I am frequently asked how a candidate can get noticed or stand out in a recruitment process. In a world where job opportunities appear on social media, websites such as Journalism.co.uk, company careers pages or through direct contacts in person, at some point you need to formalise an application.
More often than not that application lands on the desk of someone that works in human resources. I know this, because I am one of those HR people.
I currently work for AOL, which owns Huffington Post, Engadget and TechCrunch among other titles. In a recent recruitment drive, we received over 900 applications for a social media writer within Huffington Post UK.
How are you supposed to stand out when the average time a recruiter (me) spends on a cover letter or CV is less than 10 seconds? Let me give you some insights.
The cover letter
If you are provided with an opportunity to write a cover letter – use it. Now, there is no need to go into an epic unabridged tale of your entire life. A cover letter (or email in most cases today) should be no longer than half a page, with the following simple format:
- A short introduction to who you are and highlighting why you are applying for the role, remembering to state the role you are applying for.
- You will want to tease us with why we should read your CV – what are your highest achievements to date that are relevant to the role? Recruiters are looking for buzz words that are within the job description. If you have the experience we are looking for, state what it is you have done.
- A summary note on thanking the company for your consideration and formal closure.
The Curriculum Vitae
First up, do not state “CV”, “Curriculum Vitae” or “Resume” at the top of this document. We know what it is. The only thing that needs to be at the very top is your name, address, contact number, email address, LinkedIn URL and without question, your Twitter handle.
Anything digital should be hyperlinked and if you are still using an email address that is something other than a variation of your name, set up a new account just for job applications.
A CV today represents who you are and why an employer should add you to their team. If your CV reads like a job description telling the reader what your duties were it is time for an update.
Anyone who is looking at your CV as a potential candidate will know what the duties of a certain role are, as they are specialised within that sector.
So what are we looking for?
Achievements. What have you done within a role to set you apart from the rest? Experience is key and capability to do a role is of course important, but quantifiable information about what you have achieved and where you have added value will naturally make you a more interesting candidate.
A few more titbits of information to bear in mind:
- Format: Be careful when using bold. Think about what you want to stand out on a page – too much bold and the significance of the information becomes blurred.
- Font type: Use a standard font such as Arial, Calibri, Cambria or Times New Roman, and use the same font and size throughout. Your name can be a little bigger.
- Length: The standard length is two pages. More recent convention has allowed 10 years of experience per page. Bottom line, keep the content interesting. By keeping it to two pages, you're also demonstrating the ability to edit copy to what is truly necessary!
- Graphics: If you are experienced in using graphics then I have seen some brilliant CVs using infographics to display your experience. If you lack that experience though, don’t use your CV as a test bed for your clip art library.
- Photos: In mainland Europe it is common to include a photo, but in the UK it is not required or expected, so don’t.
- Headers: Try not to include your contact information in a document header. The tools used by recruiters that scan CVs may not pick up information in headers/footers on documents and your application can be missed by a simple admin error.
- File name: May seem like a trivial point but if sending your CV through as an attachment, please include your full name in the filename, and save as a PDF.
You made it. Your cover letter invoked interest, your CV was read and you have been invited to an interview. This should be the exciting part, but so many people get it wrong time and again.
Arrive about 10-15 minutes before your interview start time. If you didn't ask what the dress code was, always advisable to go on the smarter side of casual. Greet the interviewers with a firm handshake, smile and always say yes to a glass of water, even if you don’t want any. If posed with a difficult question, taking a sip of water to give yourself extra thinking time is always useful.
Research, research, research. The most common introduction question you will be asked is: “so tell me what do you know of our company at present?”
We are not looking for the encyclopaedic answer but a good grounding of the company background and what has been mentioned about it in the news recently. If there has been no news, then look into any industry or competitor developments that could have impact.
Check out the corporate website of the company. Take AOL for example. If you go to www.aol.co.uk, you will find our content site for the AOL homepage.
At the very bottom there are a number of links, one of which, “About AOL”, takes you to our corporate site. Everything about the company, press releases, our values and details that are not readily available elsewhere give you a great foundation of detail you can go into an interview with.
One area of increasing importance in the interview process (cross-industry) is cultural fit into an organisation.
Getting to interview stage is a great achievement – every moment of interaction with a business though is an analysis of whether you will add value to the business, and whether the business is the right place for you.
But how do you know about a cultural fit before you have even stepped in? Let me take you back to the corporate site. AOL has six core values and a lot of what AOL does and how it goes about doing it are rooted within those values. Base your answers to questions around them and you will already be halfway there.
Another typical interview question type is a competency question – “tell me about a time when you…”
It is a good way of finding out how you deal with real-life work scenarios. So I advise you to think about your career and go in with examples of working within a team, dealing with pressure, a need for attention to detail, mentoring or managing people, and being accountable for work. There are many other types of competency questions which are available on the internet, but these are the core ones.
You should be provided the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the interview. Always make use of this and think about what is relevant to you about the company, the people, the culture and the job. This also demonstrates curiosity and your prior research leading to these questions.
Following this won’t necessarily guarantee you a job. But it will put you in a strong position. Within editorial, people are impressing employers with years of internships and low-paid work to demonstrate capability and some organisations care little for formal qualifications as experience and output is key.
In an industry that allows employers to be incredibly picky due to competition at a high level, you have to be on top of your own personal brand ensuring you tailor yourself to each opportunity you desire.
About Tim Goodchild
Tim is an HR professional having worked across the media sector for Electronic Arts, Universal Pictures, AOL, Telegraph Media Group and BBC. He is currently working as a consultant to AOL within the human resources team as recruitment manager. For opportunities at AOL, please contact Tim here, and for all other queries, please get in touch with Tim here.
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