Whilst it is true that not all jobs in journalism are advertised, most of the time, jobseekers will be scouring jobs boards and applying for advertised positions to secure their next position.
Inevitably, submitting a CV is the first step in this process and your chance to secure an interview. The biggest mistake you could make, however, is to send off a generic CV and hope for the best.
This is your one and only opportunity to grab a potential employer's attention and convince them that you are the best person for the job. So make it count.
But how do you create a CV that stands out amongst the hundreds flooding in? Journalism.co.uk spoke to careers writer Daniell Morrisey to get his best advice on making your CV the pick of the bunch.
Morrisey is the head of talent for BBC Entertainment and Music and BBC Factual Entertainment and Events, part of BBC Studios, where he works with the execs of shows from Strictly Come Dancing to Dragon’s Den, Top Gear, Children in Need, Comic Relief, The Proms and ceremonial events including the Royal Wedding, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Before that, he spent many years recruiting journalists and editorial staff for the print, interactive and broadcast sector.
Understanding what employers are looking for
Before you begin putting a CV together, consider it as your golden opportunity to sell yourself to a potential employer.
"It is your marketing document - it is the only thing you've got at this stage to get across to the employer the skills and the experience that you're offering, so it's about getting that across really clear," Morrisey explained.
That is easier said than done, though. The best way to do this is to summarise your expertise in a straight-forward and easy to read way.
Three essential bases to cover are your skills, experience and stand-out achievements.
Layout and length
Employers get a lot of applications and only have so much time. Make sure your CV can be skim-read and easily understood using Morrisey's 'two-second test'. Ask yourself: 'Can someone tell what I have to offer with just a quick glance?'
"The pertinent information needs to be on page one. Whoever is reading your CV wants to pick it up, give it a quick scan and, as quickly as possible, understand what it is you're offering.
"I don't mind if it is a three or four-page CV - the important information is all going to be on the first page anyway."
Thousands of websites and books offer CV templates as a starting point, but Morrisey said creativity does no harm.
Do make the CV attractive and easy to read. Do not use big paragraphs to explain points. Opt instead for clear bullet points to outline key information. Use punchy sentences and plain language. Avoid jargon and abbreviations.
It can be potentially risky to tailor your CV to a publication's writing style and layout unless you really know what you are doing. If done well, it can also show a potential employer your eye for detail and dedication.
In the scenario the employer wants to advance to the interview stage, they need to have all your contacts at their disposal quick and easy. Include an email and a mobile number - bearing in mind not to use work contact details.
Personal information, such as date of birth, marital status and disabilities do not need to be included. Morrisey did suggest including links to social media profiles, such as Twitter and Instagram, but only if you would be happy with potential employers and clients looking at your posts.
"If you’re using your accounts to publish content, then it’s a great way to show your work."
This can divide a room, but Morrisey said it helps to include a few sentences about your career goals and long-term ambitions in a mission statement section. This can show you are focused and driven.
"Where a mission statement doesn't work is when it’s full of generic jargon that each of us could use. I see lots of CVs that talk about being 'hard-working team players' and being 'creative' - that is just meaningless."
Be specific about your goals and summarise it in your introduction. Tie in how this opportunity can help you reach those goals and what you can offer them in return.
Also known as a 'skills table'. This can be an ideal way to sum up all the key soft and hard skills you can bring to the position. Make it very easy for any potential employer to clearly and immediately understand your skillset. They do not want to be weeding through paragraphs of text.
Use three or four suitable headings, such as 'journalism' or 'software', and then prioritise your strengths in each skills under each heading. For example:
- court reporting
- Adobe Audition
Use a miscellaneous section for languages with level of proficiency and driving licences. A clever trick is to tailor your skill list for the job description you are going for. Treat it like a checklist of skills that they have either specified they are looking for or anything else you think could be an asset to them.
Career and education history
Use reverse chronology - in other words, include the most recent career and education history first. Make it clear what your current job is, so employers can then work backwards through your life.
Again, no lengthy sentences. Use bullet points to summarise everything succinctly.
"What’s great about bullet points is it encourages you not to use first-person language like 'I' or 'my'. Each bullet should start with a more powerful, active sounding word."
Include responsibilities you had in each role and any stand-out achievements, such as top-performing stories or improved audience growth you were responsible for. Use your previous job description to get the ball moving, but be sure to emphasise your contribution and hit targets.
Do not worry if you have no journalistic experience to fall back on. Highlight transferable skills from previous jobs that are relevant to newsrooms, like listening skills and talking to members of the public.
This section is refined to include only essential information as you progress in your career. The same is true for education; you should include your entire educational history and key achievements early on in your career, and gradually condense over time. Worth noting you should only include significant grades.
Hobbies and interests
CVs are often seen as overly formal which is why you should always make room for your hobbies and interests. It can start to give an impression of your personality, and who knows, it might even be your foot in the door.
"You might have an interest in grime music and that might have nothing to do with the job you're applying for, but the editor might know they have a feature coming up on grime music at some point and it would suggest you have some knowledge about it," said Morrisey.
This is your chance to show the employer what makes you different from other applicants. Display your interests, areas of knowledge, and crucially, your connections.
A cover letter accompanying your CV is essential. Keep it to two-thirds of an A4 page and personalised to each job that you apply for.
Find out who is looking after the applications and address it to them. Read up on the initiatives and projects they are working on, and show you understand their values.
Have they launched a new section on the website? Have they changed their reporting on a certain topic? Signal to the person you are writing to that you have done your homework and understand who it is you want to work for.
"It’s a chance for you to show that you’ve done some research, why you like them and then why you’re the best person for the job."
Before submitting your CV and cover letter, Morrisey advised printing both documents off to ensure that there are no formatting errors. This also gives you one last chance to scan them both for any spelling or grammatical mistakes.
"I’m afraid it often happens and, in my experience, editors are usually unforgiving of spelling mistakes and typos. Double-check and check again and just do not let any typo get through."
If you are sending both documents via email, Morrisey said to always use a PDF format, which will open on any operating system. The last thing you want is your employer not being able to open up your killer CV.
On the job hunt? Your next position could be waiting for you on the Journalism.co.uk jobs board.
Note: This article was originally published in August 2006 by Oliver Luft. It was updated on 12 February 2020.
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