What sets a fantastic CV and cover letter apart from an average one?
I know what it's like to apply for jobs and not get them. And, in reflection, I think I there were certainly times I could have done a better job of of positioning my CV and cover letter to be more compelling.
As a manager and PR agency owner, I've also sifted through thousands of CVs so I know what an engaging PR job application looks like and what does not.
Andie Crawford, General Manager of the Sydney office of communications agency Alt/Shift, joins me for this episode of The PR Pod to share our tips and tricks for really setting yourself apart when applying for a PR position.
“Don't be afraid to approach companies you want to work for that don't have jobs available. It's a great way to get on their radar, providing you show a genuine connection to their business and demonstrate what value you believe you can add to their company. The next time a relevant job does come up with them, there's a good chance they'll think of you first”
Listen to the full episode on The PR Pod podcast for more tips on landing a PR job. You'll also find this episode on your fave podcast players including Apple Podcasts and Spotify, just search "The PR Pod".
WHAT EMPLOYERS WANT FROM A STAND-OUT CV
Attention to detail
Your CV should be succinct and not an anthology of every moment in your life so keep it to one page of the most important information.
The formatting should be clean and simple. If you're applying for a job that expects creativity then think about a different format for presenting the CV, outside of the norm. But, generally in the communications industry employers want to be able to quickly and clearly see the relevance of that person for the job.
Ensure your spelling and grammar is perfect. If you're applying for a role in the communications industry, there are no excuses for mistakes.
Include a summary statement
This statement should consist of 1 - 2 sentences which sits at the top of your CV, summarising what you can bring to that job. Look at this as an opportunity to pitch yourself to your prospective employer. You don't contact a journalist without having a carefully crafted pitch and it's no different when applying for a job.
Don't just rattle off the standard keywords outlined in the job description. Sure, they are excellent attributes to have but just listing them doesn't stand you apart. Consider these two examples - which one sounds more compelling to you?
Example 1: I believe I have excellent communication skills, great attention to detail, am hard-working and work well with a team.
Example 2: My excellent communication skills are intertwined with my attention to detail. My clients and managers always feel confident they know where I’m at with a project as I’m clear on my progress and any requirements I have of them through meticulous reporting and regular updates.
That second example tells me this person get the inner workings of a PR team, they are used to juggling tasks, they understand you have to be accountable and they're clever enough to articulate that into two sentences. That example stands out to me, the first one does not.
You could also use this summary statement to talk about relevant experience, if you have something that positions you perfectly. Additionally, if you're applying for a job at your dream company, articulate why you've always wanted to work there. But, keep in mind it's meant to be succinct. You can go into a little more detail in your cover letter.
Your employment history
Include your most recent positions, the length of time you were in them (month/year to month/year) and a brief recap of what your role and responsibilities were. Keep it factual and succinct and don't use hyperbole.
If you were in a role for a short amount of time, be prepared to answer why when it comes to the interview (don't address it in your CV). Be honest in your answer, it shows maturity.
If you're applying for a graduate position, include any part-time jobs you've had and think about what relevant skills from that job you may be able to draw a correlation between with this graduate role. For example, if you worked at a supermarket on the weekend you may not have gotten any experience in writing press releases but you do know how to juggle a part-time job with studies so you understand the importance of managing your time.
Graduates should also be including their internships - the more, the better! Again, month/year to month/year. Internships show a genuine commitment to the industry and to expanding your experiences. Briefly discuss what tasks you completed/assisted with, what you were exposed to, and what you learnt from that internship.
A bespoke document that reflects their job requirements
Sure, there's facts to your employment history that won't change but what you can change, is how your CV is reflective of what that position requires. If the job ad places emphasis on media contacts within the fashion sector then make specific reference to that and provide examples. The next job ad might place more emphasis on event management so dial back the fashion contacts and increase the description on your event experience.
Use this as an on opportunity to talk about what media you personally consume. Is there an online news site you read every morning in bed, do you subscribe to particular industry magazines, do you love a specific beauty column? Ideally, these media interest should be tailored to the job you're applying for but not to the extent you're lying.
By talking about how you personally consume media, it shows your employer that a) you do actually pay attention to the news and relevant publications and b) that you get this an important part of the industry.
A lot of the time, this is the easiest component of the CV. Just pop in your most recent employer - it could even by your current employer if they know you're looking to move.
However, if you don't feel comfortable listing your most recent employer for whatever reason, include your employer prior to that one, or perhaps there is another colleague from your most recent company that could also be relevant. You can keep it to one reference and just say - further references on request.
