Heather Baker, Founding Director of the London PR agency TopLine Communications, knows the challenges of setting foot in the media world. Some 90 percent of applications sent to Topline Communications go straight in the dust bin. “We open every application we receive,” Baker says, “but with CVs coming through almost every day, we have to be quite discerning.”
This leaves no room for sloppiness: carelessly drafted or obviously recycled applications diminish any prospects of success. According to Baker, the most common mistakes made are neglecting the importance of exact details, like addressing the cover letter to the wrong gender, using American spelling applying for a job at a British firm, or simply missing the point in lengthy personal statements.
It is important to conduct thorough research and know the company you are applying to very well before applying. A company’s website is usually a good source for easily accessible background information. You also need to be aware of the reasons why you have the right qualifications and should be hired for the job. Baker says, “A brief but carefully constructed covering letter that spells out why the candidate wants to work for us, specifically, and which identifies their unique skills will usually catch our attention.“
When she came to London in 2004, Baker experienced first-hand how hard it is to break into an industry as competitive as PR. Recruitment agencies are a popular option to land the dream job. However, it is always advisable to show initiative by contacting potential employers directly and thus demonstrating possession of the qualities employers specifically look for in applicants. “I sent my CV out to around 20 agencies a day for a month,” Baker recalls. Eventually, she received three interview invitations and three offers.
Strong communication skills, efficiency and organisational talent are key features of a job hunter for a successful future in PR. Most other, industry-related, skills are learned on the job. According to Baker, applicants’ degree subjects are irrelevant as long as they possess the required qualities. “I would rather meet someone who has excelled in a Geography or Ballet degree because they are passionate about the subject,” she says, “than someone with an average PR qualification.”
Passion and commitment are highly valued traits. Regardless of the type of extracurricular activities listed on your CV, “if you can demonstrate the ability to start something and stick with it, that’s a major plus point,” Baker says. Active involvement in a society, membership in a sports club, internships or work experience all indicate a visible red threat through the pursuit of personal interest.
“I would also advise setting up a LinkedIn account and building your network,” Baker says, “I’m usually impressed by a graduate who has understood the power of social networking for business.” LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional networking site online with more than 90 million users in over 200 countries. A range of free and fee-based services provides a platform for companies, employers and employees to make connections, find jobs and business opportunities, and get career advice.
In the age of Facebook, an active virtual presence on social networking sites has become an integral part of most students’ daily lives. However, very few students make use of the enhanced career opportunities provided by professional networks. A recent study conducted by the University of New Hampshire has shown that 96% of university students use Facebook every day compared to only 10% of students using LinkedIn on a daily basis.
Ultimately, when it comes down to landing a highly sought-after job in the industry, it might just be the little details considered along the way, such as extracurricular commitment and business connections, that set you apart from the competition.
For an extended interview with Heather Baker of TopLine Communications, click here