I’ve had the privilege of helping to interview a number of candidates recently to work in various communications roles in the department I work for at the University of Bath. I’ve sifted through literally hundreds of application forms, filtering out those we want to shortlist and interview. Throughout the process I’ve been surprised at some common mistakes that communications professionals seem to make when they’re looking for a new job, so thought I’d share some tips here on how to make sure your initial application form is really top-notch.
Be up to date
Show you know the current news agenda. This is really really important for a comms officer – you need to enjoy being connected to the wider world. Demonstrate that you have a daily routine that includes consuming the morning news and breaking news headlines throughout the day – whether this is through news channels, websites, apps or social media. If possible, show cases where you’ve responded to the current news agenda to profile your clients or organisation positively.
I wouldn’t employ someone in a communications or PR role who couldn’t demonstrate their use of a full range of communication channels – both off and online. I would usually look for evidence of this in an application form, so make it very clear and share direct links to your profiles or a personal website listing them. I’d only actively look for someone’s digital footprint if I really, really liked the sound of their experience – but that would depend on how busy I was and how many applications I had to get through!
An applicant who could show me that they actively used platforms like (but not limited to) Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn would be the minimum I’d look for. Active use – so for example the targeting of communications to specific audiences through, lets say, Google+ communities and LinkedIn groups, would excite me. I’d almost certainly want to meet you and interview you. And a blog or personal website that showed me your writing style would certainly be valuable too.
If you’ve worked in communications and you’re telling me you have experience, I’ll expect you to have contacts. I’m not just talking connections on LinkedIn here – I mean real-life contacts you can pick up the phone to and ask favours of. These might not be in the exact sector I’m hiring you for, but nevertheless, they tell me you’re able to build relationships with industry leaders, opinion formers, decision makers and within the press. Tell me about your network. Tell me what audiences your previous comms have targeted, the channels you used, the connections you made, how you maintained these and influenced them, and what the results were.
Sound like you care
You’d be surprised how many applications I’ve seen from people who sound very disinterested. Sometimes they get the name of our institution wrong, the name of the role wrong, or clearly haven’t read the job description. Other times, they just don’t come across as someone who is excited by the opportunity, really wants the job and has ideas for how they’d do it well. When you apply for a job, don’t just tell us what you’ve achieved, tell us what you’d like to do if you got the role – what experience and contacts might you bring to us that will help you do well in the role?
Just because you tell us you have five years press office experience, don’t assume we’ll think that is relevant experience. You need to tell us what you’ve done during those five years to develop in your role. You might have spent five years placing a weekly press release in the local newsletter, whereas we want someone who can regularly target national and international outlets. If you have had a career break, tell us why – don’t leave us guessing. Tell us how you kept your skills up to date. Detail is key – what did you do, where were you, what did you achieve, what did you learn, how do you keep developing?
Speak to us
And last but not least, don’t guess what the employer wants. The strongest applications I’ve seen are from people who have contacted us and asked about the role, found out more about what our problem is and the sort of person we need to solve it. However, make sure you have some real questions to ask – think before you call about what you want to know. Picking up the phone is the best way to do this, but an email would be better than nothing.
These are just a few tips, and while I’ve tried to keep the advice broad, you’d obviously need to adapt your application based on the role you were going for! Do you have any additional advice to add to this? Feel free to share tips (or horror stories!) in the comments section below – I’d love to see them