We recently advertised for freelance reporters for this site and received 82 applications in total. Despite publishing several hundred journalism recruitment vacancies every year, we rarely recruit journalists ourselves so it has been a fascinating insight into how journalists apply for jobs and the mistakes they make.

Here is the original advert, with the key points in bold:


Freelance news reporters sought for occasional cover writing news about online journalism for our web site www.journalism.co.uk.

We don't do stories about reporters stuck up trees (with or without cats) and you must know your RSS from your elbow.

You will also be located in the UK and have a good track record in media, business and/or technology journalism, relevant qualifications and a very keen interest in new media.

Please apply by emailing CV, links to your work and an indication of your approximate per-story rate. Absolutely no calls or agencies.


All the applications, with one or two exceptions, were from experienced and qualified professional journalists. We were spoilt for choice and it would be fair to say most of them would have been capable of meeting our needs.

Somehow we had to filter down the applications and one obvious way was to examine how well the candidates had responded to the requirements stated in our advert. For the purposes of this feature, we did examine each application in detail but printing out and processing 82 applications is very time consuming, especially if you are a busy journalist or publisher without the support of a human resources department. So if you are a jobseeker making applications by email, the first golden rule is: first impressions are crucial.

Bearing that in mind, we were surprised that five applicants merely sent a CV with no covering email. Of those who did write a covering letter, six had significant spelling and/or grammatical errors and one made a mistake with my name, addressing me as 'Mr Thomas'. A busy journalist may well dismiss such applications out of hand, without bothering to read the attached CVs.

Another point to remember when applying for jobs by email is to use a relevant subject line. In our case, the application email address we gave is also used by our advertisers as a sort of post box address, so the lack of obvious subject lines in nine applications caused us some confusion. In the worst case scenario, the wrong subject line may result in your application being trashed before anyone has read it.

A covering letter should address the key requirements stated in an advert. If we take each point as highlighted in our advert above, you can see how our applicants fared:

* Freelance...
Thirteen applicants had full-time jobs, one seemed to be applying for a full-time job, and two were students. As we were looking for occasional cover, the full-timers were not suitable because they would not be available during normal working hours.

* You must know your RSS from your elbow...
An astonishing 79 applicants made no reference to their knowledge or otherwise of RSS. One admitted he did not know what it was.

* You will also be located in the UK...
Six applicants were not.

* Have a good track record in media, business and/or technology journalism, relevant qualifications and a very keen interest in new media...
Forty-eight applicants did not state, or supply evidence of, knowledge in these areas.

* Please apply by emailing CV...
Eleven applicants did not include a CV with their applications. Two CVs were in unusual and (for us) unreadable formats (see later).

* Links to your work...
Thirty-seven applicants did not provide links to their work, something we would expect for an online writing position.

* And an indication of your approximate per-story rate...
Thirty-one applicants made no mention of their rates. A handful gave specific per-story rates, while the rest quite acceptably quoted feature-length, per-word, or day shift rates.

* Absolutely no calls or agencies...
One applicant called the office.

Most of the applicants fell down on more than one of the above points and, in fact, only one applicant ticked all the right boxes. Out of the 82 applicants, we eventually shortlisted six whom we hope to trial over the coming months.

The whole process of printing out, assessing and replying to all the applications took nearly two days and destroyed our office printer. This would clearly be an impractical exercise for most employers in this field, so expect your applications to be skim-read on screen and to be assessed quickly. Think sound bites, expect stiff competition and do not expect a reply unless you meet the requirements as stated in the recruitment advert and have carefully crafted your application accordingly.

Applying for jobs by email - key points:

• Read the advert carefully and respond to its key requirements in the main body of your email (do not attach covering letters), including a summary of your relevant experience. Do not try to be clever, funny or criticise your would-be employer or its employees (yes, a couple of people did do that). Follow instructions: if they ask you not to phone, don't phone! Break up your email into succinct, single-sentence paragraphs. If appropriate, suggest some story ideas.

• Proof your email and CV carefully - journalists will respond negatively to grammatical and spelling errors even if they regularly make them themselves.

• Ensure your CV only contains relevant details, and fits on one page. Ideally, supply it as a PDF (Portable Document Format) as this is a universally readable format - you can convert your documents for free at neevia.com. Failing that, MS Word is in common use but, if you can, supply a text-only alternative with it.

• Use a pertinent subject line.

• Do not presume anything. Do not expect a would-be employer to do the research on you; no matter what your profile, you still have to present yourself.

If you can, try to put yourself in the shoes of the advertiser. What volume of replies are they likely to get to their advert, what is it about you that will make you stand out from the crowd?

Also, if you are applying for a freelance position where they are asking how much you charge, try to tailor your price to suit the likely budget of the publication or web site. Do some research on the publisher, is it a multinational company or a small business with fewer than 10 employees? Compare their advertising rates with those of a publication you already work for and know the freelance rates of. Do not under-price yourself but at the same time, try not to price yourself out of the market.

Finally, if you are rejected take the news graciously. Especially if you are freelance; you might not be the right person for the immediate task but you may well be the right person for a job in the future. We left the door open for all of our rejected applicants to pitch story or feature ideas to us in the future and those that do may well earn themselves a commission if not the chance of some regular work.

More news from dotJournalism:
Budding journalists flood news site
dotJournalism relaunches
NUJ to revamp guide on freelance fees
Good job prospects for online journalists

Comments? Email me.


From Lananh Nguyen 11:12 9 Apr 2005

Thank you for posting this article. As an applicant to the position in question, I appreciate the feedback and think it will be very helpful in the future.

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