At my day job this week we’re recruiting a new writer for an online content position. We advertised on SEEK for the first time, and as expected we’ve been inundated by applications.
Part of my job involves sorting through these resumes and removing the applicants who unfortunately don’t seem suited to the role. I’ve been amazed and a little alarmed by the simple instructions applicants have overlooked, while others have really impressed me with their efforts to stand out to our organisation.
Applying for writing jobs is incredibly hard – finding them can be a tricky task in itself – and those hiring can afford to be choosy because these days they’re picking from an ever-expanding pool of professional writing graduates, retrenched journalists and aspiring writers.
There are some common issues I’ve encountered since starting our recruitment process. While much of my advice will seem obvious or irrelevant, I’m hoping the below tips will help you strengthen your application when going for your next paying writing gig.
Advice when applying for non-creative writing jobs
Include a cover letter, even if the ad says nothing about one. We purposefully didn’t spell this out in our ad because we wanted to see how applicants would respond without instruction. It sounds slightly disingenuous, but organisations will do what they can to sort through applicants faster. Your resume demonstrates your education and experience, but it doesn’t elaborate on these points in great depth, and it doesn’t address the organisation personally.
If they ask for writing samples, give them writing samples! Don’t treat this as an optional request. Doing so will probably send your application straight into the no pile, despite your suitability for the role, because it suggests you didn’t read the requirements properly. It’s a writing role, so they want to see examples of your talent. Show yourself off! Don’t be afraid to send essays you’ve written for uni if you haven’t had anything published – but if it’s a 2000 word piece, cut it down to a small blog-sized extract.
Tailor your cover letter to the job you’re applying for. I can’t emphasise this enough. It’s ridiculously easy to spot a generic cover letter, especially when you haven’t addressed the selection criteria, and it’s something I’ve seen a lot over the past few days. There’s nothing wrong with tweaking an existing cover letter, especially if you feel it’s a well-written general template, but it’s vital that you personalise it and show a genuine interest in the organisation. Otherwise, you risk the impression you’re churning out application after application after application – and even if you are, you want to hide this!
Mention your passion and enthusiasm for writing – make your joy for your craft abundantly clear. My boss often sets aside applications that don’t sound passionate enough. This is what you love, and it’s encouraging to hear that.
If it’s a corporate position, play up the non-fiction pieces you’ve written (in that space or otherwise) and play down your creative aspirations. There’s nothing wrong with mentioning creative writing as one of your interests, but talking at great length about your sci-fi novel when you’re applying for a business journalist role indicates that your interests lie elsewhere, and again, it suggests you haven’t read the position description properly, or you’re just looking for a rote job to subsidise your true writing passion. That might be exactly what you’re doing, and there’s nothing wrong with that (we all have to pay the bills), but going off on a tangent like this shows a lack of awareness for the industry you’re trying to enter.
Proofread, proofread, proofread! Don’t send something off in a rush. You might be really excited – you’ve found the perfect job! – but it’s a good idea to let your application sit on your harddrive for a few days. Your attention to grammar and sentence structure is obviously pretty important, and it’s so easy to miss a minor but glaring mistake when you don’t take the time to do a thorough check. If you feel like you’ve reread your cover letter one too many times, pass it on to a friend or a family member for a final once over. Think of it like workshopping your fiction – getting another person’s perspective improves your work for the better, because it’s entirely new to them. Plus they know you so well they’re likely to point out positive traits you’ve forgotten to mention about yourself.
Calling the organisation to ask more about the position shows initiative and you will be remembered for it. You might assume everyone else is doing the same thing and there’s no point bothering, but odds are they’re thinking similarly. I’ve spoken to 2 out of a pool of about 50 applicants so far, and I remember both of their names. If nothing else, it’s a good way to clarify something confusing in the job description.
Don’t contact the organisation through social media channels asking them about their decision. It’s awesome that you’re doing your research and you want to demonstrate that, but Twitter and Facebook can make businesses seem quite light and approachable because that’s the persona they want to cultivate. You’re on the other side now. At the end of the day, it’s a job, and you could be accidentally portraying yourself as someone unprofessional and pushy.