The recruitment process
Updated: Aug 22, 2021
*Disclaimer: This isn’t specific to journalism*
I’m freshly into my dream job as a trainee reporter, something I’ve worked towards since I was about 15.
That doesn’t make me an expert on CVs, job interviews, and the general recruitment process, but I thought I’d share everything I’ve learnt so far from sixth form, uni, and my own experiences.
As well as this, I’ve spoken to my boss, Laura Sonier. She is a deputy editor at JPI Media, so often deals with recruiting people. She gives an insight into the process, from the side of the employer.
First step: CVs and cover letters
Personally, I didn’t really know how to write a CV or cover letter until the careers department at uni stepped in. How you organise everything and decide what goes where, is really important.
At the end of this piece are some templates I've made that I've been told to follow in the past. Again, this is the same for every sector – not just journalism.
The recruitment process starts with your CV and cover letter, and decides if the employer want to take you any further – so it’s important to get this first bit right!
We’re often told that it is a matter of seconds that employers spend looking at a CV initially, I put this to Laura:
“We have a recruitment department who initially whittle the CVs down based on specific qualifications and a few short questions. Once I have a look it's not quite as short as 30 seconds, but you do generally get an idea pretty quickly about whether you want to interview that person or not.”
Another important thing to remember is that you MUST tailor your CV and cover letter to each individual application. Yes, it takes time, but this can decide whether you get an interview or not.
Laura said, “I can't stress enough how important it is to tailor your CV and covering letter to the job - and make sure your letter is addressed to the correct person. So many people don't, and it gives the impression that they're not that interested and can't be bothered to impress.”
I was constantly told that a CV should be two pages, no more and no less. This gives you an idea of how you have to prioritise jobs to make sure only the most important things are on there. I’m only 23 and there’s already a handful of jobs I’ve done that aren’t on my CV because I just don’t have the room for them.
As you can see from the template I’ve given at the end of this piece, put ‘relevant work experience' first, and then anything else with transferable skills comes later on.
Laura said, “Don't waste acres of space talking about your time working at a job with no connection to the job you are going for. Mention the job and then move on - no-one needs to read about your excellence as a barista if you're applying for a job in gardening. Just focus on what the job ad is looking for, and write your CV accordingly.”
One thing to remember is that qualifications only get you so far. It is about mixing qualifications with work experience. I’ve done a full post on this topic here, but this is what Laura said on the subject (this is quite specific to journalism, but you can apply this to other industries too).
“The journalism qualification (with shorthand) is non-negotiable, but beyond that it's more about work experience, the cover letter and CV, and the performance in the interview. We need a certain level of GCSEs/A levels but it's not the case that someone with a better degree would necessarily get the job over someone who really impressed in the interview. Plus, work experience shows you are keen to put your skills into practice - and have an idea about how a newsroom works.”
Finally for this section - check and prep!
Make sure you’ve checked through what you’ve written before sending it off. Typos are going to end your chances straight away, even if you’re perfect for the job.
Don’t leave something to the last minute. A job site may say they’re accepting applications until a certain date, but a lot of places look at applications on a rolling basis so you could already be putting yourself at a disadvantage if you apply on the final day. As soon as you see the job, apply!
Second step: Interviews and assessment days
If you’ve got to these stages, then things are going well – they’re narrowing down numbers and you’re closer to the job offer.
This is often the scarier stage because you’re not hiding behind a screen anymore - it's all on you from now on.
You could have phone interviews before something face-to-face, and the order between interviews and assessment days depends on the job – I’ve had the order both ways.
I have only actually done a couple of assessment days for jobs through uni, but what I took away from these is that you have to try and stand out without being over the top.
These days work as a way for the employer to narrow it down by seeing lots of people at the same time. They’ll often set a few group activities, and sometimes a group interview too.
Assessment days change massively between jobs, so I won’t go into detail, but the stand out advice I can give with this is to remember that everyone is in the same boat. Try and stand out, but not too much – find the balance between confident and cocky.
For example, make sure you’re not a mute in the group discussions, but don’t talk over people and be too full on, because that’s a big no no.
Interviews are your chance to bring your CV to life. Employers want to see you at this point rather than a piece of paper.
I asked Laura what makes employers want to interview someone:
“I look for a combination of very practical things – do they have the right qualification; do they have a driving licence – and work experience.
“You don't want to feel like the person is just going through the motions and applying for absolutely everything. Some knowledge about the town/city shows they have made an effort, that they want that job specifically, and that they have awareness of what the interviewer is looking for.
“Manners also help - an email thanking the interviewer for their time always goes down well.”
This last one is a tiny step, but can really make a difference. I always send a follow-up thank you email because it shows a bit of extra care that not everyone does. Again, I’ll include a template for this at the end.
When it comes to preparation, go through the original job advert and they will have listed what they’re wanting. Make sure you have a ‘story’ for each of these skills. By 'story', I mean that you can give an example of when you have shown this skill.
I use an essay technique from school – PEE.
Point – What point are you making? What skill are you showing?
Evidence – When did you show this skill? Set the scene.
Explain – Explain why that skill was important for that situation, and anything you learnt from it.
Other than this, don’t try and predict too much what they’re going to ask. Just make sure you know the job, and have your skill examples fresh in your mind.
I’ve always been told that taking notes into the interview is a no no. You become distracted when it should be a conversation - albeit an important conversation - so you shouldn't be reading off notes.
What I always do is have a notebook with a few questions I want to ask them at the end. Remember that you are finding out if this job is right for you too. If the interview comes to an end and you have no questions for them, it doesn’t look great.
One question I ask is: Is there anything I haven’t covered that makes you question whether I’m right for this job?
It is a bit of a mouthful, but quite a clever one to turn the interview on them.
*This was written during the Covid-19 pandemic, so interviews were carried out remotely*
Laura said: “In these days of remote interviews, it's obviously important to have tried out the tech first - people will forgive a glitch but if it's obvious an interviewee hasn't even bothered to try out Google Hangout/Zoom/Microsoft Teams beforehand, that's not a good start.
“As before, it's so important to convince an interviewer that you want the job they are offering - so telling them you're desperate for any job, or failing to have done any research beforehand isn't great.”
For the job I’m in now, I actually had two rounds of interviews, something new to me. When I got the offer to a second interview, the first thing I looked up was – what’s the difference between a first and second interview?
Laura said, “We generally have another more senior member of staff on the second interview - also, the second interview gives an opportunity to drill down into how they would do the job, whereas during the first interview you'd check on qualifications and get a general sense of the person.
“If the first interviewee gives you an idea of what the second interviewee will ask - listen and act on that. They know what's coming so make sure you prepare properly.”
So whilst the first interview is like an extension on your CV and skills, the second interview included things like how I would deal with a situation, and really give them a final chance to find out if I was right for the job.
As promised, here are the templates:
Download DOCX • 19KB
Cover letter template
Download DOCX • 17KB
Thank you email template
Download DOCX • 18KB
As always, if you have any questions, please do ask!
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I did an interview with the University of Leicester which covers my journey from A levels to working as a trainee reporter