I’ve been writing a lot of cover letters and personal statements, and CV versions) lately, so this video really spoke to me today.It’s worth watching it a few times, if you;re at all in the cover letter zone, to note how economically it covers its bases. It’s modest, yet confident and assertive. It has wit and humour, but isn’t crass or off-topic. It covers experience in detail, as well as what skills the writer could bring to the table. It is informal but not egotistical or unprofessional. In its making, it demonstrates the skills it describes.
This last one is a particular nightmare for a writer! A cover letter or CV that’s anything less than mindblowing just lets you down professionally. And I see a few of these, as we’ve also been receiving quite a few speculative approaches at work; there’s been a big restructure (hence the job search), and it’s amazing how word gets out.
Reading these letters, which are effectively angling for my job, is a great way of seeing what to do and not do in a speculative approach. I can see, for example, that if you write in your cover letter that you want to move your career into the sustainability sector – having identified an opening in a feature on a sustainability company in the Sunday Times – and if your CV contains no reference at all to anything even remotely connected to the green sector – you should really say something about why you want to work in it. Why you’re interested in it. Or what you think you could bring to it. Or how your previous work relates to it. Or prepared you for it. Or what you think your transferrable skills are. What’s in it for them, the employer. Or, really, anything.
As the old saying goes, ‘Who feels it knows it’. I’m lucky to get to read these examples of how not to do it, just as I have to do it. But does it really make it any easier? As with anything you ever write, you have to get into the head of the recipient, imagining what they want to know about. And, let’s face it: if you are writing a speculative letter, they didn’t want to know about anything. Until three seconds ago they’d never heard of you and were wondering how long till they could make a cup of tea. Why do they want to keep reading?
The real trick, I think, is to keep the freshness of spirit of this video, while writing to each company in a manner appropriate to the recipient, in his or her own language. (A doddle, then! And as you can see, I have a magic wand.)
In fact, right now the entire Text Pixel family is looking for work. Talk about living the Zeitgeist! The Text Pixie herself, if that’s me, is in a temporary contract for two more months, and now (as stated above) looking for a new role in corporate communications & PR.
The Text Pixel daughter is looking for a Saturday job, now her exams are finished.
The eldest son, a budding web design genius, has just handed in his final project for his second year in digital media at London College of Communications and is looking for work in an agency until October.
His girlfriend, a lovely, happy, friendly, experienced girl who can pull a mean pint, is looking for work in a pub.
And the Text Pixel boyfriend, a photographer who has been freelance his whole life, is looking for a way to pay his bills – as a portfolio (however impressive) won’t do that. He’s a great writer too but has never done it corporately. What to do? He is far from being alone; the streets and jobcentres are flooded with people his age who have just found that their world no longer exists. Everyone is job-hunting and the competition is fierce. There is no disgrace in having to find yourself afresh in your forties, but it is a challenge.
His approach is to create a sort of living portfolio, in the form of a blog that utilises his editorial and curatorial skills, showing that he can identify a niche, build a project, do picture research and editing and copywriting and negotiations, gain contributors (both photographers and writers), grow an audience, and keep it all going. It’s unlikely to land him an actual job; but it keeps his hand in, gives him a calling card, and is helping to develop new networks.
Anyway, I have written three of the CVs in question – all wildly different – and was asked for comment on the young designer’s portfolio site. (I think it’s great, but at the time of writing this it needs a little biography page. Perhaps along the lines of the video above. And he’s got a great thing going with that font at the top.) He was worried about not having much professional experience, but I’ve assured him that there’s no shame in being young, as long as you are (like him) bright and talented and full of energy and promise. Everyone has to start somewhere. The main thing is that the employer can see what you’re like, and what you can bring to the table.
So now we’ve got two great portfolio sites and a blog that’s already gaining critical attention; and I’ve linked in and monstered and joined up and updated, and my own website is now pretty much up-to-date. And we’re all researching companies to write to.
So we’ve got the material. We just have to do something with it. We have to go out there and hunt, under cover.
Cover letters, that is. I’m starting with the one at the top – and my magic wand.
May 24, 2010
Can I just ask something? Where are people supposed to work, then? You can’t exactly say the private sector is going to be bouncing, if the consumers – that is, the 52 per cent of the UK population who work in the public sector – are either riding out an extremely worried year, no doubt on fixed or lower pay, or are already out of work? Nobody’s going to be spending much.
Your ultra-positive text pixie here has already had her wings severely clipped by all these shenanigans. The news that communications departments up and down the land are about to shrink, along with everything else, is not exactly encouraging.
One more question. In evaluating the savings generated by the cuts, does the government offset gross savings against the cost of jobseekers’ allowance, income support, housing benefit, council tax benefit, free school lunches, dentistry, eye exams, prescriptions etc, which will have to be paid to people who can;t find work? And then arrive at a net savings to the economy, achieved at the paltry cost of people’s lives?
Just asking. This was conceived, after all, as a blog about the pleasure to be had from doing good, professional, creative work (more on “good work” soon), but that pleasure is a bit thin on the ground at the moment.
