Applying for your first or even fourteenth job in the media is never easy. Be it in PR, journalism, production or digital, our industry is notoriously competitive and ever-evolving, with an abundance of talent on tap.
So how can you increase your chances of being given a chance?
We’ve put together a checklist for those looking for their first job or a new opportunity.
Keep your CV visually clean and simple, with space between each section so it feels like a relief from the rest of the clutter on a recruiter’s computer screen, experts advise.
Younger applicants tend to throw in too much detail, leading to a dense document cluttered with irrelevancies. It’s better to have a lean, one-page CV than two pages of filler for a recruiter to struggle through.
Media applicants also tend to have chequered careers, Gavin Ricketts recently wrote in The Guardian, changing jobs regularly as they move between projects and working in a variety of roles.
“A compelling personal statement at the top of a CV that brings all this experience into a coherent description of you and your career aspirations, often works well,” he writes.
“The first sentence should introduce the role you’re looking for or the vacancy, if you’re responding to a specific advert. Next describe what experience you’ve gained to help you in that role, and finally write a sentence to show that you’re quietly confident, responsible, alert and willing to take on whatever task the job requires.
“Finish with a little about your ambitions, remembering to be clear that you don’t expect to get there at lightning speed. For instance: “I eventually want to be a producer, so I’m looking for production assistant roles to lay down a good foundation of experience first.”
“You need to communicate that you can work well with others, but don’t rely on simply stating: “I can work as part of a team” – a cliché long overdue for retirement.”
Ricketts advises job seekers instead to demonstrate where they’ve worked in a team, even if it was in part-time work while studying. For example: “I was one of seven shop floor staff, we worked as a team to make sure all customers were given the help they needed”.
The covering letter
“When you write your covering letter, you should never claim to be the perfect candidate,” Ricketts advises. “For me, that is the kiss of death. Being the perfect candidate is not just about ticking all the requirement boxes, it’s also about how you fit into the company.
“So instead of saying you’re the best person for the job, try this subtly different, more modest opening line: “I am excited to be applying for this role. Not only do the requirements match my skills and experience, but I am confident that this is a job I would really enjoy.”
“This way, you’re saying you have the right skills, but you’ve left it to the employer to decide whether you’re right for the team.
“Think of the application process as the beginning of a conversation between you and the employer. Creative organisations tend to be informal in the way they talk to each other, so if your CV and covering letter have a friendly but professional tone of voice – as though you’d just met your next boss in person – your application will come to life.
“The more human and approachable your application, the more they’ll want to meet you in person.”
Preparing for the interview
Aside from making sure you look professional, and you are on time – two things you must do – you want to make sure you’ve studied the right topics to ensure the interviewer doesn’t stump you on any questions, Rachel Deahl in thebalancecareers.com advises.
“Although you shouldn’t think of an interview as an antagonistic situation — most interviewers aren’t trying to test you or catch you off-guard — you don’t want to draw a blank when you’re asked a question. For this reason, you should study up on a few things, and come up with answers to potential questions, before the big day,” she writes.
“One of the biggest pet peeves you will hear editors and hiring managers complain about, when it comes to interviewing, is talking to candidates who don’t know their company or their publication,” she advises.
For example, candidates seeking a job on a magazine should be prepared for questions such as: If you were going to write a story for us tomorrow, what would it be about?’ That requires knowing the publication inside out, Deahl says.
“It won’t do to simply know that Sports Illustrated simply covers sports or that Entertainment Weekly covers entertainment. You need to know specific stories the magazine published recently and you need to know the recurring sections of the magazine.”
How to Make Sure You Have the Right Answers
“The best way to prepare for a media interview is to study your potential employer,” Deahl advises. “If you’re interviewing for an editorial spot at a magazine, grab a bunch of back issues and go over them. Decide what you might change – if you had the chance – by figuring out the sections you like and decide why you like them. Find stories you like and take note of them.
“Pay particular attention to getting things straight in your head. One thing that notoriously drives editors and others in the field crazy is mistaking them for their competition.”
Keep your cool
At the end of the day remember it’s just an interview. “If you can try to keep things in perspective, and not put too much pressure on yourself, it’s often easier to stay calm,” Deahl recommends. “Go in confident and calm. If you believe in yourself, and speak with confidence, employers will pick up on it”.
Dispel the myths
The Guardian recently published six myths about getting a career in the TV and media industry which are worth noting.
- You’ll spend all of your time partying with celebrities– For every music or film festival you attend, there will always be plenty of accompanying strategy meetings to ensure the event goes without a hitch. Expect to work hard. The good news is that all the hard work is worth it
- You’ll spend years in unpaid positions making the tea – Companies are increasingly recognising how integral upcoming talent is to their success. Rather than wasting the fresh insight and perspective new talent can bring, media firms are offering the chance for those without a great deal of direct work experience to get involved with exciting projects
- It’s not about what you know, it’s who you know – Knowing the right people is likely to prove useful in any industry and media is no exception. Despite this, it’s a very outdated to view access to the industry as something predominately decided by nepotism
- You need a media degree from a top university – Media is a hugely diverse industry with many types of roles but only some normally require a degree for a new entrant. While a higher level qualification is a very valuable tool to demonstrate willingness to work hard, commitment to a given task and potentially, a genuine interest in a given sector of the media, there are other ways to exhibit these things
- To progress, you’ll need to bombard companies with CVs – The CV is one way to get on to a potential employer’s radar, but this should always form part of a broader strategy. The media business is powered by creativity and innovation and if you can show this through the way you search and apply for new roles, all the better. Be prepared to send examples of work – showcase things like your photography and design efforts, on Instagram and or Tumblr, and tweet links to articles you’ve written
- You have a lot to learn and nothing to offer – People sometimes say something is only a cliche because it’s true, but in this case, the constant advice given to young people entering the media world – that they have a lot to learn and should spend their time soaking up as much information as possible – is only partly true. Of course, young people entering the media industry do have a lot to learn and the early period of their careers will involve them spending time gaining vital skills. However, the media industry doesn’t stand still and it is only through the contribution of upcoming young talent – digital natives who often possess real flair for things like social media – that companies are able to stay ahead of the curve