A response to speculative CVs and my top 5 tips for publicity and marketing graduates applying for new roles

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I received a speculative CV and covering letter today and while it came from a strong candidate, it was a shame to see it looked and read like all the others. I responded with the advice below which I hope might be useful to other graduates looking to start a career in publicity and marketing. The points reflect my thoughts and opinions on this and I’d be curious to hear what any readers think in the comments section.

1. Personalise!!!
Mr or Mrs ’there’ will never give you a job because they don’t exist. I know you are emailing tons of other potential employers but if you want me to care enough to respond please do me the courtesy of a personal approach. Letters and emails that start ‘Hi there’ will be binned. It takes ages to do this for every potential employer but it is worth it. Depth of connection is more valuable than breadth of connection so if you have limited time choose your prospects carefully. It is a decision that will shape your life so take it seriously.

2. Include information relevant to the company you are approaching in your covering letter
This follows on from the first point and requires you to include references to the work and clients the company deals with. For PR why not Google some of the articles and reference them in the covering letter or pick out some of the qualities expressed in testimonials on the site. E.g. “I believe my experience and skill set in creative problem solving would be a great fit for the organisation and I would love to input on ‘creative effective campaigns’ like the one you delivered for Client X”.

3. Focus on skills that you can give evidence of in a covering letter
There doesn’t need to be tons of detail in this because really all you want your covering letter to do is make the person look at your CV. That’s all it has to do. Yours did because of the relevance of your work experience at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. As an example of skills what you want to reference is something like: “I found my extensive experience of customer facing and management roles in retail and university positions was an excellent foundation for my work during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe where my responsibilities were XYZ”.

4. The most important thing I want to know as an employer is WHY
Why do you want to work for us? Why in this field? What is it that excites you about it?

Your intention and attitude will be your greatest asset. Focus on making sure these come through clearly on your CV and covering letter. A caveat to this is any line that describes you as ‘being a workaholic’ . There is nothing positive in that statement. Starting out in your career it’s the most dangerous ‘aholism’ out there. A former member of many informal Workaholics Anonymous meetings my memories are of it being a pretty joyless state. Being a workaholic suggests that your work takes over your life to the exclusion of all else. While employers love employees willing to put their noses to the grindstone, nobody wants to work with a one dimensional work only individual. When it comes to work ethic caring is the biggest asset. If you care, you’ll put in long hours where necessary, you’ll find resources when needed, you’ll find solutions to problems and you’ll learn what needs to be learned to get the job done.

5. Help me skim read your CV by making the highlights visible

There’s tons of good stuff in CVs but remains hidden in paragraph and text heavy documents. Design advice would be to give it more space and less text and content wise I just want to see your highlights for each role. “The highlight of my time working here was: securing this coverage / resolving this dispute / coming up with this solution”. When mentioning awards don’t assume the reader know what the award is. Even a link to take me to a page that describes it would be good. Finally, on your CV I would love to see a line that starts “I am happiest when….” in a work or otherwise context. Even the practise alone of thinking about this and putting it to words will be an invaluable compass guide when looking at opportunities in the future. Despite the shitty job market and the short term nature of many opportunities you only get one career so make sure you choose carefully and for the right reasons.