Sunday, 22 February 2015

We Interrupt Your Scheduled Advertising Post to Bring You a Post About Job Hunting

Or more accurately, about job hunting cover letters.

For years I was always taught to personalise my cover letter whenever I applied for a job, to research the company thoroughly and make a specific pitch, for myself, to the company.

For years that was my method. And it worked, to a degree. But coming out of university into the big bad world of advertising agencies and realising that the competition for junior roles in an agency is basically a thousand squawking ducks fighting for one piece of bread, a rethink was in order.

So, based on my admittedly anecdotal evidence, I recommend that the best way to stand out and appear creative, interesting and engaged is to have a standard cover letter when applying to agencies, and barely vary it once you have a formula you’re happy with.

A tad paradoxical perhaps. But the reality is that in all honesty, personalisation isn’t that much of a bonus to how you appear to an agency. And why should it? In theory, yes, agencies want you to show personal interest in their company. Commitment. Invested time. But you don’t have that time. You have too much to do. You can’t just apply to one agency, you have to apply to every agency you can find. Because you can’t put all your career eggs in one agency basket- or even ten, or even a hundred.

And in any case, once you have a good cover letter why change it? Too often personalisation to fit a company turns into bending over backwards to seem like what you think that that company is looking for. Not only is that dishonest, and bad practice, it’s also very unlikely to work. Even if you get past the cover letter, you’ll be found out at the interview. And even if you get past that you’ll be found out when you start working there.

And yes, there is no such thing as bad experience. But given the variety of agencies and opportunities out there you might as well make yourself attractive to the ones that would genuinely suit you.

So what does that mean? It means making a cover letter that is the best version of you. Sell yourself, certainly. But sell your real self. Don’t mess things around and pretend to be someone you’re not. Make it interesting. If you think you’re funny, make it funny. If you consider a specific skill or trait to be important to you, make it part of your story. The agencies that see your cover letter and think that you’re the one for them - they’re the ones who have gotten what you offer and recognised it. The ones who read what you have to say and recoil in horror - well, I guarantee you, you never wanted to work for them in the first place.

In a sense it’s a question of putting yourself first. It’s easy to think when you’re starting out that you have to take every chance you can. It’s a tough economy. You’re nothing special. And certainly, junior ad people are not a rare commodity right now. But you can do well. You owe it to yourself to fight for what you want.

And that means writing a cover letter for yourself. Not for an agency. Not for what you think a future employer wants. But for what you want for yourself.

(Within reason, of course.)

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