This is a post I’ve been keeping in my little imaginary “ideas for posts” drawer for a long time, but recently a short consulting I did for a friend of a friend put the theory behind the idea in practice – a short “Pimp-my-CV” session during which I was able to identify some common mistakes that young people do when preparing job applications. But first, two short disclaimers:
1. These tips are based on my professional experience in Bulgaria and I guess are best applicable for those looking for a job in the creative industries, communications, etc.
2. I am not into HR and I don’t know what the best practices are. I guess you should not take my advice too seriously. I don’t know if the tips I’ll recommend will work for you – they’ve worked for me and are things I would love to see when people want to work for/with me.
Okay, let’s start somewhere. You are in your last year at the university, or you’ve just graduated or you’ve just completed an internship and you’ve found an interesting company you’d like to apply for. But how can you stand out in a crowd of so many applicants when you have so little experience? What do you do? You type “Resume example” in Google and see what a typical CV should look like, spend an hour filling in the basics and then you send it wherever you can and hope for the best?
Of course no. But that’s what most people do. This is what I was doing when I was a bit younger. The thing is that most people are so impatient that they can’t wait to jump into action neglecting strategy. (Not only when they prepare job applications, but in general)
Here’s what I suggest:
1. Research your target company
Think of this whole application game as a battle. To win a battle, you should always start by getting to know your opponent.
– Collect ALL the information there is about the company you’re interested in: corporate website, social profiles, media presence, mentions, people-you-know.
– Analyze and study – what does your company believe in, what does it look for. What are its values, what words does the company use most often in communication. Write them down and store them for later.
– Walk in their shoes. From what you’ve already learned, try imagining what will this company look for in you.
2. Customize your application content
– Don’t reuse. First of all, always prepare targeted resumes and cover letters for the companies you’re interested in. Yes, resumes too.
– Rewrite, rearrange, add. Based on what you already know from Step 1, change what you already have in your resume to emphasize on the key points you know your company will be looking for in you.
Example: This friend of a friend was applying for a PR agency. She had little experience – a one-month internship for another agency and few years as a chief waitress in a nightclub. What her resume looked like before our session:
2015 – Intern at ABC PR Agency: - Media clippings creation - Media content development - Up-to-date media lists maintainment - Press Releases Creation 2012 – 2015 Manager at XYZ Club - Serving customers - Arranging shifts - Staff supervision - Organization of special night theme events - Preparation of Customer behavior reports
All I saw was a bunch of standard keywords, typical for job descriptions – nothing personal, nothing targeted.
The Agency Internship:
When I interviewed the girl a bit more about her experience I found that during her PR internship she wrote press releases for a large FMCG brand, took part in an event organization for a telecom and communicated with a government client – all three are especially important types of clients for a PR agency, so not mentioning that in your resume and cover letter is a big mistake. The company you are applying for doesn’t want to read job descriptions they are familiar with – impress them with your experience, show them that you’re familiar with what they are looking for.
The Night club manager experience:
At the beginning of your career you will rarely have relevant experience for the jobs you are applying for. If you are looking for your first serious agency job, you may have not worked for an agency before. And that’s ok. Your goal is to show that the experience you have is somehow surprisingly related to what you want to do next. Even if it’s a bit far-fetched.
At first glance the girl’s “waitress experience” was hardly applicable to the PR agency work, but what I found impressive was that she had organized events and she had prepared customer behavior reports – experience that is applicable to PR. What we did was emphasize on those two points and rearrange them – we put them on second and third place and describe them in details.
We did the same about her University experience. I asked her to add the courses that were most relevant to what she wanted to do at the agency, to point out relevant papers she wrote, to add some extracurricular activities that she can relate to what is needed to get a job at the agency.
3. Spice it up!
As I already wrote, standard keywords are boring and I hate them. You can’t skip all of them but you should keep a minimum. What you should try to do is implement exactly the opposite – words or facts that they won’t be expecting from you – point out your favorite color somewhere in that resume, or your favorite sports team, or something else that is typical for you and reveals some extra information about you persona – something they’ll remember. This is a tricky part though and you should do it carefully.
Example: Let’s get back to this friend of a friend. She included an “Interests and activities” section in her resume in which I read….: “Dancing and Swimming”…
Ok, now this is completely unnecessary because it doesn’t help you stand up at all – it points two absolutely normal activities – ones you will easily expect from a young woman. When I told her that, she replied “But what shall I write – Football and Formula 1 ?!” And it turned out that she is a devoted sports fan of two of the most masculine sports. And this is just great because it’s not the thing you expect from a young lady and it’s a thing you’ll easily remember.
You have to always look for similar accents in your application – small “Hey, look at me, I’m different” keywords to separate you from the others in a cool and natural way. Trust me, if you do it wisely, it works.
4. Make it beautiful. Do a proper visual presentation of the content you’ve prepared.
We live in a visually demanding world where you can no longer neglect looks if you want to do a strong impression. You don’t know a thing about graphic design? Google it, goddamn!
– Start with a layout. How do you want to present your content – minimal-text-only, collage, template? You don’t know a thing about editing software? No problem, there are great services that offer customizable templates – check out Enhancv (A Bulgarian Startup, yaay), Uptowork.
– Choose fonts. Typography is a Universe inside design’s own universe, but if you spend few hours reading about the basic principles of type, you’ll be able to choose a two-fonts combination that will work for your design.
– Always send PDFs, never .doc files.
– End you cover letter with you contact details. If you impress them enough, they may want to call you instantly. Some people don’t like that, but it has worked for me.
Always start your job application process with research and planning. Build a strategy to follow along, customize your application according to the company you’re interested in, relate your experience to your future work, don’t be boring and emphasize on good visuals. That’s all.
The purpose of this post
The purpose of this whole blog is to share my experience, findings and tips on life and work. I’ll be happy if these tips help someone impress their future employers. Let me know if that happens!
More posts coming soon, stay in touch 😉