YOU’VE graduated… hurrah! At long last there is light at the end of the tunnel and as you stride out of the hallowed university halls for the final time, degree in hand, you feel like you are on top of the world.
Safe in the knowledge that your days of Red Bull-fuelled, all night study sessions and excruciating exams are firmly in the past you look ahead to the future and the next chapter of your life.However after the high of achieving your degree begins to wears off, the harsh reality sets in that you are now going to have to step into the big bad world of work.
Finishing university marks the end of life as we knew it. The student loan payments come to an abrupt halt and the bank of mum and dad notify you that they will soon be closing their doors. Having been there myself earlier this year I know that beginning the job hunt is a daunting prospect particularly in the current economic climate.
Young graduates are forever being told that there are too many people with degrees and not enough jobs and I personally have lost track of how many times I have been so kindly reminded that ‘I couldn’t have graduated at a worse time’ and simply that ‘there are no jobs’. Great.
With competition so fierce, no longer is that scrolled up piece of paper that demanded four years worth of blood, sweat and tears, enough to secure you an entry level position. Nevertheless that is not to say that landing your dream job is impossible, it just takes a little more work… and by work I mean work experience.
It’s the age of the internship with relevant work experience becoming nearly as important as your academic credentials when it comes to your employability but, alas, even unpaid placements are highly sought after in the hope that it will lead to that elusive first job. So the question that remains is this… how do you get your inexperienced foot in that all-important door?
Admittedly I am by no means an expert when it comes to what employers are looking for as they sift through hundreds of CVs each year. However after successfully securing two internships this summer, I would like to think that I know a thing or two about the dos and perhaps more importantly the DON’Ts of applying for work experience.
This week, the Holyrood PR directors received an email from a keen graduate looking to gain experience. The young applicant looked fantastic on paper. Her cover letter was articulately written, she had achieved a solid degree from a good university and had a proven interest in PR. There was only one mistake… she had addressed the e-mail to one of our rival companies. E-MAIL DELETED. You may think that such a rookie error is a rarity in applications, however after consulting with some of the senior members of the Holyrood team, these simple but crucial mistakes do have a tendency of cropping up on a regular basis and amidst a pool of such high calibre candidates such blunders are simply unforgivable.
TOP TEN CV WRITING TIPS
So before you start firing out e-mails in a frenzied, ‘oh my god I need a job’, fashion, here are Holyrood’s top ten tips on how to create a faux pas free application.
1. DO be proactive. Bear in mind that companies don’t always advertise the fact that they offer work experience placements to avoid being inundated with hundreds of e-mails every day. This leaves the ball firmly in your court to create your own opportunities, so don’t wait around for things to come to you.
2. DON’T create a mass pitch. When writing your cover letter, be innovative and creative. Organisations receive countless versions of standardised e-mails. Public relations is essentially about telling a story, so create a way of telling your story in a way that engages the reader rather than having them switch off by the second line.
3. DO tailor your cover letter to each company you write to. I have already discussed the ultimate gaffe of sending out the same e-mail to a number of different companies without changing the details… so don’t. It may take a little more time, but it is most certainly worth the effort to avoid your e-mail landing up in the sin bin of ‘deleted items’.
4. DON’T make spelling or grammatical errors. It may sound incredibly simple and perhaps a little patronising however you would be amazed at how many poorly written e-mails Holyrood receive. We all make typos now and again and it does not necessarily show a lack of ability. However, what it does do is show carelessness and a lack of attention to detail which in the PR world is not only unprofessional but completely unacceptable. It has never been easier to spell check a word document so there really is no excuse. So remember… proof read, proof read and proof read again before hitting that send button.
5. DO your research. Before drafting your cover letter, explore what the company that you are writing to actually do and the clients they work for. Not only will this give you an insight as to whether or not their work is something you have a genuine interest in, it will also give you a flavour of their style of writing which you can, in turn, use to create a cover letter that reflects their style. Some companies will prefer a more formal approach, whereas others may appreciate a wackier pitch so plan your letter accordingly.
6. DON’T lie. Enough said.
7. DO create a social media presence. Love it or loath it there is simply no escaping it…social media is all around us and has quickly become a vital networking and recruiting tool. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Pinterest, create an online presence that reflects your professional capabilities. The more creative outlets you can show a potential employer the better, so start a website, write a blog and remember to keep it consistent. Use similar usernames for each platform (using both your first and last name is preferable) as this will help to make your sites more search friendly, helping you to achieve a strong and memorable web presence. However be warned and don’t do a ‘Luisa Zissman’ and reveal too much. Be extremely cautious about the image of yourself you portray. After all the picture of you in a revealing dress, falling out of a taxi, clutching onto a kebab is perhaps not what your future employer wants to see.
8. DON’T fail to give examples of your skills. It’s all too easy to produce a long list of skills that you think employers will find attractive however it is absolutely essential that you provide an example of you putting that skill into action. It’s futile to say you have ‘leadership skills’ without going into detail so back up your claim by talking about your netball team captaincy. If you claim to be skilled in public speaking, talk about your debating team experience. Remember your skills don’t have to be in a working environment, think outside the box and look at the wealth of skills you have gained through extra-curricular activities – you may be pleasantly surprised by how skilled you actually are.
9. DO keep your finger on the industry pulse. If you want to work in PR, you have to eat, breathe and sleep PR. Keep on top of trade news by following industry bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Public Relations to ensure your knowledge of the forever evolving field is bang up to date. Take part in industry twitter chats such as #prchat and connect with industry leaders. Never before have the influential thinkers of the PR world been so accessible so make the most of it.
10. DON’T be disheartened by rejection. Followed all of our tips, yet still haven’t secured a work experience placement? Don’t fret. As aforementioned, competition for places on internship programmes is tough and particularly in the profession of public relations as it continues to be one of the most popular career choices for new graduates. If you have been rejected from a company try to obtain feedback from them to see how you can improve your application for the future. We all learn from our experiences and at such an early stage of your career even the rejections should be viewed in a positive light as they force you to focus on what more you can do to succeed. Don’t dwell on the fact you didn’t get the position on this occasion, instead be resilient and focus on future opportunities and allow patience and perseverance to prevail. Good luck. Guest blog post by Heather Peebles current intern at Holyrood PR.