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Behind the Headlines

A recruiter’s guide to a winning Journalism job application

We spoke to Sean Brinkley, Editorial recruiter at the Guardian, about how to make sure your CV and cover letter survives the sifting process.

How long should a CV be?

For a junior or entry level position, I wouldn’t expect anything more than a couple of pages for a CV. I wouldn’t go as far as to say you should limit your CV to one page, because strict rules can detract from making your CV stand out. However, you should try to be as succinct as possible. For example, a six month role shouldn’t take up the majority of your CV. The level of detail about a role should reflect how relevant it is to the job you are applying for, and how significant a role it was in building your skills and experience.

What about structure and fonts?

Avoid big blocks of text, and play around with structure. Choose a font that’s easy to read and has a professional feeling, avoiding fonts that might detract from the content  - like Comic Sans!

Using bold and different font sizes can help create division and guide the eye of the reader to the important bits. Using bullet points can create focus and force you as the writer to get to the point. If you want to write a block of text, put it in your cover letter!

What about the actual content of the CV?

If you don’t know where to start with the content, it might help to look at the job description from your previous role, if you are lucky enough to have had one. This will help  give you a strong starting point. You can then bring this description to life by personalising it with more tailored examples of your day to day responsibilities and add any achievements, impressive statistics, figures and awards.

For entry level or junior positions, the ‘work experience’ section of a CV can be naturally shorter than CVs of those who are further on in their career. Don’t feel pressure to make them longer by going into minute detail, as this will just detract from the main takeaway points. Instead, you could use the extra space to write a short profile at the top of the CV, that provides more detail around your experience, who you are as a candidate, and what you’re looking for in your next role.

Sean’s quick tips and tricks

  1. Make sure you use spell check and proofread! This is particularly important for a role in journalism, where attention to detail is key.

  2. Sometimes a CV and cover letter aren’t the best ways to demonstrate your skills and experience in an application process. For example, if you are a neurodivergent candidate, you may find that the traditional route of application becomes a barrier to accessing a vacancy. Don’t be afraid to speak to the recruitment team within the company you are applying to, as they should be able to make changes through the application process to make it easier and more comfortable for you. This applies to the whole recruitment process, including the interview stage.

  3. As you move through your career, always revisit and edit your CV. It will help for interview preparation,  weed out historic typos, and a chance to edit experience that is less relevant to the particular role you are applying for. Roles that might not have huge relevance to a role in journalism, such as time working in a bar as a first job, shouldn’t take up 5 bullet points. It is enough just to put the job title and dates. Don’t be afraid to slash the unnecessary.. Be brutal...especially if it’s quite long!

Cover letters

This is your opportunity to highlight to a recruiter or hiring manager why what you have done is directly relevant to the role in which you’re applying. If you’re thinking about structure, it’s a good idea to start with what interests you about the position, and why you feel you’re right for it. Make sure to use the job advert and job description to highlight the key areas.

When it comes to highlighting why you’re interested in working for a particular company, it’s worth knowing that many people highlight this in their application - it’s a staple. To stand out from the crowd, dig a little deeper, and link it to your own experience - how does the work you have done align with the organisation's values? What is it specifically about the organisation that excites you? Is it the investigations? A particular journalist? How has this inspired your work?

Have any links to what you’ve written? Any previous articles or blogs? If they’re relevant, add them in to help us understand who you are, your style, and what you’re passionate about.

Showing an interest in the organisation is likely to be more effective if the organisation is less well known. But ultimately, the primary focus of any application should be why you should work there, and what you bring to the table - that’s the priority!

Sean Brinkley is an experienced Recruitment Partner, with a background in Media, Financial Services and Not for Profit recruitment. For over 10 years he’s worked for some of the UK’s most recognised brands, attracting some of the best talent to roles in publishing and journalism, data and technology and commercial teams.

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