13 tips on applying for journalism jobs from a fortysomething misanthrope
I’ve been doing a lot of recruiting for Trinity Mirror recently. Which means I’ve looked through literally hundreds of CVs and applications. So I have opinions. And I thought I’d pass a few tips on. Of course, I’m a misanthrope who has been in the industry for 15 years now, so YMMV…
On my laptop I have upwards of thirty files now all called CV.pdf or CV.docx. Give your CV a filename that says who you are. It makes it easy to find quickly, and also keeps reminding me of your name everytime I’m looking in my recruitment folders.
CV filenames with dates
It’s fine to call your file something like
martin_belam_cv_2014.pdf. It isn’t fine to send me something that is called
some_body_cv_2013.docx. That instantly tells me that:
- You don’t think you did anything interesting at work this year.
- You applied for this job without updating your CV to reflect the job description you are applying for.
Don’t randomly apply for everything advertised
I used to get this at the BBC many years ago, where people would apply for the most junior AND the most senior roles every time jobs were advertised. Maybe you don’t quite know where to pitch yourself in an organisation – but it surely can’t be simultaneously for roles paying circa £20k and roles paying circa £80k.
Don’t ask for a salary that is ridiculously too low
One of the questions in the Trinity Mirror application process is “required salary”. If you put £10k for a job working in London it makes me think you don’t understand money.
“Proficient in Microsoft Office”
This is not “an IT skill”. Being able to use office-suite applications is the reality of working in an office in the 21st century. Frankly, if you can’t type words into a computer, I don’t know why you are applying to be a journalist.
And what does “Proficient” in this context actually mean? That you can write macros? Or that you can change the colour of the borders on a table?
And nobody uses Microsoft Word to actually publish on the web. I’m much more impressed if you can illustrate you’ve used any kind of CMS.
…And talking of Microsoft Word…
Do not over-design your CV. You are never going to get hired on the basis of picking a funky font, but you are certainly going to put me off if you’ve gone for a garish set of colours.
Also, it is statistically unlikely that your CV will be read on exactly the same version of Windows/Microsoft Word you wrote it on. Cue loads of misplaced text, badly aligned images, and a general look of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ as I try to read your CV in Pages or Google Docs if you’ve spent ages “designing” it. I bet your revision timetables at exam time were cracking.
I literally could not care less if you “like to travel” or “go to the cinema regularly”. We all do.
You are not on Twitter
Or I have to Google you to find you on Twitter. Seriously, you want to be a journalist?
Show, don’t tell…
If you are applying for a job in web journalism, show me your web journalism. URLs. Links. Evidence that you have written for the web.
…but no stagnant links please
Don’t point me to your amazing blog about ‘Topic X’ if you haven’t updated it for seven months.
CVs that are too long
If you can’t convey it in two sides of A4, you are probably going into unnecessary detail about exactly what you did in different roles, or still listing information like the precise grades of your GCSEs or some volunteer work that you did 5 years ago that isn’t really relevant anymore.
Making no reference to why you are suitable to THIS job
If you aren’t including something about why you want to apply for THIS job right NOW then you are instantly putting yourself at a disadvantage to the people who are putting that in their applications.
Instantly ensuring that due to Muphry’s law this post will contain one – please, please, please get someone else to read your CV for spelling and all that jazz. You are applying for a jrounalism* job.
What else puts you off recruiting people?
As I say, I’m a miserable old hack who has been in the business for years. Other opinions are available. Why not let me know in the comments what puts you off hiring people when your read their applications…
[*see what I did there?]
Agree with all of this. Your BBC experience with people applying for both junior and senior roles reminded me of one of my big frustrations as someone who has occasionally applied (unsuccessfully) for jobs at the BBC, which is the difficulty of working out the level of seniority of the advertised role. Their job ads (at least, the ones I went for) never included a salary range and the job title, which usually had the word “manager” in it somewhere, was also fairly enigmatic. This seems to be fairly common with employers, along with a job spec that details the same expectations (in terms of skills and personal attributes) for a junior graduate role as for a senior manager. I’m not saying your job ad was guilty of this, just that it’s unsurprising, in this kind of environment, that people will apply for jobs both hopelessly beneath and wildly above them. Oh, and also, of course, people are desperate for jobs and will take anything they can get.
As an employer, my most common bugbear was people who wanted to “work in media” but didn’t care what media or in what role.
I’d like to add: Show intimacy with digital platforms and some minimal SEO awareness in your article’s structure strategy.
PS. Intimacy with digital platforms does NOT mean how many hours you spend on social networks and SEO awareness isn’t keyword density.
I don’t like it when journalists inquire about a freelance job and don’t respond for another week after the inquiry. I’ll offer the job to someone else if I don’t hear from you within a day or so. And I especially don’t like writing a rejection after. So it might take another week for you to hear from me…
I had to smile when I read this. I lost count of the number of CVs I sent off (try being a highly experienced – white male – broadcaster, writer and journalist in South Africa), and I learned most of your suggestions at the school of trial-and-error. But they’re all spot on.
Couldn’t agree more. Other tips I’d add is applicants shouldn’t say they’re ‘passionate’ about journalism shouldn’t endlessly list irrelevant employment, especially the bit about working in a bar when they were at uni.
Great piece. I agree. The first rule of CV writing: SPELL CHECK. I throw them straight in the bin, rightly or wrongly, unless it’s ‘form’ instead of ‘from’. That’s acceptable. And yes, the hobbies thing. I remember arguing with the job centre CV writing ‘expert’ that including your hobbies was absolutely ridiculous. And it is.
Daniel Owen – the BBC salary grades are your friend here. Each job posting should include a grade such as 7D, 11D etc. They correspond directly to both salary ranges and seniority. If not on the job web page, it should be in the linked job description document.
They’re supposed to be kept internally, but get released every so often through FOIA – Google for them and you’ll find a PDF. But largely, the higher the number, the more senior. 2D-3D is entry-level and 11D is senior management.
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