Rarely a day goes by where I don't get an email from a job application or prospective CV in my inbox.
The UK digital sector, and the field of online marketing in particular, have flourished over the past few years and, as evidenced by the horde of prospective employees, the trend shows no signs of abating.
In this guide, I'll try and give newcomers looking for a job in digital marketing a helping hand by highlighting some of the things people like me love, and hate, to see in a CV and covering letter.
Ways to be instantly discounted
First off, there's a few faux pas that are simply unforgiveable when it comes to selling yourself for a job via email.
Personalisation: The overwhelming majority of agencies and organisations will list their personnel somewhere on their website – you can even check LinkedIn if all else fails. However, all too often, I've seen prospective candidates prematurely shoot themselves in the foot by sending an obvious mass email.
In the 21st century, you're not going to spend time laboriously crafting every application email, especially when few of the salient details will change. But not tweaking a few bits is frankly indefensible. Some key things to look out for include:
- Addressing the email to an actual person (if you're not sure who this should be, ring up and ask – this may even gain you bonus points)
- Not mentioning the agency or organisation by name
- Don't just say you were 'immediately interested' – talk about what sectors/clients/type of work appeals to you.
One solution is to set out the bare bones of your covering letter - using this as the basis for a template. Then you can simply tweak the bits you need to customise for each application at your leisure.
Housekeeping: Grammatical, syntactical or spelling mistakes are a big turn-off. Your ability to pay attention to detail will undoubtedly be questioned if you can't even get through a few hundred words without an error.
And if you've opted for a web-based CV, a nicely-designed PDF or any other 'fancy' options, make sure everything works across various screen sizes and devices before hitting that 'send' button.
Being terse: Arguably worse than a bad covering letter is no covering letter at all. A couple of lines saying 'I'm applying for x,y,z – please find my CV attached' is not sufficient.
Similarly, attaching your covering letter, rather than using the body of an email is another big no-no. Why make a potential recruiter jump through unnecessary hoops?
Being long-winded: On the opposite side of the scale – your covering letter does not need to be War and Peace. As a rule of thumb, if you're going over about five paragraphs – take a hatchet to it. Be concise and to the point and you'll increase your chances of making a good first impression.
While a degree or other higher education qualification in a related subject is definitely an asset, there's no overstating how vital hands-on experience in relevant fields is.
I personally wouldn't discount any candidate who lacked a degree, as long as they had the experience and portfolio I was looking for. In my eyes, both qualifications and real-world experience are promising indicators that you've been able to pursue a long-term commitment self-sufficiently.
With both, however, there's a number of traps that candidates often fall foul of.
Relevance: This is the watchword when highlighting your experience – both in terms of qualifications and experience. The hierarchy of weighting I give goes something like this:
- Relevant experience/qualifications
- Related experience/qualifications
- Unrelated but analogous experience/qualifications.
So if you're applying for a role in a particular field, consider which of the above you're bringing to the table. If you're lacking, be honest with yourself and if it's something you really want to get into – make a commitment to gain more relevant experience.
What you should definitely never do is try and twist experience that's unrelated or only tangentially related into something relevant.
First off, you're unlikely to succeed. For example, let's a candidate was applying for a social media role, but on paper, only had experience copywriting for a law firm. If they then suggested they'd handled social media for them – I'd take a look at the firm's accounts. And if they weren't up to snuff, then they'd be unceremoniously discounted.
And even if you were able to pull a fast one and land the job, if you're not what you said you were on paper – you'll be found out pretty quickly.
Knowledge: Digital is a highly technical field and if you say you know about a subject – expect to be asked questions on it. I've seen boastful candidates flummoxed by relatively simple stuff like 'name a Google update' or 'what's Facebook's algorithm called?'
There's a wealth of free training resources out there, so it's easier than ever to buff up. And if you don't know where to start, I'd suggest Moz's Beginner's Guide to SEO and Social, Hubspot's Inbound Marketing resources and an in-depth guide to content marketing.
You'll also be quizzed about the company, so do your homework and learn what it specialises in, how long it's been running and a selection of clients. If you can also quote a recent blog title or two, I'd personally be inclined to give you some extra kudos.
Good experience is basically anything you've done before that's the same or similar to the sort of tasks you'd be doing in the role you're applying for. And the more you can tailor this to the job specification, the better.
Writing: Whether social media, content or copywriting – you have to be able to eloquently express yourself. It's crucial to build up a portfolio of work that shows you off at your best in a diverse range of settings.
Start-ups, charities, blogs and non-profits are constantly crying out for support in these areas – so volunteer your time and gain references, as well as adding to your portfolio. And since many will let you work remotely – going down this route is easier than ever.
However, maintaining a sporadically updated Blogspot/Wordpress blog about something like football, fashion or music simply won't cut the mustard.
Technology: In all of the roles mentioned above, you'll be working with a lot of tools in the course of your tasks and if you're non-technical – you'll struggle. Therefore, if you've had prior experience with content management systems, website back-ends and social publishing/analytics tools you'll give yourself a definite leg-up.
Current affairs: Creating content concepts and seeking out opportunities to curate or comment on hot topics is part and parcel of many digital marketing roles. As such, it pays to have a working knowledge of current affairs, politics and the like – particularly if you'll be working in certain sectors (e.g. professional services).
So if you think you might know more about Kim Kardashian than you do Kim Jong Un, or are more up on One Direction than the General Election – it's probably time to get to grips with the news agenda.
Hopefully the above, while not exhaustive, has given you some food for thought. But if you've got any questions or think I've missed anything obvious – leave me a comment or give me a shout on Twitter.
Lastly, Finding your Marketing Job
Once your CV and covering letter is ready you can search and apply for the latest digital marketing jobs on OnlyDigitalJobs.com - best of luck!
Gerald Heneghan is head of content at Roland Dransfield PR and combines a background in journalism with a genuine passion for technology and search.