talk about something you like about the organisation’s work, or what you think you can achieve if you were given the role. Honestly, anything that makes you stand out a bit is enough to avoid getting instantly binned.
On that note, now is a good time to remind you that your CV and cover letter are different things which do different jobs. Sure, they’re both personalised applications to help you get the job, but what’s the point in sending two things which are essentially the same? Use your CV to set out your experience and how it fits, and let your cover letter talk more about why you’re applying and give your personality some space to breathe.
Show Don’t Tell
If you’re applying for a job that involves creating content for ‘the internet’, include links to content you’ve created for ‘the internet’. Consuming something creative you’ve made for another professional outlet or reading a write-up of the results of a project you were involved in actually proves that you can do the work, makes the hirer start to think about how you could fit in the organisation, and most importantly, breaks up the monotony of the process.
A big stumbling block for a lot of people is that they essentially just tell people their day to day tasks, without thinking about the impact they made, or showcasing the thought that went into them. Explain what you changed, how you grew reach or engagement, or the background work you put in to get that exclusive story.
Love those %s: Percentages are great. Not only are they an easy way to show impact, they also show it relative to the size of the organisation you worked at. Sure, you might have only gained your student paper a couple of hundred extra followers, but if that’s double, that’s still great. Like percentages.
Remember to show the results of your work as well, or what you learned. And don’t be afraid to say what you’d do differently, it shows a bit of humility and willingness to adapt your work over time, something which is key for a lot of employers.
Yes, we know, it’s not a beauty contest, but the presentation really does matter if you’re up against another hundred or so CVs. If you’re a design wizard, you can consider making a custom design, if you’re not steer clear. A less exciting CV is better than a mess. But, do keep things neat, tidy, and consider a splash of colour to catch the eye. Essentially, your goal is to get someone interested enough to read some of it.
Bullet points should also be your best friends, namely because they’re an excellent way to get all your best stuff presented in an easy to digest and pleasing to look at. Keep the fonts and sizes consistent, and, basically, don’t throw too much stuff into the mix. And do export it as a PDF so things don’t jump around on the page if they’ve got a different version of Word or Pages to you.
It might sound pretty basic, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t think about this kind of stuff – especially proofing and checking for errors and typos. It sounds harsh, but if someone has got 200 CVs to go through, they will get rid of yours for a grammar mistake, especially in journalism. Don’t worry, your mum probably loves reading your CV anyway.
Keep It Tight
Every sentence should help convince the hirer that you’re the person for the job. Anything that doesn’t do that or is just waffle should be cut. Trust me when I say one page is enough. You’re personalising and picking the best bits after all. And with that in mind…
- Nobody cares about your A Levels. Sorry, 18-year-old version of you, I know they were hard at the time. But they were a lifetime ago now and as irrelevant as you thought they’d be. Unless, of course, you’re applying for a job straight from school, in which case, be my guest, you’re smashing it.
- Really nobody cares about your GCSEs. Can you even remember what GCSE stands for?
- Really, really nobody cares about the paper round you did when you were 13. Unless you’re still 13.
I guess the point I’m getting at here is that work experience is almost always more valuable than academic qualifications. People want to know what you’ve done in the real world, whether that’s a job, working for your student paper or writing some freelance pieces. So yes, your professional experience section goes first. No arguments.
And Finally, Don’t Slag Off Your Prospective Employer
Picture the scene. You’ve written an awesome cover letter and CV. It’s beaten the obscure computer filtering system. It’s been approved by HR. It’s gone to your potential new manager. And they think you sound great.
And then they Google your name. And check your social media accounts. And find you slagging off the very same company you claim to want to work for. It happens more often than you’d think. #NeverTweet. Or at least make use of the search and delete function.
Jack has worked in newsrooms across the country including The Sun, The Evening Standard, Metro and the BBC, and is currently a mentor for the Student Publication Association. He also makes apps in his spare time, so if you’re interested in the tube and emojis, Tubemoji might be your kind of thing. He’s also on Twitter @JackDearlove.