Paul Waugh at the Standard tweeted earlier today that he can’t see anything in these cuts that would necessarily lead to a “double dip” in the recession. I just hope he was right, because from where I sit all I see is lost jobs. One thing is very clear: we are in the middle of a paradigm shift. Nothing is going to look the same as it did before, and we are going to need to harness all our creativity to get ourselves through! I’d like to see some government vision mapping out what they think we’re all supposed to do now.
April 26, 2010
If you are engaged in producing publications of any kind, you may wonder how your pdf turns into a book. This short educational film will not help you. However, it will help you to appreciate the complete miracle that your pdf is! A couple of years ago I had the honour (well, it was very interesting) to tour a printers’ works, and see all the guys there doing their different jobs. (None of them were called ‘Ready Man’, which seems a shame. But by the same token, no one was about to get their hand made flat as a page by a machine. And there were no vats of hot copper. The scariest part, frankly, was the distribution manager’s room, with its complicated system all over the walls.)
Of course, it seems a world away. We’re digital now! The computer does everything for us. We simply type out what we want to say (and then edit, verify, footnote, libel-check, lay it out, sub-edit, proofread it, and proof it again); add our own photographs (or ‘pics’), which we may well have scanned ourselves (at 300dpi, I hope, and with signed permission if they are of children or models, and copyright permission), arrange the text around them in such a way that it is still legible, and ensure that the pics are not in any way stretched or manipulated out of their proportions; check printable margins, calibrate colours as best we can (there is no exact science for the mysteries of digital colour, your RGB to CMYK conversion, your Pantone). Then we simply turn the thing into a pdf file. How does this work? I don’t know. You click on a button: ‘make pdf’. Presto. Anybody can do it.
The printers do the rest. (Technically of course they deal with the colour issues too. But I have spent anxious moments with designers, trying to work out how something would look in print, and we have seen initial proofs coming back looking completely different from all predictions.)
There is a second way, involving Microsoft Publisher, stretched clip art of funny pics form the team party or major funder, misspelled words, single words left hanging at the top of a page or in the margin of a picture, ungrammatical libellous remarks, unsupported assertions that amount to untruths, etc. Anybody really CAN do this. And you still press ‘make pdf’ and send it to the printer. But there are superstitions about that kind of stuff.
When I started this blog it was going to be like the wonderful blogs a few of my friends write, all about amusing and interesting aspects of Life in the World of Communications. Instructional. Inspiring. Energising. Funny.
I wanted to write about technical aspects of the work I do, in which I am – in my own small way – intensely interested. About social and cultural aspects of my work, because it involves people and a company’s relationships with them. Human aspects, because I am intensely interested in how we relate to one another, and in how organisations function as social organisms. Theoretical aspects, because I am always thinking and learning. About day-to-day aspects, because they are always interesting.
As it happens, poor Text Pixels has been hobbling along. It’s been hard to keep up the momentum. I even lost the vision of what it was supposed to be for, couldn’t remember who I was writing it to or what I was saying. I mean, I knew it was about work, but my relationship with work has been so disrupted that I lost track of my position was within it.
In fact, my contact with the actual content of my professional world has recently become increasingly theoretical, meta, post-modern. In the year since I had the idea for Text Pixels I have spent far more time trying to get paid work than actually doing any.
I have been applying my PR expertise to myself. My marketing campaigns have been about getting clients, or students, or agents. The main thing I have written for work purposes this year has been about five versions of my CV. I’ve rewritten my website pretty comprehensively, too. And my Linked-In profile. I spent most of weekend-before-last filling in an eight-page application form for a job that was only expected to last a few months, and for which I didn’t get an interview, despite being hand-picked by an agency.
My attitude is, as always, solution-focused and pro-active. Any employer or high-profile client would have appreciated it. I’ve been positive, even bouncy. Energetic, driven and tenacious. I’ve even kept my sense of humour. (Sometimes black humour, okay, but a laugh is a laugh, innit?) But however pluckily I have kept going, the truth is that in the past year the story has changed.
We are in the worst recession since the Great Depression. When I got made redundant it was only a Credit Crunch, and mainly far away in the cornlands of America where people had been taking out ill-advised mortgages. I don’t even have a credit card, let alone a mortgage! Well: guess what.
So this is where my little workaday blog gets serious. I am now blogging about how one stays afloat or survives professionally. I will try to post more often. And more fearlessly. Not sure if confessional work blogging is really the sensible way to go, but it strikes me that I’ve been doing something I would tell any blogger, or writer, not to do. I’ve been writing what I think people want to see.
In doing that, I’ve forgotten the truth about what PR really is. That any real audience is those who want to read what you have to say. You can’t fake a brand. If I were an employer I wouldn’t want to hire someone who writes falsely and, in pandering to the audience, forgets them.
I am making this up as I go along. But we all are, whether we admit it or not. The most professional people right now are going to be the ones who can keep re-applying their knowledge, re-interpreting what they see around them, and working out new ways of doing things. I have no idea what those new ways are or if they even exist, but I can tell you the old ways aren’t working.
Text Pixels is now the drawing board I’m going back to.
Watch this space, and see me try to figure it out in real time.