Again, as per above, be prepared to answer the question as to why that employer wasn't included and be honest.
Whoever you do list down, make sure you have their approval to be listed on your CV.
WHY YOUR COVER LETTER CAN SECURE YOU AN INTERVEW...
The purpose of a cover letter is to get the interest and attention of your prospective employer and address why you are the ideal candidate for this position. Which means, every cover letter should be tailored to that particular different job.
It shouldn't be more than a couple of paragraphs long but honestly, one paragraph can be enough if it's perfect.
Here's a few things to keep in mind:
Address how your experience is relevant to this particular job. Sometimes this is really easy to do. You may be applying for a role as an Account Manager at a PR agency that specialises in beauty PR and you've worked in beauty PR for the last four years. It will be easy enough to draw parallels. However, if you've worked in tech PR the last four years it doesn't mean your experience isn't relevant. Find the parallels between the tasks and responsibilities required of you in tech PR and show how they're relevant to beauty
Speak to your strengths. You need to be able to juggle a lot of balls in PR but none of us are exceptional at everything, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. If you're like me and you're highly organised, no task ever slips through the gap and emails are responded to very quickly then talk about that. There may already be two highly creative people on that particular team and they really need someone to balance that out with keeping projects running to time and who has excellent attention to detail. Vice versa, perhaps you are highly creative so play to that.
Don't pretend to be amazing at everything. It's not very authentic and it
shows you don't have an honest grip on your skills.
Reference the sector and the company. Research what clients that agency works with, what campaigns they've done recently and what interests you about that sector. You should be able to see what clients they work with from their website or social media so google them, see what coverage has been secured recently and find something you connect with to reference. The same applies to an in-house position.
If possible, do some digging around on the person you're sending the job
application to (not so relevant if you're sending to HR). If you can see they've
been with that company for six years or in beauty PR for fifteen years, talk to
what a great opportunity it would be to learn from someone who
understands that company so well or the industry as comprehensively as
they do. Do your research and be informed.
One thing I used to do when applying for jobs was create a picture of what the perfect candidate for this job would look like.
What kind of person with what kind of skills and experience would be top of this employer's list? Write a list of what that person would have to offer and next to it, make a note of how you compare on each of those points.
Look at the areas you don't necessarily present as strongly on paper. Back to the beauty/tech PR example, they may ideally want four years beauty PR experience and you have four years tech PR experience. Address this is in the cover letter in a manner that reflects how your experience is equal to or perhaps better than four years in beauty PR. Get on the front foot and address anything you think they may think you're weaker at and flip that to be a strength. That way, you've given them the reassurance that your experience is just what they're after, before they have time to realise you may not have everything they were originally after.
HOW ELSE CAN I SET MYSELF APART?
Networking. During COVID many of those opportunities have been reduced but explore groups you could join on Facebook and LinkedIn or your local PR association. Sometimes, it's who you know, not what you know
Online courses. As well as paid courses, there's also a heap of free courses out there. Plus, there's many tutorials on the internet that will help make you more proficient at using the likes of Powerpoint or MailChimp or whatever it may be
Volunteer your services. If you've been made redundant or are struggling to find a job then see how you can practice and even develop your skills during this time by volunteering at a charity/not-for-profit. A gap in your CV looks far better if you can say while you've been trying to find a job, you've volunteered one day a week at a local dog shelter and created their social media strategy, or created the copy for their new website, or got them three pieces of coverage for a community event they were part of. I know these times are extremely challenging but see if you can find an opportunity within them
Keep an eye on dream companies you want to work. And not just in terms of what jobs they have available but what kind of clients/campaigns they are working with or executing. Take note of a great achievement and take the opportunity to send your CV and cover letter to someone involved with it and say why you loved the campaign/coverage and why you'd love the opportunity to work with them. And don't be vague, focus on the detail. For example, if an applicant said to me they saw I had six pieces of coverage run last week for the launch of a new restaurant I was working with, and named the media outlets that coverage ran in and told me which they felt was the most beneficial piece of coverage for my client and why, that shows far more attention to detail and interest then someone saying how much they love eating and drinking and that it would be a dream to work in hospitality....
Hopefully there's some tips in this episode that give you the edge you deserve. And don't be put off by rejection. Ask for feedback if you didn't get an interview or if you did get an interview but not the job. You will learn what areas you need to get more experience in and work on those.
Once you land that job, take a listen to this episode which gives you some great insight into what you need to do to get promoted.