Gabe Winn

By Gabe Winn

Blakeney is growing quickly, so we posted a job ad on LinkedIn in late November. The job ad said that we were "looking for corporate comms/media/public affairs consultants at various levels" and received hundreds of responses, which was great.

We saw a wide range of applications, from really excellent to just sloppy. We'll only interview those that really hit the mark so, to help you be in that group next time, we’ve put together a few observations. Some of it might apply to you, or perhaps none of it does, but hopefully you’ll find it helpful for your next application.

Some general points:

Given the level of competition, getting your initial application right really matters. It’s your first step through the door. Take care over it. Get the formatting, design and language right. Pay attention to structure and detail.

We stated in our advert that we expected a high standard of English. So we were surprised at how many people included typos, spelling and grammatical mistakes and other errors. Make sure you proofread thoroughly.

Put yourself in the shoes of the recruiter and make it easier for them. Think about what you would do if you already had a really busy day, but had several hundred applications to look through on top of that; would you read them all? No - you'd scan the first couple of lines before moving on; that means, as an applicant, you've got just seconds to grab our attention.

In the first instance, that means making your application shorter. We saw far too many long cover letters and two, three and even four-page CVs. It makes the recruiter groan when they see it – not the first reaction you want to elicit.

But don't think that 'grabbing our attention' means being whacky or controversial; we're looking for relevance and fit with what we've said we're looking for.

It helps the recruiter if you put your name as the file name. E.g. Jane Smith CV.doc. That means we’ll be able to organise our own process more easily, find your CV quickly, etc. Also put your name in the footnote of the CV, in case pages are separated.

Try to tailor the application to the company you’re applying to. We know you’re applying elsewhere and we'd never hold that against you. But if we see different text formatting in the same cover letter, it’s an obvious copy and paste job. Or, worse still, saying how much you desperately want to work for a completely different company (that happened) isn't going to get you very far with us. And spelling our company name wrong happened a few times too.

Cover email/letter:

Your cover email should be no longer than 2-3 short paragraphs. It introduces you and gives a bit of a narrative to your CV, or at least highlights the bits you want to get across. It’s not a personal statement. It should not be a side of A4 sent as an attachment.

Here’s a basic structure:

• Say what you’re applying for and how you found out about it.

• Say why you’re interested.

• Outline the two or three points that show your experience places you well for the role. Maybe a politics degree, some campaign volunteering, work experience in journalism or in a PR agency, or relevant volunteering work.

• Say you look forward to hearing back, but that you'd be delighted to answer any questions we have in the meantime.

We saw lots of people claiming to have ‘vast’, ‘extensive’ or ‘in-depth’ experience and understanding of various things. These tended to be from people who had recently graduated and, with the greatest respect, someone at the start of their career very rarely has vast, extensive, or in-depth experience. This comes after many years, or more likely decades. You have useful, relevant and valuable experience and skills. You have gained insights, undergone training and demonstrated your abilities. Be confident in yourself, but don’t overstate it.

Keep the style of language human. Great rhetorical flourishes, or observations on the state of Public Affairs and the centrality of communications, are not needed. Be clear, polite, and human.

Your CV:

This is your primary marketing document. You should put the most effort into it, keep it permanently up to date, and make it relevant to your application.

We saw lots of long CVs. Too long. We strongly advise you to cut your CV down to one page. If you think that sounds unrealistic and you can’t possibly cram all your experience into a page, think again. Most of our team members have one page CVs, as did our first intern. One page cuts out the waffle and shows you know how to be concise in your writing – a highly valued skill in our industry.

Typos, spelling and grammar errors mean you don't get a second look. Proofread.

Focus on the relevant stuff. We know that working in a shop or bar gives you skills, but it’s not that relevant to our business. You can include one line saying you’ve done other roles as holiday jobs, but use the space to talk about relevant experience.

Lots of CVs had ‘skills’ sections. Firstly, these were usually just lists of vague claims without supporting evidence (I’m energetic! I’m hard-working! I’m a team player!). Secondly, being energetic, hard-working and a team player aren’t skills – they’re attributes. Skills are fluency in Arabic, being able to code, even being a champion darts player. And they usually have certifications or awards attached to them. We want to hear about skills (including the more general ones that show you’re a real human being with a life outside work), but attributes are pretty unhelpful.

If you don’t have much experience in political and communications stuff, a) write to your local MP and ask if you can be an intern in their Westminster office for a couple of weeks, help out in their constituency office, and/or campaign for them, b) get some work experience in journalism, in an agency, or in house (but don't ever work for free!). You only need a few weeks’ experience to get you started.

Finally, everyone in the Blakeney team wishes you the very best of luck in finding your next role, and we hope at least some of these pointers end up being useful.