Students, graduates, please try harder!

Read on for the best possible chance to find employment in our industry…

Dear graduates…

A couple of years ago, rather fed up with graduates emailing me a two-liner: “To Whom it May Concern” claiming to be “passionate about PR,” I felt moved to write a blog about the way students apply for jobs.

I am not often known for blowing my own trumpet but I have to say, it was rather a success. I got a flurry of requests from university journalism and PR faculties throughout the land asking me if I would allow the blog to be used on websites and as part of their advice to students. In short, my blog went sort of global and, more importantly, when students and graduates sent me their skinny little on spec applications, I could refer them to our website for advice.

And it’s that time of year again. We’re getting scores of emails from graduates at the moment. This week I received this one below from someone who wants to join my “outfit”.

“Hi there,

I am wondering whether there are any potential vacancies with Cartwright Communications. I’ve recently graduated in Broadcast Journalism and believe that I would be able to offer, as well as learn, a great deal from your outfit. If there are any openings, or you think you may be able to help me, then I would be more than happy to send more information (including a CV) to you in the near future.

I was so perplexed by it, that I decided to dust off my blog again. So, here it is, my 2013 version…

Call me old fashioned, but there is a time and a place for emailing. And sending speculative CVs by email may not be one of them.

Don’t get me wrong, at Cartwright we welcome messages and letters from our website but, graduates, if you are writing to us and other potential employers, I believe it’s best to get out a biro – and the Basildon Bond.

These days when the average inbox is rammed with hundreds of emails every day, I believe a hard copy letter will help you stand out from the crowd. I get more than 200 emails a day – but just a handful of letters a week. Your CV will be opened by hand and read.

Writing a one paragraph introduction with an attached CV is quick and easy to do. You can trot out a dozen applications in an afternoon and still get down to the pub for opening time – but if you want to stand out from the crowd, then type – or even write – your letter.

Not just any old letter, mind you…a letter which features the actual name of the person you are writing to. I’m growing a little bored of ‘Dear Cartwright Communications…’ emails. If you can’t be bothered to find out my name, then I can’t be bothered to read your CV.

Sounds harsh? Maybe so. But here’s the thing. Thousands of graduates will leave university this summer in the toughest jobs market in years. In 2012, more than half of the graduates leaving university went into low skilled jobs, and 20% didn’t get a job at all

The stark message is that people are going to have to work harder to get work – and go that extra mile to stand out from the crowd. Not only that, but increasingly college and university students are seeking placements, work experience and internships. We get so many enquiries asking us to afford some time and a desk to keen PR and media students.

Let me just explain. We are a busy PR firm with a small, tight knit team. We don’t take students all the time because we are short of time and space – so we only take the ones who show some initiative.

Do I sound fed up? I probably do. I feel so frustrated that we are contacted by some potentially really good people – but they don’t have a clue about how to make that all important first contact. You will only get noticed by me (and other employers I am sure), if you take a few simple steps. Here’s some tips:

  • When you apply to a company, make sure you know what they do. We received an email from someone who obviously didn’t have a clue as she suggested that she would like to join our design team. I politely wrote back to tell her we don’t have one.
  • There are these things these days called “websites.” They are really very good indeed and hold a great deal of information about an organisation. It means you can find out a great deal about a company – and even find out the MD’s name. When you write to a company and you have looked at the website, call up and find out a little more about them. Then tailor your CV accordingly.
  • Find out the name of the MD or HR director and write to them personally. Also, make sure you have their name spelled correctly. An ex editor of mine who was called Barrie, would put CVs straight in the bin if the letters were addressed ‘Barry’.
  • As well as sending a letter, why not follow potential employers on Twitter to see what they are saying. Respond to their tweets and show that you are interested in what they have to say.
  • Don’t write round robin letters. Not only is it obvious, but mistakes can so easily be made. I had a nice email from a very good PR candidate recently who addressed me as the MD of one of my competitor companies. Not only that, but the job seeker told me how much he admired my competitor company and wanted to work for them.
  • Use your spell check. Sounds obvious, but given that we are copywriters, journalists and PRs in our organisation, we won’t overlook grammar and typos.
  • We get so many emailed one paragraph notes from graduates and students looking for placements. Sometimes we get one paragraph and no CV attached. Why even bother? Applying for jobs and placements takes time, and you need to get it right or you won’t get a look in.
  • If you send your letter and CV, and you don’t hear anything, call the company. Find out if they received the letter and if they would like to meet you. It shows initiative – a very important quality in the world of journalism and PR.
  • Yes, we’re communicators but even we draw the line sometimes. When you get your work placement, there’s a very big rule. In the place of work, texting and twiddling on mobile phones is a big no-no. A placement student who came to us spent 80% of her day on her mobile.
  • Speculative contact with a company is good. Don’t be afraid of writing for a job or internship if there isn’t one advertised. Sometimes a CV landing on a desk can be very timely – just as the MD is thinking of hiring. If you don’t try, you won’t get.
  • Just take the extra time – employers will be impressed.

By Liz Cartwright

Liz heads up the team and set up Cartwright Communications in 2006 after working as a journalist for more than 20 years on titles including the Nottingham Post and Daily Mail. Liz’s PR experience spans the property, professional services and public sectors and she has significant crisis communications and internal communications expertise.