Jobs in the creative industries are highly competitive, so how do you make yourself stand out from all those other applicants and give yourself the best possible chance?

Having recently advertised for an Agent and an Assistant and received 128 applications for the Agent and 464 for the Assistant we found ourselves asking this exact question, or at least having to consider how we weigh up each application and find the ones that shine through. So we thought we’d put together our advice. Particularly of course for all the people we have had to reject. But also for anyone who wants to give themselves the best chance of landing an interview in your dream job.

10 practical things that apply to pretty much any job application

  1. How your application looks when the recruiter receives it is important because it really is your first impression. Have a look back over everything to check that it all looks exactly how you meant, check for typos, readability, grammar and that the layout is easy on the reader.
  2. Save your CV as a pdf so you can guarantee it’ll look as good on their computer as it does on yours. If it’s a word document all the work you put into it may be lost on us.
  3. Think about what you call it. It may be fine called ‘CV’ and ‘Cover Letter’ when it’s saved on your computer but can you imagine how many files we received with those names? Call your files something like ‘CV, your name, company name, job title’.
  4. Use legible fonts. You really don’t have to overthink your choice. Standard fonts are fine, it’s a creative industry but we want you to be professional so make sure your CV reflects that (on which note never use Comic Sans or any sort of handwriting font).
  5. They may be called cover letters but they don’t actually have to be letters in attachments. Our personal preference is for the covering letter to be written into the body of the email as well as there as an attachment. This means that I can easily save it to a file along with your CV but that I can also easily just look at it in email, which makes initial sifting easier for me.
  6. It’s important to personalise your application. I don’t think anyone would ever dismiss applications out of hand that haven’t personalised the salutation but doing so demonstrates that you’ve done enough research into the company to know who the role is working to. In our case we produced an organisational chart so you could see how the company works and our names are all over the job descriptions. It wouldn’t be too hard to make the leap to addressing us.
  7. Don’t make anything too long. Not sentences, not paragraphs and not your covering letter. Of course you don’t want it to be too short, we’re aiming for succinct rather than brief. If you’re looking for a rule: CVs should never be more than two pages until you’re really experienced / senior; and the ideal cover letter is the equivalent of a side of A4. When you have a lot of applications to read your heart does sink a little when you encounter two, three or even more pages of cover letter.
  8. There’s a fine balance in how much you do or don’t include. For example if you have a hobby that is particularly unique, that is particularly important to who you are or that you think makes you look particularly good then add it. But liking reading doesn’t distinguish you from anyone in the book trade! Think about your USPs, what makes you really special, and focus on them.
  9. Follow instructions. It may seem petty but if you’re told to do something explicitly and you don’t then it can be taxing on the recruiter.
  10. Start with a bang. Your first few sentences are vital to engage my attention. It’s fine to start a little formally being clear with what you’re applying for but move as quickly as you can onto really selling yourself.

4 bigger things that are really important to getting highly competitive jobs

  1. Make it clear you want this job, not just any job
    You may despair at how time consuming applying for jobs is and think you’ve come across a neat way of maximising your chances by creating a standard application that can be slightly tweaked for any job, but if it doesn’t address the job it may be costing you opportunities. Especially in the creative industries we need to know why you want this job, not just any job, why you care about what we are doing. This is especially true if your CV mostly has experience in other areas, particularly other art forms. If your CV is filled with experience in, say, theatre, it looks a lot like you want to work in theatre, so make sure you say why you really want to work in books.
  2. Think about the narrative
    Our industry is all about stories and we all respond well to them so your application really sings if it has a good narrative. Sure it has to be filled of the relevant facts and the pitch of why you’d be perfect for it, but the best applications tell the story of why and how you’d fit into the organisation perfectly. I’m not asking you to start ‘Once upon a time’, but make it clear how you’ve made the decisions you have in your life and career and how they’ve brought you to the point of wanting this job and being absolutely perfect for it.
  3. Why first, How second
    How you’d be perfect for the job is important, but why you want it is often what will distinguish you, particularly in the early stages of your career where everyone has a lot of similar experience. Think hard about how you wow recruiters with your passion and enthusiasm as well as with your skills.
  4. This isn’t about you
    If you take nothing else away from this, take this. As a recruiter I want to know how hiring you can bring value to our company. We take it as a given that this job would be great for your career! So saying what you’d get out of it without also saying what you’d put in isn’t helpful to us. Your self belief is absolutely vital to getting great jobs but if it isn’t balanced with an understanding that there’s a symbiosis in the very best jobs between what you give and what you get, then it can come off the wrong way. To paraphrase JFK, ‘ask not what the job can do for you, but what you can do for the job’.

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